Thursday, June 27, 2013

Now it can be told

You know how much I love baseball. I have written about it, I have done the Cubs fantasy camp the year I turned thirty, and welcome the chance for any visit to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. But you probably don't know why it was my fault they didn't get to the World Series when they were five outs away in October 2003.

Now nearly ten years later, it is important to clear up the mystery of the team's hundred plus year pennant drought. It turns out that it wasn't curses, billy goats, or even the Bartman ball. It was, in fact, all me and a solemn oath that was broken in a moment of weakness.

I am an ultra-Orthodox Cubs fan. I believe that baseball should be played in the day, on grass, with no designated hitters. That wasn't much of a problem before August of 1988. The Cubs had never had lights, although they came close just before World War II. For some reason, seeing night games at other ball parks wasn't a problem for me, but the Cubs were special. Day games at Wrigley were extra special, particularly when one skipped out of school or work to be there. Some of the highlights for me were opening days with my father, over 20 games as a 12 year old during the nearly miraculous 1969 season, and a meaningless last game of the season in the early eighties sitting in the virtually empty left field bleachers and meeting a freshman at Northwestern who had skipped class so he didn't have to wait until the following season to see his first Cubs game.

When lights were installed, I was faced with a choice of accommodating change or maintaining my faith. It was an easy choice. I vowed never to attend a night game at Wrigley, and laughed mightily as the first night game was rained out as a sign that I had made the right choice.

I turned down sky box tickets from a client for the All-Star game in 1988. I arranged with my season ticket pool to take the tickets for the day game of the playoffs that never happened in 1989, as the Cubs lost before that day game could be played. I watched at home as my friends froze in the early and late months of the season and never thought twice about my promise until 2003.

2003 was a season of beauty and wonder. The Cubs had pitching, hitting, and a sense of awe about them. Through a business contact of my wife, I had access to seats on a regular basis. During the regular season, they were almost always box seats behind the plate near the players' wives, visiting dignitaries, and the like. During the playoffs, the seats moved up and away from prime territory. I attended one day game during each of the early rounds with worse and worse seats as the excitement grew and the Cubs moved step by step toward the Series.

Then came game six of the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. I had already been to one of the day game wins but the temptation grew too much. Our Cubs contact offered two tickets in the left bleachers and in a moment of weakness I gave in. I invited Jeff, a childhood friend, who had often shared his day game season tickets with me. He knew about my pledge, but didn't give me too hard a time about it. It was just too exciting, particularly as the Cubs built a lead and we were five outs away from the first World Series in my lifetime.

You know the rest. As Jeff was on his cell phone giving a play-by-play in the eighth inning to his brother in Israel, it happened. Base runners, Moises Alou reaching for a foul ball just in the stands, the infamous interference by a fan named Steve Bartman, an error by the shortstop Alex Rodriguez, a flood of runs, and disaster. There was a Game Seven, but everyone knew how that was going to come out.

I have never gone to another night game, but it's too late. So please don't blame the others and forgive me for making everyone wait that many more years for the World Series. We can all enjoy the Blackhawks' Stanl;ey Cup but it's not the same.

I mean it this time. No matter how tempting it is, I just won't go. I promise!

Marathon tie-in for the blog?  Game six was October 14, 2003, two days after I completed my first Chicago marathon!

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