All of us can remember days of historical significance in our lifetime, but I remember a date of slightly lesser import for most folks — the day I became a Cubs fan.
No, it wasn’t the National League pennant in 1945. I was only seven at that time and had yet to develop any team loyalties. The Cubs however were a very familiar team because my aunt and uncle lived in an apartment in the 3700 block of North Sheffield a block north of Wrigley Field. It was a third floor walk-up and from their back porch you could see a small patch of center field and if you were lucky, on occasion you could actually catch a glimpse of a player.
My uncle was of Greek descent and when he married into the family, he quickly became recognized as one of the best cooks among the relatives. Dinners at their apartment were Grecian cuisine par excellence. My cousin and I would play on the back porch while the cooking smells wafted out the screen door stirring our appetite. On game days the roar of the crowd would distract us and we would run into the apartment to the radio and try to catch the play that had just occurred. There was of course no television in the forties. Those bits and pieces of audio were the beginnings of our baseball education. Wrigley Field and the Cubs became a formidable presence in our young lives.
The next two years I began playing pickup games with my buddies at the local park and I started to learn a bit about the game of baseball. We learned the rules by arguing loudly among ourselves, pushing and shoving a bit, and ultimately seeking a ruling from our parents at the supper table. By the summer of 1947 I had a very basic understanding of the game.
Friday August 8th was almost a perfect summer day with a high along the lake in the upper 70’s. I found myself relaxing with my uncle on a grass field near Addison and the lake. We had a blanket and a portable radio, which was an oddity in those days, and of course we were listening to the game, the Chicago Cubs versus the Cincinnati Reds. It was the seventh inning and the Reds had men on first and second with no outs. The batter hit a sharp line drive to the Cubs shortstop Lennie Merullo (first out) who then tagged out the second base runner before he could reverse course (second out). The first base runner was reversing course heading back, but Merullo fired the ball to Eddie Waitkus, at first. Eddie stepped on first base for the triple play. It was amazing and what was more amazing was that at the ripe old age of nine I understood what had happened. I glanced at my uncle’s smiling face.
“Spectacular!” said my uncle. “One for the record books.”
A split second later the radio announcer said, “Spectacular! One for the record books.”
And that’s the day I became a Cubs fan; Friday, August 8th, 1947.
In retrospect, being a Cubs fan for nearly 70 years has been a positive formative experience. I came to understand loyalty, perseverance, solidarity, patience, faithfulness and fortitude. But in the game of baseball how well do these attributes serve an aging fan? Well this is my year friends … and if by some infinitesimally small chance it doesn’t happen — well — wait ‘til next year. That’s the way I roll.
Jim Padar is a retired Chicago Police lieutenant turned author and story teller. He a four-time Moth Story Slam winner and he and his son co-authored the book, On Being a Cop.