Hello again everybody. Nice warm spring we’re having. Not! I for one though will not be deterred. I’m wearing my shorts because the calendar says to. So deal with it! Now I understand in May, you can take risks with your sartorial choices, but June? It’s not supposed to be 40 degrees downtown! I’ve lived in Chicago long enough to realize that it will be colder downtown by the lake than in the suburbs where I live, but this is getting ridiculous!
I’m reminded of one morning many May’s ago when I learned my Chicago spring lesson. I took the train downtown to work for my one day shift of the week. The previous day had been in the eighties, so when I woke up I thought I was safe for my favorite attire. Going to get my paper at the end of the driveway, I remember thinking it was a little nippy. No worries, it’s still early. That’s what’s known as a big red flag! Upon getting to the train station, and having no time to change course, I noticed that everyone around me were dressed like they lived in Minsk. This should be interesting.
Now normally I’m not really concerned with what others around me are thinking about my clothing choices, (Do you wear a red bow tie?) but I was becoming unusually self-aware. Of course I couldn’t be the only one wearing shorts on a train filled with 1,500 commuters, could I? Well during the cattle stampede exit as everyone drudged to work, I could definitely see that I was. Boo-ya! Oh well, I’ll just keep my head down, act normal and get to a cab before anyone notices. Too late. Surrounded by a mass of people going around a corner and heading towards the stairs that led down to the street, I chanced upon a pan-handler/comedian who upon seeing me bellowed, “You just had to wear the shorts today, didn’t you?!”
But enough about me, what I really want to share today is my experience going to a Cubs-Sox game last Thursday with my kids. As I have previously written here, my son has caught the sports bug. Our night at the Blackhawks game was one I will never forget. But for a father, it also came with an additional price. That being with two other children, they wanted to know when it would be their turn. Are my kids turning into sports fans? Or do they just like dad taking them out and spending a fortune in the process? Either way, fun at a game is something that is hard for me to say no to.
For my youngest, a seven-year-old girl known to her family affectionately as “Shebby” or “Shebs,” (don’t ask) the game she had to see was one of this year’s Cubs-Sox games. Since I had to work during the first three games, Thursday’s game at Wrigley was to be her opportunity. Considering she’s become a HUGE Sox fan, I thought it would be fun for her to see a game in the Friendly Confines decked out in her Sox wear, of course accessorized by her large Sox No. 1 foam finger. Girls will be girls.
The whole month prior, we would count down the days until “her” day. She was so excited. And it didn’t take much prodding for her to tell you how fun it would be to see her Sox win the game. Oh, and while she was there, she was going to get a game ball and have it signed by her favorite Sox player, Paul Konerko. Kids will be kids.
It reminded me of when I was a little bit older than she is and the team that had my full attention was the Flyers. The two-time Stanley Cup champions were the team for a generation of youngsters living in the Delaware Valley. Quite surprisingly, I’m sure, was how obsessed I was with that team. I can still recite, by number, the names of each player on both cup winners. Quite vivid also was the memory of when I got the autographs of many of my heroes. I was at a game with my father, an uncle (Gored a scoal?) and a cousin who was my age and just as obsessed. I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but my uncle and father were talking about the fact that when the players left after a game, that they did so through the team store that was located on the ground floor on the backside of the arena, the Spectrum. It didn’t have to be asked twice of me and my cousin if we wanted to hang out and see if we could get our programs signed that night. It was so cool, and different, to see all of my hockey gods in street clothes as they entered the store. As I can realize now, most just wanted to get through as quickly as possible, but some obviously enjoyed the adoration, spending a few quality minutes with the many assembled youngsters. Those who stayed though, whether they realize it or not, became part of my family lore some 40 years later. Such is the power of athletes over impressionable youngsters. It’s also another reason why this many years later, any thoughts about that team bring a smile, it was a fleeting, magical time.
(Personal favorites: The exuberant Bob “The Hound” Kelly signing everything in sight. Bernie Parent shoving untold cans of beer into every pocket of his leather jacket. (I’m sure he was sharing with his friends!!) A three-piece, pin-striped suit wearing Rick MacLiesh (Made even more impressive due to the fact that just about every other teammate was in jeans!) signing for all as his wife waited obediently in the corner until she was summoned to leave. (Interpret that as you wish, I know my father and uncle did!) And, my hockey sensei, Gene Hart, the Hall of Fame announcer, who was so sweet and gracious, as my cousin and I ran after him before he reached the parking lot. He seemed so genuinely touched that we asked for his autograph. Love that guy.)
Anyway, little Shebs couldn’t wait for her day. And neither could her father.
Then on the way home from work on Wednesday late at night, I got a text from my friend who was taking us that he had an extra seat. After questioning him on the late hour of his text, (Was he up to something, or just another old guy making a frequent trip?) I had to respond that my son would love to go, I’m sure, but should it happen at the expense of my daughter’s day? This was something I could not answer. So upon getting home, I figured the best move was to wake up the boss, I couldn’t risk her missing a note during the morning frenzy of the last day of school, and have her deal with it. Delegation is the key to a happy home!
Upon waking up I was given the happy news. When she learned of the fact that there was an extra ticket and was asked if her brother could use it, she responded by exclaiming, “Of course! He’s going to be so excited! Can I tell him?” Some days start better than others, but that was about as cool as it gets. Now let me get the kids out of school early for their “doctor visit” and go to a ball game!
Being my daughter’s first game at Wrigley, I thought it right that we took the el to the ballpark. So when we got in the city, we parked the car so we could hop on the Red Line. The kids were very excited about being on the train, and by the fact that most of the people on it were wearing the Sox or Cubs colors.
Entering Wrigley never gets old. Entering with your kids, who are now old enough to be excited to be going to a game, makes it infinitely more so. I definitely spent more time watching them (And my ticket benefactor, but that is another story for another day!) than I did of any of the game. My son is at that cool age where you can start explaining what’s going on and the proper way to watch a game. One of those things was, when Cubs pitcher Travis Wood hit a grand slam, and we were wearing Sox jerseys, that this was the perfect time to go the bathroom: They would be empty now and it was the perfect time to get out of dodge.
But most of my time was spent on my daughter, and her “quest.”
She was not shy about sharing with the many Cubs fans around us about her getting a ball and who was going to sign it. The amount of smiles she created was cracking me up. She soon became the mascot of the four guys in front of us, who declared that the ball part would not be an issue. Since we were three rows away from the Cubs bullpen, I was hoping they were right.
Three innings later, they were. How it arrived, I can’t tell, but as far as anyone in my family is concerned, it was a hot smash that was corralled by the fans in front of us and then dutifully presented to the princess of the section. The smile on her face tells it all. I must say I was ready to have the “At least we got to go to a game” speech and everything doesn’t always work out like you want it to, lord knows I know that one by heart, but it’s not bad when things work out sometimes. In fact, things working out can create as lasting memories. Like the night my son had at the hockey game. I had to remind him of that night as his disappointment about his not getting a ball started to grow, “Hey buddy, at least you got to go………”
The happiness coming from my daughter was radiant and very obvious. She was mesmerized by the ball. Heck, I was getting to the point that I wanted one. So as my son wore half of his chocolate ice cream down his white Sox jersey, I decided it was better to give him an eye roll as opposed to an admonishment. The Sox were getting pounded, his sister was in lala land, the last thing he needed was his old man busting on him. Besides, there will be plenty of time later. There always is with young boys.
Soon enough, the Cubs beat-down of the Sox was over and it was time to head home. But what of the second half of my daughters dream game. To be honest, it had slipped my mind. My main thoughts were about dealing with the rain and trying to take two youngsters on the Red Line in the post-game madness. As we wrapped around the stadium under the over-hang going from the left field exit to Addison, I remembered that the 2 buses parked in our way belonged to the White Sox. Most times these team buses are surrounded by throngs of fans and autograph seekers. Oddly enough, this time there were about 15 dudes looking for signatures. No kids. Needing to kill a little time anyway, I told my two little Sox fans to hang out by the railing in front of the lead bus. Why not?
Maybe due to the nature of the game, or just their desire to get home, no one was coming out to greet the “fans.” Not to blame them either. I completely understand. It’s not something that is owed.
I was just about to tell the kids it was time to go when I heard one of the dudes shout out. “Come on, Paulie! Don’t leave us hanging!”
And then to my disbelief, there he was. It was Paulie! And he was signing! It was now that two fears hit me: Would he reach my kids? As now, his appearance drew autograph hounds like locusts. And where can I get a Sharpie?! Stat!!
As I tried to keep an eye on the kids I was able to corral a guy coming away with a signature and beg him for his pen as I pointed to my little ones. That he was a Cubs fan with a blue pen did not matter. This was a time for the Northside and Southside to come together. For the kids! Plus, I’m not sure I gave him enough time to consider saying no as the pen was in my daughter’s hands quick as a wink. Who’s going to deny her?!
Then it happened.
Paulie took the ball and signed it. As a father, I was relieved that he did and that she thanked him out loud. A seven-year-old, in that moment, how cool is that?
And what of my son? Not missing a beat, he took the pen from his sister, smiled at Konerko and asked him to sign the sleeve of his game-worn, ice cream stained jersey. Paulie took his time to make it right.
Then he turned and got on the bus.
Did I just see that? Judging from the smiles on my kid’s faces, I obviously did. Wow!
My daughter said she would go to a Cubs-Sox game, get a ball and have Paul Konerko sign it, and I just watched it happen.
Needless to say, Paul Konerko is very well thought of in my house. He helped create a memory that will last a lifetime. Thanks Paulie!
That it took us about three hours to get back home did not matter. We laughed the whole way home, my daughter staring at the ball and my son repeatedly looking at the signature on his sleeve, sitting awkwardly in the backseat so as not to smear it.
I’m not sure mom was ready for us when we got home. We were talking a mile a minute as we spared no detail in telling her about our adventure.
Later, I tucked Shebs in bed with the ball resting just above her head. My son fell asleep with his jersey lying beside him, inches from his face.
A day that started good and ended even better.