Wednesday, October 21, 2015

It's never just a game

My heart was racing as my name was pulled from a glass bowl at the office: I had won two bleacher seat tickets to the Cubs playoff game. It was Oct. 14, 2003.
I began making elaborate arrangements. My father volunteered to make the hours-long trek to bring my then 14-year-old son to my office so we could make it to Wrigleyville on time.
We parked on the street in my old neighborhood, Andersonville, and walked to the L, stopping at Walgreens to buy an extra pair of socks: It was only 43 degrees out.

I may have gotten a little teary thinking about the first time I took my son to a Cubs game when he was 8 or so. It was a gorgeous summer day and on a whim I said, “hey, let’s go to a game.” We hopped on the L and headed to Addison Street. We bought tickets from a man with two to spare. Kerry Wood was pitching, and my son kept score with a little help from the dude who sold us the tickets. Wrigley was sporting its typical beer garden vibe.

I don’t remember if the Cubs won. I do remember feeling like an all-American, super cool, single mom taking her son to a ballgame. There were hot dogs and sodas, beers and a Kerry Wood T-shirt purchase.

It is parenthood perfection when you and your child enjoy the same thing; it’s solidified when you both fondly remember an event almost 20 years later. That day was it.

A few Red Line stops later we were among the flock of fans. We raced to our seats with the usual mix of excitement and dread about how good your sightlines would be. But this game was different. The crowd trickling in was tightly wound. The air was charged with negative ions. It was cold and there was too much at stake for the Cubs.

Moments after we sat down I witnessed men knocking over kids to get the practice balls the Cubs were tossing to the stands. Fans nearby chastised them, “hey asshole, that’s not cool.” When one of them tripped, someone yelled “ha ha, douchebag, serves you right.”
The bleachers appeared to be populated by well-connected, fair-weather fans who on a hot July day wouldn’t be caught dead in the bleachers. They chatted about how they scored tickets and how jealous all their friends and family were that they were at this game. On behalf of real baseball fans, I hated them just a bit.

I’m sure my son and I chatted about the lineup, the odds, the Cubs history and lore – like any typical game we’d attended over the years. But with playoff games an edge-of-your-seat seriousness takes over and baseball is no longer the national pastime; it’s a competitive sport. Between the fair-weather fans, and the do-or-die plays, the ballpark vibe was light years away from a convivial beer garden, even though the Cubs were winning.

Then the shit hit the fan.

Even from our perspective across the field you could see the man reach out to grab the ball out of Moises Alou’s glove. Almost immediately the crowd began chanting “ASS-HOLE ASS-HOLE.” Did we chant along? I can’t remember. I like to think we didn’t.

As the game imploded, and the Cubs steadily fell behind, I couldn’t help but feel it was because of the fans. Not the one “asshole” who snagged the ball, but the collective crowd spewing negative energy and hate across the field. How could a team recover?
Suddenly I didn’t feel like the hip, cool mom who scored playoff tickets to watch our beloved team. I felt embarrassed to be in the crowd, and I felt bad for bringing my son along to witness it. The sun permanently set on the brilliant memory of our first baseball game.

The return trip to the ‘burbs was especially long after that cold loss that will live in infamy as The Bartman Game. I wondered if we’d ditch baseball. And I worried that my son and I would never again share a day like that first, perfect baseball game. I wondered if we’d ever return to Wrigley.

Of course we returned. We’re Cubs fans.