Sunday, January 25, 2015
My Sunday Feeling
I was still pretty young when Ernie Banks was at the height of his powers. But I have a vivid recollection of watching baseball with my grandfather over in Quitman one day. The Cubs were on the Game of the Week that particular Saturday for some reason as they were their typically lousy selves.
Anyway, I remember the broadcast starting with a smiling Ernie Banks facing the camera and saying, "It's a beautiful day for baseball. Let's play two." I was probably all of 10 at the time. I loved baseball. I thought Ernie Banks was pretty cool.
My father grew up in what is now called "Chicagoland." Back then they were content to refer to it as Valporaiso, Indiana which is right across Lake Michigan. When he was a kid he and a buddy used to hop the train when it would stop in Valpo and ride into Chicago to watch the Cubs and the Blackhawks. Even then you couldn't get a ticket to see the Bears.
And so my father was a Cub fan. And like most Cub fans, and other veterans of combat, he had a sort of PTSD that prevented him from talking about it very much. Being a Cub fan will do that to you. Unlike my youngest brother, who named his son after the intersection upon which Wrigley Field sits, I have remained mostly agnostic about the Cubbies. I refuse to permit hope to dwell in my heart given their record, writ large as it is upon history's immortal scroll and available for examination by the public.
Because the Cubs-and let's not put too fine a point on it- have stunk on ice for most of their existence. They somehow even stunk with a lineup in those days that, off and on, featured Ron Santo, Don Kessinger, Ferguson Jenkins, Billy Williams and, yes, Ernie Banks, the universally beloved "Mr. Cub,"who died yesterday at 83.
Yes child, Mr. Banks could certainly play. He batted .274, had 2,583 hits and 512 home runs. He twice led the league in homers. He is rightfully in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His number 14 is retired.
But those are just numbers. To me, and to legions of Cubs fans, he was the embodiment of "Cubdom"or, "Cubismo" if you will, in that he always projected an aura of sunny optimism in the face of almost certain merciless clockwork doom. He was ready to "play two" while other Cub teammates were looking for ways to get traded if not outright looking for small handguns with which to end their misery. The true Cub fan understands this. After all, the Cubs play in a Catholic town. The true Cub fan is not one of the arriviste types that bought up the brownstones in the neighborhood so they could watch the games from the roof. The true Cub fan is not a narcissist unlike these insufferable types. He is also unlike Red Sox and Giants fans in this regard as I ponder this further.
No. The true Cub fan is a guy who took the "El" in to Wrigley from some place. A guy who sits by his lonesome in the bleachers on a September day nursing an Old Style("Authentically Kraeusened")as the first hint of autumn wind rolls in from the lake, foreshadowing as it always does misery and futility. The Cubbies are apt to be comfortably 15 games out of contention in the effing division at this point in time. The true Cub fan, who prosecutes a close walk with grief, guilt and shame, is there. And yet, and also in order to push the Catholic metaphor to the vanishing point, what passes for faith, a faith so far yet cruelly unrequited, compels him to yet believe in those things visible and invisible. Well, mostly invisible. These are the Cubs after all.
What passes for faith sustains him even when he witnesses legendary ineptitude -and I'm just picking one out of the air here-such as the night portly right hander Rick Reuschel injured himself FALLING OFF THE MOUND DURING WARMUPS. Which I actually saw on TV. And Reuschel was pretty good.
The true Cub fan believed in Ernie Banks and Mr. Banks understood him.
Ernie Banks never had a bad day. And you would think somebody who carried the grim mantle of "Mr. Cub" would have had plenty.
Rest In Peace, Sir. Boy, have you earned it.