Opening day without the old man

Posted on Apr 3, 2012 in Cubs, Featured | 24 comments


My  nephew, my brother and I were looking for a pin for dad to wear on the lapel of his suit.  There were plenty to pick from, he had Cubs pins and lots of Notre Dame pins.  He had some on his Cubs hat, some on his Notre Dame hat and a bunch more in a drawer that he’d either rotated out, or hadn’t gotten to yet.

We picked out the right one.  Cubs logo, number 10 and Santo etched along the bottom.  My nephew said “he’s always liked the Bears, too, why would we pick him out a Cubs pin?

Maybe you had to be there.  It was August, 1987 and a pick-up truck towing a trailer rumbled down our one lane road.  Its cargo was bouncing along behind it and I just stared, and for a moment I worried that it was going to keep on going past the house down the hill and to one of our neighbor’s farms.  But I knew better, and when it slowed and made the right hand turn into our driveway I got my first good look at it.

It was a satellite dish.  Nowadays when you think of satellite dish, you think of a pale gray thing about the size of an extra large lopsided pizza.  But in the late 1980’s, they were huge, nine feet across, bright white and the greatest eyesore ever invented.

And, for us, they meant one thing.  Even though we were just out of WGN-TVs signal area (90 miles northwest of Chicago) and a couple of miles too far north get cable, it meant we were about to hook up the ability to watch any Cubs game we damn well pleased.

In 1987 it meant a chance to watch Andre Dawson.  It also meant a chance to watch Keith Moreland play third base.  OK, I never said there weren’t drawbacks.

That dish was temporary.  It was built right into that trailer.  They parked it south of the house and ran the cables over the yard around to the side of the house through the living room door and to the TV.

But it was temporary the way Bud Selig used to be “interim” commissioner.  It was just a matter of time.

Within a week a new dish was in the back yard, this one planted right in the ground and the cable was buried up to the house.  It opened up a new world to us.

Harry Caray wasn’t just the middle three innings on the radio anymore.  You could watch “wild feeds” of news and sports.  One of dad’s favorite things to watch was the Evening News with Dan Rather.  You could watch Dan read the news, and when it went to commercial you could watch him mess with his hair and chew out an intern.

The most sophisticated part of the dish was the receiver.  It certainly wasn’t the apparatus you used to tune in the different satellites.

It had a hand crank, and there were only 24 channels on any one satellite.  So chances were CNN would be on one satellite, the networks would be on another, WGN on yet another, and I’m not going to say there was porn out there, but if it was, you could bet it was going to be on another.

Changing the satellite was quite an exact science.  It involved one of us standing at the dish turning the hand crank, with the other standing in the doorway looking at the TV yelling, “Back the other way!  Nope, just a little bit the other other way!”  It didn’t matter if it was warm, cold, sleet, rain or snow, if the dish needed to be changed, one of us was going to be out there cranking that dish.  Oh, and if it were sleet, rain or snow, that someone was going to be me.  He had to navigate.  Or so he said.

The next year, the Cubs had seven All-Stars (no, seriously…seven, count ‘em 1. Rick Sutcliffe, 2. Greg Maddux, 3. Shawon Dunston, 4. Ryne Sandberg, 5. Rafael Palmeiro, 6. Andre Dawson and 7. Vance Law) and we upgraded to  a motor you could turn the dish with while you were inside.

By 1989 we were in the lap of luxury.  You could call up the satellite by name and watch it automatically move the dish.  But we still didn’t have a remote for the receiver, so while the Cubs were making their unlikely run to the playoffs, dad was wearing out a groove in the carpet lying in front of the TV so he could reach up and change the channels.  If he’d had a stick long enough he’d have used that from his chair.

My fondest memory of that TV (a ‘huge’ 23″ Quasar console) and satellite set up was a night late in the ’89 season when we listened to the Cubs rally against the Cardinals as we drove home from Saturday night mass, then actually ran into the house to watch Luis Salazar double home the gimpy Dawson to beat the Cardinals and stay in first place.  I don’t pretend we were the only Cubs fans playing third base coach in their living room, waving Andre home, but I’m pretty sure we were the best at it.

Over the years, the big dish was replaced by DirecTV, and the Quasar was replaced by first a Mitsubishi and now a glorious 55″ Sony, but one thing remained constant.  The only show that didn’t involve the frantic changing of channels to avoid seeing a second of commercials were the Cubs.  I don’t think it’s because he was pondering the purchase of Empire Carpet or a Tru-Link Fence, and I know he wasn’t listening to Murph tell him to buy Union 76 gas.

So when my nephew wondered why it was a Cubs pin, that was the reason.  The old man may have loved the Bears and the Irish, but there was no question where the Cubs ranked.

The fact it was a Santo pin was all the more perfect.  They were born just a few months apart, and while dad was always a Ron Santo fan, he was especially fond of him the last few years of Ron’s life.  He’d always admired Ron, but in those years their connection was closer than anybody wanted it to be.

And every time Pat Hughes had to start off a broadcast with an update on Ron’s latest medical crisis, dad always said the same thing, “Ron is one tough, dude.”

It took one to know one.

When dad got the news that he had cancer, the doctor gave dad two years to live.  They didn’t overestimate the cancer, they underestimated Mike Dolan.

He had too much to do to fit into two years, so he took five.

And so that day in October we were picking out a pin to put on his suit, we didn’t have to pick the pin, the pin picked us.

There’s that oft quoted scene in City Slickers where Billy Crystal explains that baseball means so much to him because it was the one thing his father and him could always talk about, no matter what was going on.

That was true of me and my dad, too.  Oh, we talked about whatever we had to, but we kept it short, got our points across and then spent the next three hours trying to figure out the Cubs.  It was a pointless exercise, but it was always fun.

We went to dozens of Cubs games over the years.  Not bad, considering it was a four hour (at least) round trip to Wrigley.  But for me, two games stand out.

The first, was my first.  Saturday, August 15, 1981, Pissburgh at the Cubs.  We dropped my mom off at Woodfield Mall on our way into the city, and my dad, my brother Jim and my grandpa (mom’s dad) sat near the Cubs bullpen down the leftfield line.

The guys behind us smoked weed and heckled Pirates leftfielder Mike Easler after he bobbled a ball while warming up before the bottom of the first.  They called him “Hands Easley” the rest of the day.  Every time I have ever heard his name since I’ve thought of second hand herb and Hands Easley.

But the most memorable thing about the game to me, was it just wouldn’t end.

In the eighth, the great Bill Caudill and Doug Capilla managed to blow Mike Krukow’s 3-1 lead and then, nobody scored again.  For a long time.

Not in the ninth, or the tenth, or the eleventh…

And now dad was getting nervous.  He’d left mom unattended in a mall for four hours and there was no end in sight.  The checking account didn’t have that much money in it, but she had lots of checks.

Neither team scored in the twelfth, or the thirteenth, or the fourteenth.

Hell, now the mall was going to close, with mom in it.  She’d spend all night secret shopping that place to death.

When the Pirates went down 1-2-3 in the top of the 15th (against Randy Martz of all people), he pulled the plug.  There had been 15,000 fans there when the game started and there were about 1,200 left at this point, so we headed for the car.

We heard the few remaining drunken fans cheer a couple of times on our way to the car, and when we got into the car, Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau were celebrating Phil Garner throwing away a Steve Dillard grounder as Jody Davis lumbered around third to score the fourth run in a 4-3 Cubs win.

My first Cubs game, and my first Cubs win and I didn’t even see it end.  And when we pulled into Woodfield and picked mom up in front of Marshall Fields she didn’t have that many bags.  But she had two or three more than she would have if Doug Capilla could have figured out how to get…you, guess it, Hands Easley out with two outs in the eighth.

The other most memorable game included more than a few of you morans.  Our August 10, 2007 rooftop excursion.  He’d been fascinated by the rooftops, especially back when they were occupied by just a few drunks on lawn chairs in the ’80s.  So when I told him what we had planned he jumped at the chance to go.

And he loved it.  He never wanted to do it again, “You can’t see shit from over there.”  But he loved it.  He loved hanging out with the drunken, degenerate, smartasses of Desipio.  At one point during the game, I looked over and he was sitting alone in a row of bleachers on top of the rooftop, holding simultaneous conversations with a bunch of you morans one row in front and one row in back of him.  He looked over at where I was standing and just grinned.  And then Kermit and I went back to trying to talk the Brixen Ivy dopes from kicking TDubbs out (off?) of the roof.

The Cubs won that game, Chris Carpenter blew out his arm and all was right with the world.  We had a long drive home in the middle of the night, and he spent most of it trying to figure out how Lou Piniella was going to cobble together enough wins with a lineup that had to have Jock Jones in it.

And you wonder where I get it.

He also loved the Cubs Convention.  Oh, he’d had enough of the actual convention after a year or two, but he never got tired of telling people that he got to meet Len Kasper and Keith Moreland and Jody Davis at Shitty O’Keas.

As every Cubs fan wonders every year, he’d occasionally ask me, “Why do we root for this team?”  I’d always blame it on him.  I was an impressionable youth trying to be like my dad when I jumped in with both feet.

Truth is, he was, too.

They get us all, eventually.

I learned a lot of important things from my dad.

I also learned a lot of really unimportant things from him.  This is a man, who in the 1980s bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias for us, presumably to help us with our homework, and read EVERY SINGLE page of EVERY SINGLE book.

And so, a new season is going to start on Thursday.  Who knows if any of us will live long enough to see the Cubs actually win anything..ever?

But the secret, as I learned from dad, is to enjoy the rare moments they are good, swear profusely at them when they’re bad, and take the time to love every last minute of it.

Thanks, dad.

Go Cubs.