I know, this is HOCKEENIGHT. But after that game, I’d rather talk baseball. Or scrub my right nipple off with a rusty SOS pad.
I love April. Fall remains my favorite time of year, but there’s something about April. The mornings are still crisp and perfect for a cup of coffee on the deck. The nights are just chilly enough to open the windows and burrito myself in the blankets while I’m sleeping. I can go around in a hoodie and shorts on my days off. April is damn near perfect. The only downsides are the start of tornado season and having to mow my dogs’ toilet. Then there’s that sense of excitement that comes with Opening Day and the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Only one of those holds real excitement, the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After all, I’m a Chicago sports fan. Opening Day is still special, even when it’s tempered by realism. Screw the Super Bowl, I’m all for making Opening Day a national holiday. Give me a four day weekend at the start of baseball season and I’ll gladly take it. Opening Day means summer isn’t too far off. It means there’s another opportunity to take my daughter to the ballpark and spend a few hours in the sun watching a game. There’s something magical about sitting at the ballpark that you can’t capture in any other sporting event.
I’m not fanatical about baseball like I am about hockey, which seems strange since I never played hockey growing up. Always signed up for Little League though. Wasn’t that great, but I didn’t care. It was an equalizing sport. You made your own advantages in baseball. Didn’t have to be tall or big (which I wasn’t). I didn’t have to be great, just had to be able to catch a ball and watch the pitches coming in. I was okay at fielding, but I was a sonofabitch when it came to batting. I was a short kid and I had a good eye. I learned to hunch up at the plate and give the pitchers the smallest strike zone I could. They were either going to feed me exactly what I wanted or they were going to walk me. More often than not, they walked me. But when they gave me the pitch I wanted, I took it and sent it out past the outfielders who came to the edge of the grass thinking I going to be an easy out. Over their heads or in the gap, I was getting on base.
Okay, I’m past my “Uncle Rico” glory days bullshit. Still reminiscing, but I promise there’s no more dumbass “I was awesome” moments.
As I said before, I’m a Chicago sports fan. Specifically, a Chicago White Sox fan. Baseball season rarely goes past the first week of October for us. I still don’t care. Right now, four days into the season, everything is possible. Thoughts of the postseason still dance in my head even though I know better than to get my hopes up. It’s something my wife and daughter don’t understand. They were both born and raised in St. Louis, where baseball is life. In her lifetime, my wife has seen the Cardinals make the postseason SIXTEEN times, three of those ending with World Series wins. My daughter? Eight postseason appearances by the Cardinals and two World Series championships. Me? I’ve seen twelve postseason appearances between two teams and one World Series win. Fortunately, it was the White Sox in 2005. Unfortunately, I was stone cold sober and sitting on a couch in Iraq surrounded by Yankees fans, watching the game on Armed Forces Network. That particular couch was 6,347 miles away from where I wanted to be: drinking beer and sitting on a barstool at Bridges’ Scoreboard in Griffith, Indiana.
Sometimes, life forces us to celebrate in our own ways. Like taking advantage of the White Sox bumper stickers my old man had sent to me during their postseason run and slapping them on the vehicle assigned to my New York City born-and-raised, Yankee-fan-since-birth sergeant major. He was less thrilled about the White Sox than I was. If I recall correctly, his reaction was along the lines of “Who in the fuck put this……GODDAMMIT STEVE!” Fuck him. I didn’t care. For the first time in 88 years, there was a World Series champion in Chicago and it was my motherfucking White Sox who had pulled it off. I got to witness something that my grandfather, a Cubs fan as far back as I can remember, never saw before he died.
Oh yeah, speaking of grandfathers: my wife’s grandfather, Pop, has witnessed twenty-four postseason appearances by the Cardinals and nine World Series championships. Meanwhile, my grandfather was born twenty years before Pop, four years after the last time the Cubs won the World Series. I’m not going to list the postseason appearances. Most of you are Cubs fans, you all know the numbers.
Now you’d think I’d be a Cubs fan. Grandpa definitely was. I can’t count the number of times I sat in my grandparents’ living room with him watching Cubs games in the 80’s. Watching Rick Sutcliffe and his glorious red beard on the mound. Ryno and Grace taking the field, the best 3 and 4 in the business. Shawn Dunston. Andre Dawson. Greg Maddux. Whoever it was that cranked a home run out to Waveland Avenue and WGN showing video of the mailman who scooped it up while delivering mail and running down the street with it, both arms up in the air like it was the greatest day of his life. That image of that mailman is one that has stuck with me damn near thirty years.
But yet, I’m a Sox fan. Maybe it’s because my first baseball game was at Old Comiskey. Walking with my Dad behind the scoreboard when Harold Baines ripped a solo shot and the fireworks damn near deafened us. Going to more games at New Comiskey (Fuck that “Cell” bullshit. It’s “New Comiskey” now and forever. I’ll fight a motherfucker over that one.) and seeing the change to the Old English logo and black and white uniforms. Robin Ventura, Steve Sax, The Big Hurt, old man Pudge behind the plate with a scowl on his face telling everyone how it was gonna get done. Thinking the Sox has scored a coup by signing the monster himself, Bo Jackson. Black Jack McDowell starting and Bobby Thigpen cleaning it up. And cussing everyone in Major League Baseball in 1994 because I was convinced that the Good Guys in Black would have won it all if it hadn’t been for that damned strike.
Right about now, Cubs fans have stopped reading or they’re formulating their “fuck you and your South Side trash team” responses. Love you guys, too.
For those of you who are still with me, I told you all that to tell you this. Despite my love for the White Sox, I still cannot hate the Cubs. Honestly, it’s because so many of my friends and family are Cubs fans and because I want them to feel what I did in 2005. Confession time: I have my well-worn, well-loved, green-logo-and-shamrock-on-the-side-for-my-few-drops-of-Irish-blood fitted White Sox cap. I also have my bought-at-WalMart-cheap-as-shit-with-a-velcro-sizing-band-dusty-as-hell-because-it’s-been-in-a-plastic-tote-for-ten-years Cubs cap. I pulled the Cubs cap out of the tote last October. Partly because I love trolling my wife, daughter, in-laws, and co-workers. Partly because I wanted to be ready. Because it almost happened last year. The drought almost ended. But I didn’t put it away, because you Cubs fans said it after the NLCS last year and you were right. THIS is next year. After all the hoping, the wishing, the dreaming. IT. IS. NEXT. YEAR. This is the Cubs team you have all been waiting for.
The Sox are 3-1 on the season and the Cubs are leading 8-6 in the top of the 4th, looking at a 3-0 start. The season’s barely started but the future looks brighter on both the North and South Sides than it has in previous years. I’ve been fortunate enough to see eleven championships brought home to Chicago between four teams in my lifetime. Just like you folks, I want more. Don’t get me wrong, I’d gladly take the White Sox winning a Windy City Series. But I won’t be disappointed if they lose either.
We’re waiting on you, Cubs.