In the timeless musical “Into the Woods,” Stephen Sondheim composed a beautiful, thoughtful song titled “Children Will Listen.” One of the lyrics reads: “children will look to you for which way to turn, to learn what to be.” Although Sondheim’s intention was to encompass many ideas, the truth is that what family members leave behind frequently is an attitude, a tradition or a path of devotion, much more valuable than a monetary inheritance.
I grew up in a family where many traditions were observed — few were more important than major league baseball, a tradition with my ancestors going back to pre-1900.
My grandfather arrived from Germany in the late 1800’s and immediately fell in love with the Cincinnati Reds. Over time, that team interest distilled into other teams – specifically, the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.
So it is important for me (and my forefathers) to note that after 70 barren major league baseball seasons the Chicago Cubs, last Saturday night claimed the National League pennant and will faceoff against the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series.
The Cubs have not been in the World Series since 1945 and have not won one since 1908 — to put this in some perspective, the Ottoman Empire was around when the Cubs last won it all. The absolute joy baseball brings me is a definite gift from three prior generations of my family.
Children DO listen!
The most recent generation in my family was introduced to the Cubs by the man pictured above in two photos: Harry Caray (older Cub fans listened to Jack Brickhouse and Bob Elson).
The shot with my two sons was taken many years ago over breakfast. Fans who followed Harry will quickly recognize that on the far right is his breakfast libation, probably not an uncommon way for him to start his day.
Harry had a distinguished career announcing games for the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics, and Chicago Whitesox, before switching over to the Cubs. His enthusiastic delivery, plus his willingness to embrace the fans on every level – including announcing games from the stands, leading the seventh inning “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” anthem and his array of vary clever catchphrases. I have never heard of an account of Harry being rude to an autograph seeker: he saw himself as a fan behind the microphone. He was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.
Above is an additional photograph of my sons in Cub regalia — the other photograph of my wife and I with our son, Matthew, was taken on October 4, 1989 at Wrigley Field just moments before an ignominious event. Will Clark, of the Giants, was just about to hit a grand slam off Cub ace Greg Maddux that effectively ended the first game of the series, which the Giants ultimately won, 4-1.
Let me close this blog with one of my favorite memories about Wrigley Field. In the late 60’s, when I was a teenager, I worked several summers for my much beloved, Uncle Sherman, who was a civil engineer. He had a long, illustrious career, which included working on the Chicago subway system, the Pentagon, and five years of bridge building in Turkey. He was essentially in semi-retirement in the late 60’s. On a number of occasions, we would play hooky, and attend a ball game at Wrigley Field. These outings were some of the most wonderful days of my life. Going to Wrigley Field with someone you really care about is about as special as it can get.
Two years ago, when my mother was literally on her deathbed, she and I had this conversation:
“Mom, you know when I worked for Uncle Sherman, sometimes we played hooky.”
Her response surprised me: “Instead of working, you two would go to watch baseball at Wrigley Field.”
Incredulous, I asked her how she figured it out. Did Uncle Sherman tell her? With a wide smile on her face she said: “I was doing your wash in those days. If you’re going to play hooky at Wrigley Field, don’t leave the score card in your dirty jeans!”
I asked why she never called me out on it in the last 40 plus years — her response was priceless.
“Son, I have played hooky at Wrigley Field myself.”
I am sincerely sorry that neither my mother, my Uncle Sherman, nor many others I knew aren’t around for these current idyllic days.