CHICAGO — I have never been one to let too many people into the depths of my personal thoughts. Heck, I probably don’t let myself go there too often.
I don’t like personal reflection. I find lifelong to-do-it lists to be hokey. Every great new experience would end up on a woulda, shoulda been on my hokey to-do-it list if I kept one in the first place.
Covering the Chicago Cubs on a professional level. Check.
Attending some of the greatest sporting events in the country—Big Ten Tournament, PGA Championship, Orange Bowl for the National Championship, Daytona 500. Check. Check. Check. Check, again.
Finding a great fiancÃ©e. Check. (Oops, let a personal thought squeak in there.)
Conducting life through a world of sports leads to many fantasies. I always believed—and still do—that somewhere down the road, probably after this life, I would be able to experience the world as it was experienced by those who had come before me in those days when life seemed much more glorious than it is today.
Somewhere in this dreamland would be the experience of attending a game at the Chicago Stadium. Or a glimpse of what it was like when Tinker, Evers and Chance were double-playing their way to consecutive World Series championships for the Cubbies.
How ‘bout Bobby Jones tearing up the golf world with his hickory sticks? Babe Ruth’s drunk, fat ass tooling around the bases during the heat of day on less than two hours of sleep and God-only-knows-what venereal disease. Bob Knight, sans the gut, wearing a plaid blazer and a dark head of hair. Hammerin’ Hank becoming the greatest player ever to swing a bat and wear a glove despite playing in oblivion in Beertown and the armpit of the South.
Most of these things exist for me only in a fuzzy, static-filled black and white world. They are video clips and sound bites only truly experienced by the people that were there.
A Led Zeppelin concert before they were all either dead or sucking down Geritol just to stay semi-regular. What these guys used to do with octopus.
On Wednesday I had the chance to experience one such dream in a world full of CMYK color, without the benefit of commentary or others observing.
They call him Mr. Cub. For me, he has always been an enigma. My biggest memory of Ernie Banks was his dinger over the left field wall off Pat Jarvis to reach the 500 homer plateau—but it was all in Kodakrome with Jack Brickhouse doing the voiceover.
My 20-minute one-on-one interview with the legend was even more surreal. How I kept my composure, I don’t know. The Associated Press requested that I do the interview for an upcoming story about the annual baseball pity parade on the north side of Chicago.
“Mr. Wrigley always said the day was for baseball and the night was for the moon and the stars and making love,” Ernie said. “We had baseball in the afternoon and love at night. Can’t beat that.”
My thoughts exactly, despite being experienced with day baseball at age five and yet-to-be experienced with that other part at age 24—for only three more months.
And this chat session was at a night game—a Cub purist’s no-no. But I bet most of the drunk fraternity crowd at the Friendly Confines would pull the double duty that night. Mr. Wrigley wouldn’t be too proud.
Don’t mix the two in the same evening. Have any of you seen the movie “Slugger’s Wife” or tried to wash down some barbiturates with vodka.
The Cubs misfortunes over the last century, Ernie? (Hesitant to call it failure, hemorrhaging, or the baseball equivalent of an abortion.)
“Hmmm. That’s a good one.”
“It’s not a goat. It’s not a ghost,” he said. “It’s…it’s…”
Great, just like everyone else. Popeil can change the world with chicken-turners and jerky makers, but not a soul can put a finger on the Cubs permanent position on the rotisserie. Maybe a chat with Einstein should have been on my to-do-it list if for nothing other than to figure out why, Lord, why do millions of us have to suffer through Cubosity.
“We just haven’t found ‘it’,” remarked Banks. “Sometimes it take a long time to find the ‘it’.”
With all the groupies, it seems baseball players get too much of “it”. Ruth had “it” almost every night. Dennis Rodman has “it” with himself. Wilt Chamberlain is the king of “it”.
Oh…Not that “it”.
“Only 100 golfers get to win each year around the world. They have the ‘it’,” Banks continued to philosophize. “Tiger Woods. Michael Jordan. They have the ‘it’.”
Well, Jordan tried baseball and didn’t have “it”.
My hopes had vanished. Not even Mr. Cub, the man who stands tall and proud despite being the Cubs No. 1 ambassador, can give us an answer. We are surely doomed. And we think Andy MacPhail can find “it”.
What will happen when the Lovable Losers stumble across “it”?
“When they find ‘it’, the Cubs will have the power to change the world in terms of hanging in there—perseverance,” said Banks. “People follow sports a lot around the world. So everybody follows our lead.
“It is possible for the Cubs to change the world because the Cubs symbol is red, white and blue—America’s colors. It’s the most popular emblem in of all of sports. Is this a great country or what?,” Banks said.
“I say, ‘Pick a better country. Pick a better person than you. Pick a better team than the Cubs.’ You can’t.”
And I can’t think of anything that I would have rather been doing on a muggy night at Wrigley Field, sitting in an empty cafeteria talking to the greatest Cub every to wear the pinstripes. I can’t pick a better person than him. I can’t pick a better team than the Cubs. I can’t pick a better country than one that allows a balding, gray-haired 24-year-old to chit-chat with a baseball idol and the Cubs’ eternal optimist.
Ernie Banks didn’t know me any better than he knows a press box urinal biscuit. But he seemed to pour his heart out to describe to a scribe what this Cub experience is all about.
The look on my face when he asked me for my business card? Only he knows.
Um, a, uh, business card, uh, Mr., uh, Cub? I’m, uh, only a, um, student. I, um, don’t have a, um, business card.
“Well just write your name and address down,” said the one and only Ernest Theodore Banks. “You’re going to do well.”
But only if I find “it”.