Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Not Quite 40 Years Ago

Ron Santo was inducted, posthumously, to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. He was part of the Cubs franchise my dad loved. The Cubs were so much a part of his life. He told us stories about buying a train ticket to Chicago when the Milwaukee Road ran passenger service through Northeast Iowa. The train would arrive in Monona around 2 a.m. Dad and his friends would ride the train to Chicago, hop onto the red line elevated train and take that to Wrigley Field. Bleacher seats, in the war years, cost a buck. They would sit in the bleachers of the Friendly Confines cheering on the team and, when the game was over, reverse the process to get home. They usually arrived back in Monona around 2:30 a.m. A friend would drive him home and he'd get about 3-4 hours of sleep before starting the day. I don't know how many times he did this but he loved to tell the story.

Growing up, we had an old box radio about the size of my sewing box. It was brown, I remember that clearly, with a big dial on the front that moved the red line to the various stations. In the summer, when he would go out to the fields in the afternoon, dad would put the radio in the east southeast windows of the porch, meticulously tune the dial and fiddle with the antenna until we heard the first verse of, "Lets Go! Batter Up! We're taking the afternoon off! It's a beautiful day for a ball game!" Then the booming voice of Jack Brickhouse came out of the radio, "The Chicago Cubs are on the air!" It was a marvel to me, unknowing as I was about radio waves back then, that we were listening to something going on live in Chicago. Chicago! That's another place, a big place, so different from Cedar Rapids or Des Moines, the biggest cities I'd been to at that time.

It was someone's responsibility to listen to the game and, when dad came in from the fields, after about an hour or 90 minutes, tell him what the score was. Plus, it was not just tell him the score, it was also our responsibility to tell him who had hit a home run. He was a huge fan of Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins, so when they were slated to play, it was doubly important to keep tabs on the game for him. That responsibility usually fell to me, as the oldest. My siblings didn't have the patience to sit at the table and keep one ear on a scratchy radio broadcast and do something else. They wanted these summer days to be filled with other things.

When we started taking family vacations, one of the first places dad wanted to go was Chicago, and, by extension, Wrigley Field. We'd gone to a minor league baseball game in Cedar Rapids, the Cedar Rapids Cardinals, in preparation for the Chicago trip. The team at that time, was affiliated with the hated St. Louis Cardinals. I don't remember anything about that game other than it was chilly at night and my grandmother, with whom we were staying, disapproved of the excursion. But, the trip met dad's expectations for us sitting for 7 innings so he bought tickets to the Chicago Cubs vs the Houston Astros.

Somewhere, I have the program for the game. I can't tell you if the Cubs are up or in the field. This was a Friday and "Ladies Day" at the ballpark. Women got in free to grandstand and bleacher seats. We had reserved grandstand seats which were discounted. Our tickets were not mailed. We had to go to something called the "Will Call" window, a term we were unfamiliar with. The smartly dressed ushers showed us where to go and dad handed each of us a ticket. I felt like I was on top of the world. This was Chicago! This was the Cubs! I didn't know anyone in my grade who had gone to a real live major league baseball game!

Billy Williams was still with the team at this point. Santo was gone. Ernie Banks, another stalwart of the Cubs, was managing the team after the then manager, Whitey Lockman, was ejected in a May game. Dad was in his glory pointing out all the players and where he used to sit when he came in the 1940's. We walked all over the park, from one end to another. We got hot dogs, cotton candy, soda, peanuts and ice cream. Dad taught me how to keep score. The scorecard and a pencil were 50 cents. It was a bit chilly in the shade but the atmosphere of Wrigley Field could not be matched anywhere.

The Cubs lost 6-4. I remember that. Dad and mom conferred and we came back the next day. We had seats to the left, on the third base side. I remember my youngest brother had to go to the bathroom, so dad took him. During that interlude, Billy Williams came up to bat and hit a homerun over the left field wall. Billy was rounding third base when dad got to the top of the ramp to see anything. He was very disappointed that he'd missed seeing it.

It's too expensive for me to attend a Cubs game now. It's relatively easy to get there. I'd take the communter train into the city and hop on the same red line elevated train to stop at Addison Street. The park is a 2 block walk west. There are statues of Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Jack Brickhouse and Harry Carey around the park. Dad despised Harry Carey because he announced St. Louis Cardinal and Chicago White Sox games for years before coming to the Cubs. He replaced Jack Brickhouse in the announcer's booth, a move dad always resented of "his" Cubs.

All of this came back into memory as I read the stories of Santo's induction. I don't pay much attention to baseball anymore. I quit caring deeply when salaries became more than the gross national product of some small countries. I can't tell you, right now, where the Cubs stand in their division or who plays for them. I do know that it doesn't matter where they are in the standings, Wrigley Field will almost always be sold out for every game, such are the Cub faithful.

Dad never got to sit in the box seats down front. I was going to do that for him the year he died. He was going to retire and come visit for a week. We were going to take the trains to the ballpark and watch a game up close and personal. I thought of all that on Sunday. Ron Santo's induction should have come earlier but it's still important that he's in the Hall of Fame now. Some day, I should go visit Cooperstown.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


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