The man sitting across from us on the L Wednesday wore an official Cubs pinstripe jersey, open, with shorts; the uniform of easily half the passengers on the 12 noon Skokie Swift to Howard. Beside him, a girl, 4, had made a different fashion choice: a pink tutu paired with a raccoon mask.
The man met my eye.
“So nice everything’s fun again,” he said. Usually I’m the one making uninvited public overtures, addressing strangers, commenting on whatever is going on like a Greek chorus.
I agreed. After 14 months away, at least, it felt great just being on a train. The fact we were heading to a Cubs game was icing on the cake.
Regular readers know baseball is not ordinarily my idea of fun. But my younger son had said, “We should go to a Cubs game.” A suggestion I promptly ignored, as the savvy parent will do when optional activities involving the expenditure of time, effort and money are proposed by children. But he said it a second time, cannily attaching a specific. “We should go to the Cubs game Wednesday; they play the Padres.”
My immediate unfiltered thought demonstrates how truly out of the swim I am, baseball-wise.
“That’s an expansion team,” I thought, pouting. Meaning, “not quite worth seeing.” The Padres started playing in 1969. Since then, they’ve won more pennants than the Cubs over the same period (two). They have the second-best record in the National League now.
The last Cubs game I attended was July 4, 2016, for the reason I normally go: a pal gave me tickets. This time I bought four good upper-deck seats for $45.92 apiece from a season ticket holder friend. I knew it wouldn’t involve him handing over four pasteboard ducats in an envelope. But I didn’t expect to have to download an app (MLB Ballpark) and fiddle with it for an hour. Eventually, utterly bolloxed and certain no relaxation at the ballpark could possibly counterbalance the frustration of doing this, I thrust my phone at my older son who, I kid you not, glanced at it, swiped it once with his thumb and handed it back, the tickets having magically appeared. “You need to refresh,” he said. Tell me about it.
When last at Wrigley, the Ricketts clan had begun the process of erecting a hotel and other suburban mall-like structures around Wrigley. So I braced myself to encounter some hellish Disney World of Baseball, with a drool-encrusted Clark the Cub dropping to a knee to embrace children while the baseball equivalent of “It’s a Small World After All” blared maddeningly from hidden speakers.
Credit where due: Wrigley looks nice. The ballpark shone from the outside. There was no seedy older gent at the entrance selling scorecards, like I expected. When asked, one of the friendly ushers, stationed every 10 feet, smilingly pointed me toward a stand selling $30 stocking caps. Most people in line were buying $1 scorecards, jamming their credit cards into a reader, a process that takes longer than simply handing over a dollar bill. Did you know that Wrigley has gone cashless this year? It has, in theory. After three guys ahead of me went through the credit card calisthenics, the guy behind the counter asked me, “Do you have a dollar?” I did, and handed it over.
“It’ll be our secret,” I said, feeling rebellious.
We got to our seats, upper deck, section 312L. I looked around and — if this surprises you, imagine what it did to me — choked up. Tears in my ears, face sort of crumpling, for a moment anyway. I’m not sure why. It was just so ... beautiful. I was so happy to be here.
I probably should mention the Cubs played a game. As if to make up for the masks and cashlessness and antiseptic homogenized crowd screened just to hang around outside Wrigley, the game itself was noticeably slapdash. The Padres played like an amateur team of comic klutzes, balls popping out of their grasps, a pop fly plunking down a yard from a bewildered player scanning the sky, a pair of outfielders slamming into each other in what ended up as a double play. (“Good luck scoring that,” said the guy down the row I consulted to figure out what the heck just happened.) Only thing missing was the jeering calliope music that usually goes along with antics like this.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Cubs hit a triple, then a single, then a home run, and then a double. The homer, by Javier Baez, was a wonder to behold, a marvelous parenthesis set on its side from home plate into the left field bleachers. The Cubs won 6 to 1. I was hoarse the next day.