BY RICK TELANDER
‘‘I’ve been waiting for 40 years,’’ a fan said.
‘‘I’ve been waiting since I moved to Chicago 30 years ago,’’ a man said outside the Cubby Bear on Clark Street.
‘‘I’ve been waiting since my
first game in 1948,’’ said an usher near the low brick wall behind the on-deck circle.
Really? He nodded.
‘‘I was 8 years old,’’ he said. ‘‘They lost to the Dodgers. There were 2,001 people in the park.’’
So that old boy is 76, the same age, it strikes me randomly, that John Lennon would be, were he alive. Time just sails by.
It was the same story with everybody Friday at Wrigley Field.
The waiting for the Cubs to win a World Series title. The yearning. The unfulfilled desire to see what they never have seen, what their fathers never have seen, what few people alive ever have seen.
It binds them all, from the fans in the bleachers to the swells in the club seats to the folks on the rooftops to the cops to their bomb-sniffing dogs to many, many people who weren’t at Wrigley for Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Giants.
‘‘It’s the same game,’’ Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who was scheduled to start Game 2 on Saturday, said before warmups. ‘‘There’s just more going on on the outside.’’
Oh, brother, is that true.
There were T-shirts for sale that read, ‘‘THIS IS THE YEAR’’ and ‘‘#WAIT TIL THIS YEAR.’’
I asked the attendant at one stand on Waveland Avenue what the best-selling item was.
‘‘Postseason stuff,’’ he said.
He pointed at the caps that
said, ‘‘Post Season,’’ and at the blue hoodies that said, ‘‘WE CAME TO REIGN.’’
‘‘Same as what the players wear,’’ he said when I asked why the caps cost $30 and $40.
There was a cardboard sign above a cooler: ‘‘GATORADE: Cubs Fans $2, Giants Fans $3, White Sox Fans $X (STAY THIRSTY).’’
Ha! Like there’s a thirst equal to that of the Cubs. There is none as dry in all of pro sports.
The Cubs jerseys that fans were wearing told a story of their own, too. There were ‘‘Rizzo,’’ ‘‘Bryant,’’ ‘‘Sandberg,’’ ‘‘Santo’’ and ‘‘Banks.’’ There was even a ‘‘Hollandsworth,’’ a small shout-out to the local TV analyst and former Cubs outfielder who played for eight teams in his career.
The Giants are a strange and dangerous foe for the Cubs, a seemingly mediocre team that wins all the big games and is going for its fourth World Series championship in seven seasons.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said before the game that flying straight to Chicago from New York after beating the Mets in the NL wild-card game Wednesday was a good thing for his team.
‘‘It’s good to stay in the flow of things, I’ll be honest,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s good not to take too much time off. It doesn’t give you too much time to think about anything.”
Because who even can fathom all this history?
Cubs catcher David Ross got a huge hand when he came to bat in the third inning, not just for throwing out two baserunners earlier but also for being 39 and looking old enough to have suffered with the rest.
Out on the street, I ran into a person I hadn’t seen since I wrote about him for Sports Illustrated almost 40 years ago. His name is Rich Buhrke, and he is one of those fellows who chases home-run balls that fly over the left-field wall onto Waveland Avenue. He used to, anyway.
‘‘I just turned 70,’’ he said. ‘‘I had back surgery, and I can’t run. But if the ball comes to me, I’ll catch it.’’
He still has his glove with him, and he keeps an eye on the back of Wrigley and the pack of younger, more athletic ball hawks all around. Together we walk a small way down Kenmore Avenue to the third house from Waveland, a blue, two-story Victorian.
It’s the house that one of Dave Kingman’s blasts hit on a fly. The woman inside had been watching the game on TV that day, saw the ball leave the park, then a few seconds later heard a thud as the ball hit her house just below the window. The wind-aided pellet traveled more than 500 feet.
‘‘It bounced back to that yard,’’ Buhrke said sadly, pointing to
3701 N. Kenmore. ‘‘A few feet lower, and it would have gone under the porch. I would have gotten it.’’
But life goes on, and Buhrke is like the rest of us: never quite fulfilled and ever-hungry.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.