Thursday, March 27, 2008

It's Almost Time!!!

Ahhh...Spring....warmer weather (usually -- it snowed here last night)...the renewal of life for a not-so-world-famous nature photograher like me (see my not-so-world-famous nature photographs here). It's also the end of Spring Training!

March 31 is the beginning of the Chicago Cubs' regular season of baseball. It's also the beginning of the 100th year of the Cubs not being World Series Champions. That fact doesn't mean a lot to me. What does mean something to me, is that the Cubs have not appeared in a World Series game since I have been around and that's been going on 57 years!

Sure, I have seen the Cubs in the playoffs. I've seen the team play in the league championship series, but I haven't seen them progress further than that...and yes, I would like to...someday.

Every year, Cub fans the world over, dust off their blue or white jerseys, their blue ball caps with that red C in the front ( doesn't stand for the Cleveland Indians), their leather gloves, and head to homepage of the Cubs to see what's in store for the coming year.

But the true Cubs fan has been following what the team did over the winter, what has happened during spring training and for the past month or so, has been sitting around the bars of the establishments surrounding Wrigley Field making their predictions for the coming season, arguing with friends and blowing off remarks they consider stupid.

I almost wish I was there.

But I am in central Oregon and though there isn't a nearby major league team (Seattle is about the closest) and the sports announcers never talk about the Cubs, I still do what I can to follow my team.

Yes, the Cubs are my team. They have been for as long as I can remember. I have posted some of this in previous posts, possibly here and definitely on some of the other blogs I have used, but it's the CUBS! and it's soon Opening Day and I am going to repeat myself again 8v)

My earliest Cubs memory is one of me, my dad, my uncle and my grandfather going to a game at Wrigley Field against the St. Louis Cardinals. It may not have been my first game, but it is the first game which I retain somewhat of a memory. I recall getting my first look at that expanse of green as my father walked up the catwalk with me on his shoulders and I knew I loved baseball at that moment.

We took our seats down along the left field line, back up away from the wall and waited for the game to begin. I don't have much of a memory of that game as it was played, but I was hooked on baseball. Maybe it was the cheering crowds around me, but I knew I liked baseball and I liked the Cubs.

Over time, I went to many more games. I was at a game in the early '60s which was the last away game Stan Musial played for the St. Louis Cardinals. I was at a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers which Ken Holtzman lost a no-hitter in the top of the ninth with one out. He went on to pitch two no-hitters for the Cubs. I watched great players such as Willy Mays, Lou Brock, Maury Wills and many others play against the Cubs. And win or lose, I loved every minute of each game.

I spent time in the right field bleachers during the summer of 1969. The Cubs were headed to the World Series that year...until the New York Mets came to town. The Cubs dropped the series to them, dropped out of first place and the Mets went on to take it all. That was the year of the Miracle Mets. I went on to the join the U.S. Air Force a month after that season ended and I lost touch with a lot of what the Cubs were doing. Letters from home or friends would mention them during the season, newspapers where I was had the standings and I always knew where to find the Cubs...I only had to look near the bottom of the National League standings. But I still loved the Cubs.

One of the things I remember from the 1969 season was Jack Brickhouse. He started the "Die Hard Cubs Fan Club that year. Of course, he was the first member of the club. For a certain amount of money, your membership got you some Cubs items, a card declaring you to be a Die Hard Cubs Fan, with your membership number (mine was 11,000 something by the time I got around to joining the club). I proudly showed that card to every baseball fan I met until my wallet was lost and with it, my membership card. But I remained a Cubs or lose.

The one thing I didn't like about my military movements, was that they normally occurred in the off-season. Most of the time when I would go to Chicago on leave, baseball would still be in hibernation. Even when I was in Chicago during the regular season, the Cubs wouldn't be. It was almost like I was being punished for losing my membership card. But I did make a game in the late '80s against the St. Louis Cardinals. I was sitting along the right field line in the lower level with my brother, enjoying the game. I mentioned the right field line, as that was the side of the field most of the Cardinal fans sat. You see, the Cubs and Cards are rivals. So, when the Cubs play in St. Louis, a lot of blue invades Busch Stadium (or whatever it is called now) and when the Cards are in Chicago, a sea of red shows up and occupies the right field area.

The Cubs lost that game, but that's not what I remember most about the game. Sometime during the seventh inning, a Cardinal fan in the upper level, dropped down a Teddy Bear with a noose around it's neck. It dropped to about 10 feet above and in front of my brother and I. Around us, Cardinal fans were cheering...I was booing...and I was one of the few booing. How that person above us knew to drop that effigy in front of us was probably an accident, but it was a cool one.

That was the last Cubs home game I went to. Even when in 1995, I lived for a little under a month four blocks away from Wrigley Field...but the Cubs, of course, were on the road during most of that time, the days they were home, I was busy with the reason I was in Chicago.

I also remember the first time I watched the Cubs play not in Wrigley Field. It was around 1966 and the Cubs and White Sox every year, played a benefit game at Comiskey Park, the south side home of the Chicago White Sox. A friend of mine was going and his dad invited me to join them. So off we went. When we got there, we purchased bleacher tickets and made our way to the outfield seats. Before we got there, we were told by an Andy Frame Usher that the bleacher area was full and that they had roped off the warning track for fans to watch the game from. We were some of the first people to walk out of stadium and onto the playing field for the game.

We made our way over to the right field area and stood there right in the front of the crowds, against the ropes, waiting for the game to start. When it did, I was thrilled to see Billy Williams heading out to play right field. He was my favorite Cubs player and is still my all-time favorite Cubs. Several innings into the game, during a change of pitchers, Billy walked over to where we were. I had just gotten a Coke and was standing there when he came over and asked if he could have a drink. I handed him my cup, he lifted the lid and took a good drink, placed the lid back on it, and handed it back to with a thank you. Needless to say, I was beaming. My favorite player had just taken a drink of my Coke, while I stood on the warning track, watching professional ballplayers play the game. It was a great evening for a Cubs fans...even though the Cubs lost.

But that wasn't the only time I saw the Cubs play outside of Wrigley Field. I did see the Cubs play in Houston's Astrodome in 1985 when I was assigned to Kelly AFB, in San Antonio, Texas. I was almost thrown out of that game. My brother who lived in Dallas at the time, came down for a visit and we decided to drive to Houston for the game. Nolan Ryan was pitching for the Astros (the only time I saw him pitch), but he left in the fourth inning with a sore elbow. Anyway, we were sitting right at the wall along the left field line, about 30 feet from the left field wall. Around the middle part of the game, an Astro was at bat with a man on second. There was fly ball hit to the left field area down the line and Gary Matthews, the Cubs left fielder came running over. He didn't get to the ball in time and it hit in foul territory and bounced over the wall.

I said, "Nice try, Gary," and he started to reply, but suddenly stopped and looked at the umpire with a shocked look on his face. I turned and looked at the ump and he was signally a ground-rule double. I glared at the ump and at the same time yelled, "Are you nuts?" He came running over to me and we began a running argument which lasted a few seconds and ended with him saying, "Be ruling is law," and he sat down next to a ball boy there for the bullpen. He wasn't one of the base umps, but a line ump placed where he was due to the odd angle of the field there made it difficult for the third base ump to see well.

The two weren't far from us and I watched the ump lean over and then ask the ball boy if the ball was fair or foul. The ball boy, wearing an Astro's jersey top, said, " was a foul ball." Hearing that, I yelled back at the ump, "You see? You blew it." Well, the inning then ended and the ump got up, walked over to where I was and we started the argument up again...a little less intense this time. In the end, the ump apologized and the game went on. And of course, the Cubs lost...all because of a ground-rule double that wasn't....not really, but the final was something like 4-0.

When I was stationed near St. Louis in the latter part of the '80s, a friend of mine and I twice attempted to go see the Cubs play in Busch Stadium. Both times, the Air Force had different plans for me and when the day came, I wasn't in town to go to the game.

Over the years here, I have followed the Cubs best as I could. I watched on TV, a stupid Cubs fans interfere with an foul ball out that cost the Cubs the league championship against the Florida Marlins. I watched on TV the Arizona Diamondbacks sweep the Cubs last year in the playoffs. And I will watch the Cubs, win or lose, as often as I can here.

Why? Because I really am a Die Hard Cubs Fan!

My only regret this season, is that during interleague play, they don't play the Cleveland Indians.