34: America’s [Boring] Pastime 

Things have been crazy this week as I am now getting ready to head back home after a LONG time in east Europe away from my family (I’ve been gone for a little more than a month). I’m anxious to get back to my family and enjoy a little time off with them before going back on the road again; I’ll be heading back to my hometown of Chicago around mid-October. I’m actually excited about this next trip as this will be my first time going back to Chicago in a long time. I think the last time I went back there, I was still in the military (around 2007/2008 timeframe), so I’m excited to see how things have changed (or not changed) since I was there last.

This got me thinking about some of the things from my childhood that I reminisce about occasionally. One of which was Baseball!

Now, I am not a baseball fan by any stretch of the imagination – the only time I turn on a baseball game is when I desperately need to fall asleep or when I need a mind-numbing activity to take my mind off of everyday life. But never in my adult life have I turned on a baseball game with any kind of vested interest in the outcome! It’s not that I hold a hatred for the game or anything, I just feel like it’s too similar to farming… or watching paint dry… or watching paint dry while farming at a snail race. It’s fucking boring! There is nothing even remotely exciting about that game! But there was a time when I actually enjoyed the game of baseball – it just so happens that it was at the same point in my life where I picked my nose and thought girls were gross.

Like every other kid in the Midwest during the late 1980’s, I grew up watching and playing baseball; and the Chicago Cubs were my favorite team! I watched players like Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, Goose Gossage, and Mark Grace and dreamed of one day playing professional baseball like them! My parents, being the amazing people that they are, entertained my fantasy throughout my childhood and never told me that anything was out of reach for me. They allowed ME to decide what was or wasn’t beyond my scope of accomplishment (which I am still grateful for to this day). Obviously, growing up to be a professional baseball player was FAR beyond my capabilities as semi-coordinated, semi-mediocre Little Leaguer, but I always liked that my parents allowed me to succeed or fail on my own.

Anyway, one summer, my Dad decided to surprise me with something that absolutely made the day of an eleven-year-old boy: a trip to Wrigley Field to watch a Cubs game! It was fuckin’ awesome! I don’t know what it was about going to that game, but it was one of the defining moments of my young life… it was so exciting to see the magnitude of it all! We got there early and I was able to watch batting practice and meet Harry Caray as well as some of the players. It was like a dream come true!

Now, of course, there was a BIG difference between the games of that time and the games they play today. It wasn’t differences in how the game was played, but rather in how it was presented… which, I believe, made baseball more exciting to watch at that time.

Case in point: Harry Caray, the Cubs play-by-play announcer through most of the 80’s and 90’s, was known to indulge in a cocktail (or twenty) while he was announcing the game. This meant that if you were watching it on television, there was no need for them to tell you what inning it was – all you had to do was listen to Harry’s voice! If he sounded relatively sober, it was early in the game… if he sounded wholly inebriated – then the game was just about over. This was also how Harry’s drunken rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” got started! One time, during the seventh inning stretch, Harry Caray was three sheets to the wind and decided now would be a good time to use the public address system (don’t try this at home, kids). I know that it sounds silly that something like this could make the game worth going to in and of itself… but it DID! Harry Caray was a Chicago sports icon, and without him, I don’t think the Cubs would be as popular with Chicago baseball fans as they are today.

I went to three Cubs games throughout my young life, and I have indelible memories from each of those games that will probably last me a lifetime.

I can remember one time going with my Dad to a game where we sat along the left field wall (despite the fact that those weren’t our seats… they just happened to be empty). We stood up and started watching the visiting Houston Astros take batting practice when suddenly one of them hit a line drive… DIRECTLY AT ME! I saw the ball heading for my face and so I ducked behind the brick wall, but my Dad (who was standing behind me) wasn’t paying attention and got smacked in the chest by the ball. It knocked him over, but luckily, only his pride was hurt! He wasn’t injured (just a little bruised), but it had looked awful to everyone else at the stadium, and within seconds several members of the Wrigley Field staff (as well as the Astros left fielder) had converged on us to make sure my Dad was unharmed!

He assured everyone that he was fine (and that he had no intentions of suing) and they gave us the ball that hit him as a consolation prize. But I will always remember that day as the first time I saw my life flash before my eyes… and the day my Dad’s concentration lapsed at precisely the wrong time.

Honestly, I truly miss the days when I actually enjoyed watching baseball. But every now and again, I turn on a game to try and get re-acquainted with my old favorite pastime only to think “how did I EVER enjoy this game?”

And then I promptly take a nap.