In April of 2003, I made my first trip to Chicago. I had saved all winter bartending to make a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.
In fairness, I actually flew out to watch my beloved San Diego Padres play at the Friendly Confines. More specifically, it was a chance to see a historic ballpark and drink a dozen Old Styles out in the bleachers.
The weather was miserable. It was cold and wet and the wind was gusting off of Lake Michigan. I figured with such crummy conditions the game would have been put on hold but it was the exact opposite. The train ride from Downtown to Wrigleyville was an absolute zoo, picking up fans along the Red Line until the car was packed like sardines in a tin. I couldn’t catch my breath until I got to Clark and Addison.
It wasn’t until I walked into the park did I feel like I was in Chicago. Even though I had already taken a trip to the top of the Sears Tower and eat a slab of prime rib the size of a poodle at Miller’s Pub, it’s not until you see the steel girders supporting the backfield did you know you were actually in Chicago.
It was a tornado of smells: dirt, tobacco, grass, hot dogs, spilt beer and piss—everything you’d want a hundred-year-old ballpark to smell like. Scampering up to my seat, I watched batting practice and ate the first of nine hot dogs.
Even though I was freezing (I can not put too fine of a point on this—April in Chicago is November in Alaska—it was remarkable. Whereas some structures under/overwhelm when you finally see them, such as the Statute of Liberty or the Grand Canyon, Wrigley looked exactly as it should. It’s a neighborhood ballpark with more history than most metropolitan cities. Between the grass, the infield, the buntings, and signs, it just looked like a perfect ballpark.
In addition, the fans were spectacular. Loud, gregarious and filled with optimism. And best of all, they all kinda looked like me: chubby with bad moustaches, reeking of cigarettes and mumbling about the weather. They were working-class people at a ball
Even though I was double-fisted with brews and sitting quietly filling out my scorecard, a guy three rows in front of me wanted to know what I was doing. Confused, I looked up and saw a fellow who looked like John Candy on crank.
“What you think you’re doing?” he bellowed.
I shrugged my shoulders and went back to my scorecard. I didn’t look up until he yelled it again. I didn’t feel threatened but you have to remember it wasn’t even 1 p.m. and this guy was slobberknockered.
“What you think you’re doing with that Padres cap?” he hollered.
Oh. I wasn’t just wearing an old Taco Bell Padres’ lid, I also had on my San Diego T-shirt and satin Padres batting jacket. Oops.
Thinking quickly—and remember, we haven’t even sung the national anthem yet—I said I was from Utah and I’m a Mormon and this is my first time to a big city. It’s probably the fastest I’ve ever told three lies in a row. The guy started moving towards me and squeezed himself next to me (and I swear this is true) and asked me for my driver’s license. Without thinking, I opened my wallet and handed it over to him.
Looking it over, he handed it to a buddy and said, “Hey, look, this guy is from Uuuu-tahhh.” Next thing you know, my only form of ID, a thousand miles away from home was being passed around as if it was the Rosetta Stone. I played it as cool as possible by asking if he’d like one of my beers. He laughed, took it, and said, “I didn’t think Mormons drank.” I told him I wasn’t very Mormon.
The license was eventually returned, Sammy Sosa ran out to right field and the Padres won the sloppiest 2-0 game I’ve ever seen. I was happy they came away with the win but both teams played horribly. I had to look it up but in 2003, the Cubs went 88-74 winning the NL Central and the Padres ended up with 64-98, last in the NL West. At least I was there for one of the wins.
I’m not sure what happened in the postseason for the Cubs in 2003, but I think Moisés Alou had some trouble. I think it would be nice if Steve Bartman was asked to throw out a first pitch.
The last time the Cubs won a World Series, Hawaii and Alaska weren’t states, neither was New Mexico or Arizona. Teddy Roosevelt was president, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest structure in the world, sugar was 4-cents a pound, my hometown of Las Vegas’s population was 30, they hadn’t invented canned beer and you could buy heroin over-the-counter.
The Cubs beat the Detroit Tigers in five games in 1908 for their second consecutive World Series win. They haven’t . Orval Overall became the first pitcher in Series history to strikeout four batters in one inning, neither team committed an error and game five had the lowest attendance ever with only 6,210 people present.
It was also Chicago’s second consecutive World Series win.
I’m torn about tonight’s 2016 World Series. I don’t believe any team is entitled to a title just because they’ve been long-suffering. Heck, the Cleveland Indians haven’t had a world championship since 1948. There’s value in being the “loveable losers.” It’s almost as if the Cubs not winning a World Series is a part of the American DNA, not just for those living along Lake Michigan.
I doubt San Diego will ever win a Series in my lifetime, so this is not sour grapes. Rooting for a squad that does their best but continues to come up short is painful but not without merit. It makes you stronger, more committed and helps explains shortcomings in your own life. Sure, the curse of the Bambino has been washed away with three rings in nine years, but it sure was a lot more fun rooting for the Red Sox when you knew they were cursed.
With that said, I think Chicago is built to win. Great starting pitching, Joe Maddon at the helm, Kris Bryant’s bat and a lefty named Aroldis Chapman is going to be the difference maker. I predict it goes six games with the Cubs winning games 1,3,4 and 6.
After they fly the W, let’s remember the Padres haven’t won in 47 years.
Ben Raskin is a communications writer for USANA Health Sciences. He also bartends at Keys On Main, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. His pals, K-Mo and Tim, are on suicide watch until the Cubs win.