Opening Day has arrived and the world seems to make a little more sense again.
I grew up a Boston Red Sox fan in the 1970s, so for me, Opening Day was often threatened by snow. However, normally it was just threatened by overpaid, slow right-handed bats and an elderly pitching staff. Small ball and stealing bases (National League-type baseball) was as distasteful to New Englanders back then as tomato-based Manhattan Clam Chowder.
Well, all of that seemed to change over the last decade, and neither a little snow nor even red chowder seems to bother the average Sox fan anymore.
I became a Red Sox fan, because my family members were Sox fans, and we lived near Boston. I suppose we generally all choose teams that way. However, sometimes it is a particular ballplayer who attracts us or maybe a visit to a certain ballpark. Sometimes it’s because someone gave you a hat.
However, sometimes, it is just a random choice — and possibly a very bad choice.
When I got to West Lafayette in the early 1980s, many of my friends were Cub fans from Chicago. Since I was lacking a functioning moral compass, had access to WGN, and a newly-discovered fondness for Old Style beer — it was a natural choice to become a Cubs fan too.
It didn’t take long as a newly-minted Cub fan to watch them melt down in 1984. As a Red Sox fan I was fully versed in understanding disappointment in baseball. However, I was still amazed how easily Cubs fans dismissed the playoff collapse that year — it was as if the expectation of losing was a lifestyle choice and regardless, it would still be sunny in the Wrigley bleachers next year.
I was overseas when the scrappy ‘89 Cubs stumbled to the Giants. This may have angered the baseball gods to the point that they brought their wrath down on the entire Bay Area that same October.
Nevertheless, when I returned from the service, I was ready to get back on the Cub bandwagon and I began a six-year pilgrimage to Wrigley Field every year for Opening Day.
Some years it was brutally cold, but on occasion it would warm up — and just snow.
I was there when Cub Tuffy Rhodes hit three home runs against Doc Gooden on opening day in 1993, and was there again when he hit another one a few weeks later. Rhodes hit 13 home runs in his entire MLB career and I saw four of them. I would venture to guess that I may have been present for more of his major league highlights than his mother. On a side note, Tuffy never stopped hitting the longball. Shortly afterward, he went to Japan and hit 474 more and tied Sadaharu Oh’s single-season record.
One opening day I caught a home run ball from rotund Cub catcher named Hector Villenueva. Hector’s career wasn’t quite as memorable as Rhodes’, but he does hold the distinction of being the only professional athlete I think I could have beaten in a 40-yard dash. Hard to believe the Cubs had trouble winning with talent like that.
Over those same years, buddies of mine and I spent a lot of times at Cub games. I once sat at the Cubby Bear, Wrigleyville watering hole, and bought White Sox great Minnie Minosa a drink. I asked him, “What are you doing with yourself these days Minnie?” And he replied, “I get paid to get drunk all day with Cub fans.”
On another occasion, I had an Old Style-fueled encounter with then-Giant first baseman Will Clark. He felt it necessary to take my family lineage and girth into question after six innings of my “good-natured” needling. I considered that a victory that day.
I once spent three innings trying to convince former Northern Exposure actress Janine Turner that I thought we had once “hooked up” in college. She was dating Cub first baseman Mark Grace at the time, and she spent the next three innings convincing me that she was “PRETTY SURE WE HADN’T.”
I used to run around a little with ESPN analyst Steve Lavin when he was a Purdue basketball assistant. He and I spent the better part of a cold April day at Murphy’s Bleacher Bar trying to decide whether we were better off eating multiple brats there or watching Shawn Boskie walk the bases loaded again in a cold drizzle — the brats were really good that day.
I originally wrote this column thinking that since I chose to be a Cub fan, I could un-choose to be one right now.
Instead, I think I just need to start hanging out at Wrigley Field again.
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