. . . but my daughter says I will talk to anyone.
By now we have held quite a slew of these little talks; forays into the turmoil that is the modern world of education. We’ve established a mutual trust and discussed enough important subjects, that I feel can share with you something personal about myself.
I suffer from a condition.
A few of you may have guessed already. Some of my close friends probably know, they can’t help but have noticed but in the name full disclosure I feel I should make a general statement to clear up once and for all any possible confusion.
I’m not looking for your pity when I tell you about this. Nor am I attempting to make myself a more attractive or sympathetic individual. I don’t want to influence your opinion about me in any way. I just want to come clean about this situation that has affected me virtually my entire life and will always be with me.
Even as I write (speak?) these words I can see the light of recognition dawning in your eyes so let me go ahead and say it.
Yes, it’s true, I’m a Cubs fan.
Please don’t pity me, don’t feel you must go out and organize an intervention or start a fund to help search for a cure — trust me — it is incurable.
There may be a few ways to begin understand a condition such as mine. For example when cable TV came to my neighborhood, I was among the first to call them and set up an appointment. When the representative came he was surprised to find that I cared nothing for the fact that they offered free HBO or Showtime, The Playboy Channel did not even elicit a glimmer in my eyes, all I cared about was “Do I get WGN, the Chicago Cubs channel?”
You may ask why someone seemingly so rational would choose to submit himself to the decades of punishment that Cub’s fans have endured. I can honestly say it is not by choice. My mother used to tell of how she would set me in my little “Johnnie Jump-up” right in front of the black and white Emerson TV with its 12inch screen, so she and I could watch the Cubs game while she did the ironing. By the time I was three I had a favorite player, Hank Sauer, number 9, which became the number I wore whenever I played any team game throughout my checkered athletic career.
There are rewards, such as they are, for being a Cub’s fan. You just have to dig a little deeper than most to find them and they are not as sweet as rewards generally are for others. One such trufflle came to me serendipitously last Friday when I got to see Kerry Wood, a personal favorite of many of us benighted folk, pitch what is ostensibly his last pitch as a Cub. Kerry was the original ‘phenom’, the ‘can’t miss’ prospect, an arm that with the help of a guy named Prior was going to finally bring the Cubs that much longed for World Series ring. Early in his career he had a game where he struck out 20 of the opponent’s batters. That’s twenty strikeouts in a total of 27 outs! I watched it and it was dominance on a scale unheard of.
But over the years, injuries forced Kerry to rehab or go under the knife for surgery and that ring never materialized. Yet, he kept coming back and enjoyed considerable success over and over again in a way that most of us can only aspire to achieve. On Friday, rumors were flying around the media that Kerry was “hanging it up”. Though he could still throw a baseball 95 miles an hour, he didn’t always know where it was going with the precision he expected. The word was, from those in the know, he wanted to pitch one last time and then he was done.
In the eighth inning he came into the game to face one batter. His last pitch was a nasty curve that had the batter swinging at nothing and in the dugout I’m sure someone called out “Thanks for the breeze!” in derision. Kerry walked off the field having struck out one more major league batter and as he approached the dugout, bathed in a tumultuous standing ovation, his son came running out and jumped into his arms. It was the stuff of hackneyed, cheap movie sentiment and I had tears rolling down my face.
There was a singer-songwriter named John Stewart. He died a few months back. Over his career he had one top hit, a song called “Gold”. For the entirety of his professional life, which spanned decades and included near the beginning, a stint as one of the Kingston Trio, he was much respected by others in the field of music. Many of his songs were recorded by other artists and he produced nearly a score of albums, copies of most of which, I can proudly say, I own. If you ever get a chance, type in the title, “Mother Country” by John Stewart and listen to that song. There is a line that goes “and he’s driving her ‘stone-blind’!” that never fails to elicit a well of emotion in me and that was what I felt on Friday; that same rush of bittersweet emotion that is drawn out of you despite all your efforts to the contrary.
Kerry Wood has retired. He can still throw a ball and throw it better than most but over the years the effort becomes harder and he has to work more diligently to get the same results. When he gets up in the morning there are numerous aches and pains to contend with and besides, young arms are out there waiting for their chance to show what they can do. The game has not passed him by but it is time to move on, he can leave knowing he has had many successes, more than failures and he did so at a level that many others could not achieve in his chosen profession. He is satisfied, I think with what he has accomplished. Was it what he expected, or was expected of him? No, of course not, but still there is the recognition that he did well, especially given the various situations thrown at him over the years. No one but he really knows the total effort he put in. The pain and the frustration are his to remember alone. But as recompense for those dark memories there is the sweet sound of that ovation in his ears and more than that, that magnificent curve ball, spinning forever, just out of reach, right where he wanted it to go.
And in my own way I know just how he feels . . .