Peoria, Tazewell, And Woodford: Here, There & Everywhere

Excerpt From Wrigley Field: 100 Stories For 100 Years edited by Brad Campana and ICC Harbinger feature editor survivor Rob Carroll. Essay #39 by Mike Foster

From WRIGLEY FIELD: 100 STORIES FOR 100 YEARS edited by Brad Campana and ICC Harbinger feature editor survivor Rob Carroll.

This is #39. The book also features 99 other short essays by Joe Girardi, Rick Sutcliffe, Dan Roan, Mitch Williams, Jeff Santo, Chip Caray, Steve Stone and assorted Cubs players, broadcasters, and fans and Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickert, and Matt Junker.

Available at bookstores and on Amazon.com.

 

By Mike Foster

You never forget your first time.

My first visit to Wrigley Field happened during midsummer, 1983. Bill Knight, my editor at the Prairie Sun, a lively free Midwestern newspaper covering politics, music, and so on, had been amazed to learn that I had never ever been to a game in the friendly confines of that brick Mecca.

Guilty as charged.  My dad Claude taught me to love reading and jazz, but he was not the kind of father to go out and throw a baseball back and forth with.  In baseball, as in other sports, what I lacked in size and strength, I made up for in slowness and lack of coordination. Growing up on Peoria’s East Bluff, I avoided Little League successfully and spent my summer days swimming in Glen Oak Park’s pool and making moolah as a Peoria Journal Star paper boy. I had a decent glove and a forty-ounce Louisville Slugger bat, both gifts that languished in the closet while I built my record and comic book collections.

So one fine hot Saturday, Bill procured tickets for five: me, my wife Jo (a longtime fan of the Milwaukee Braves, her hometown team), and my erstwhile Illinois Central College journalism student Jeff Putnam and his wife Janice.

We loaded into my Dodge Aspen Station Wagon From Hell and set off from Metamora, Ill., to Wrigleyville. I found a tight parking place on Irving Park, squeezed it in, and we hiked over to the ball game.

Our seats were on the first base side, about twenty rows up. A balmy breeze blew in from the west.  The sky glowed bright blue with puffy clouds straight out of a Maxfield Parrish painting. “Beer man! Five!” Bill shouted, and for the first time I witnessed the honest chain of money going down the row one way and Old Styles coming back down the other. “Hot dog man! Five!” Bill called out again, and again the dollars went one way and the dogs came back the other.

And right there and then I decided that, like Paris and Oxford, Wrigley Field was a place I wanted to return to soon and often.  And that was before the Frosty Malts. Heck, the Cubs may have even won that game.

In 1984, Knight and I co-authored and self-published THE CUB FAN’S CHRISTMAS WISH, a baseball fantasy set in that brownstone on Waveland just over the left field wall.

By then I was helplessly, hopelessly hooked. We’d been at the Peoria Bergner’s store before it opened on the day single game tickets first went on sale in 1984, speed-walked to the Ticketmaster outlet, and bought tickets for four games for us and our two daughters, Martha and Megan, then fourteen and nine. I attended three more games with buddies.

What a summer that was! No bad seats, no bad weather.  Behind MVP Ryne Sandberg and Cy Young winner Rick Sutcliffe, the Cubs went 96-65 and finished in first place with a .596 percentage. The girls learned to know and love the Cubs, even (uh-oh) relief pitcher Lee Smith. This was the year!

Then in the fifth game of the 1984 playoff series with the Padres, a routine grounder skipped under Leon Durham’s glove and between his feet. Midnight had tolled for Cinderella. Never mind, we said. Next year for sure.

That was thirty years ago.

For our sins, we would return many times. The ticket prices and beer prices steadily increased, street parking became impossible, and the Cubs slowly declined.

But memories rich as rubies remain. We were there when Padres pitcher Eric Show beaned Andre Dawson, who’d homered off him in the first inning. Dawson went down like a dead man. An angry howl came from the stands while a Niagara of beer descended on the San Diego outfielders. After seconds that seemed minutes, Dawson got up and woozily charged the mound while Rick Sutcliffe led an enraged dugout full of Cubs out to the mound on a vengeful vendetta.

Once we took a charter coach trip up from the Metamora IGA.  The bus was late and we arrived just in time for Kerry Wood’s “comeback” game. He gave up six hits and five runs and was pulled in the first with an extrapolated ERA of infinity. The bus rides took longer going and coming than the game did.

For a while, I did opening day games with Knight and a group of erstwhile Journal Star newsroom cronies from Peoria. No matter how many layers I wore, I froze from the feet up, a Cubscicle, drinking a beer that got steadily colder as we did. For several years, I saw opening day from the bleachers, standing along the fence in the left field bleachers with the Wisconsin cheese-heads party.

The longest game I ever saw was 15 innings. Harry Caray sang twice. From our upper deck vantage point, Journal Star feature editor Dennis Dimond and I could see two people (at least) holding him by his belt as he leaned out in the 14th. We composed the headline (WOMAN, TWO CHILDREN KILLED AS CUBS’ SEMI-NUDE ANNOUNCER FALLS FROM WGN BOOTH) but it was unneeded. Cubs won.

I was in the bleachers on opening day the year after Harry died. We didn’t see the phalanx of bagpipers massed on Waveland right behind us. When they swirled in with “Amazing Grace,” there were no dry eyes in Wrigley.

Time passed. In 2000, I broke three lower back vertebrae in a swimming accident. Seven years later, a hip replacement slowed me down further. For all its charms, Wrigley isn’t a handicapped hobbler’s best friend.  Jo and I took in our last Friendly Confines game in 2011. We’ve seen them play in Atlanta, Milwaukee, and St. Louis, but they’re not Wrigley.

Oh, well. Anyone can have a bad year, or 107 of them. The Cub Fan’s Christmas Wish is in the library of the Baseball Hall Of Fame and Museum, so even if Sammy Sosa isn’t in Cooperstown, our book is. My younger daughter Megan and her husband Frank took their daughters Madeleine and Emma to Wrigley for the first time last year, and the Cubs won.

So hope springs eternal. Next year for sure!

Or maybe….this year.

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This entry was posted on October 6, 2015 by in Baseball, Mike Foster, Sports and tagged , , .
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