A Stones Throw 10-27-16

18

These are the happiest of possible words:

“Russell to Baez to Rizzo.”

Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,

“Russell to Baez to Rizzo.”

With apologies to Tinker and Evers and Chance, the mantra changed at approximately 8:45 p.m. Saturday, October 22nd when Russell to Baez to Rizzo closed the door on the Los Angeles Dodgers and opened the door to the 2016 World Series for the Chicago Cubs.

The 2016 World Series.

It really happened.

I have to admit that the last out brought tears to my eyes. Tears of joy that I would see the Cubs in the World Series one more time before I die. Tears of sadness that because I am starting to rehabilitate my second new knee, I will not be able to see a game in person.

Then there was pride. Pride in the outstanding character of the players, the coaches, and the administration. Pride in the fans who acted like fans should act – with joy, happiness, and excitement.

And without violence.

Two hours after the game, thousands of people still packed the streets, but you saw no fires. No upturned cars. No broken windows. No looting.

You saw only cheers and shouts of joy.

The way it should be.

I think that reaction made me as proud to be a Cubs fan as did the game itself.

So did all the player interviews.

I was up way after midnight listening to every interview. I probably heard 15 or 20 different players being interviewed and there was one common thread – not one single player played the “I” game that has become prevalent in the NFL. Almost to a man, they credited other players, the manager, the administration, and especially the fans.

But not one “I”.

I think my favorite answer to an interview question came from Cubs Manager Joe Madden when he was asked “What were your thoughts when you woke up this (Saturday) morning?’

Madden’s reply: “I want to watch football Sunday.”

While Madden got to watch football Sunday, I watched the baseball game on DVR for a second and then a third time. As I watched, a lot of memories flooded through my mind.

All the way back to 1945 – the last time the Cubs were in the World Series.

I have to admit, I didn’t care about the Cubs in 1945. I don’t remember what I was doing on October 10th, probably either picking on my older brother Gary, or more likely, being picked on by him.

I was 1 ½ – he would be 3 that week.

Still, it didn’t take long.

By the time I was seven I was dedicated Cubs fan. There wasn’t any television, but there was KCRG radio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa – and it was part of the WGN Chicago Cubs network.

I listened to every game I could.

I remember going to the library after school one day in 1955 and listening to the final inning of Sam “Toothpick” Jones’ no-hitter. I anguished as he walked the first batter – then the second – then the third.

Then – Struck out the side.

Little did I know that I had listened to the final inning of the first no-hitter thrown by a Black pitcher. (The accepted term in 1955 was “Black.” Today Jones is considered the first African American to throw a no-hitter in the Major Leagues.)

As a fan, I started sending postcards to the Cubs for autographs when I was 10. I was excited when I got cards back from Ernie Banks and Gene Baker – both rookies in 1954. I was excited when I got a second card from Walt “Moose” Moryn with a personal note.

I remember getting signed post cards from several players in 1954 and 1955. Each time I received a postcard, that player became my favorite – until he left the Cubs – then he was the enemy.

I remember putting my Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card in the spokes of my bicycle, but I kept all my Cubs cards carefully put away. (Of course those cards, along with all my Elvis records disappeared during one of my mother’s housecleaning escapades while I was in college.)

As the years went on, so did my love of the Cubs.

I was able to attend three opening day games – the coldest, wettest, opening day games in history I think – but I was there. At one of those games my daughter Kelly, her friend Kris Vinson and Kris’s father George were huddled under a blanket while I was down close to the field with my camera.

It was too cold for me to get a good picture. But, the next day there was an interesting picture in the Chicago Tribune. The picture showed a man and two girls wrapped in blankets with their heads covered. There was no mention of their names. There didn’t need to be. I knew who they were.

I had the opportunity to attend the second night game ever in Wrigley Field. I was able to take a good picture of Andre Dawson swinging at a pitch – a picture he later signed for me.

Several years later I had the opportunity to watch a game from one of the houses across the street behind Right Field. A unique and fun experience.

I attended Cubs games when there were less than 3,000 people there. And, games where there were nearly 40,000 people.

I attended a game with Jade and my parents and had my billfold lifted while we were on the Elevated train. (I caught him taking it and got it back.)

I sat five rows behind home plate with Kelly and two of her friends. I don’t remember much about the game, but do remember the girls had to use binoculars when Ryne Sandberg came to the plate to bat. Forty feet wasn’t close enough. Binoculars helped.

I will always remember meeting Andre Dawson and getting to talk with him. I remember spending a half hour talking with Fergie Jenkins. I had the opportunity to meet Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams, and Sammy Sosa.

I have many fond memories as the years without a World Series passed by.

There are also less fond memories – like the ball that went through Leon Durham’s legs when the Cubs were on the threshold to the World Series. Or the 2003 Cubs who held a 3-1 lead in the NLCS and lost it 4-3 to the Florida Marlins. (And, Steve Bartman had nothing to do with the Cubs losing that series.)

I could go on for weeks with my memories about the Chicago Cubs.

As I said, I don’t remember what I was doing on October 10th, 1945. But, I will always remember what I was doing at 8:45 p.m. Chicago time on October 22nd, 2016.

As I write this, the World Series has not begun. By the time you read this, the Cubs will be up 2-0 – down 2-0 – or even at one game apiece.

In any event, I will be watching with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face – ‘Go Cubs Go’

– Mike Cooney