“…Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip….”
from “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
I travel…on business, a lot. So how did I spend my Fourth of July holiday? I traveled. Off to Chicago, or rather, to the village of Glen Ellyn, specifically, a former place of residence. I spent the Fourth with long-time good friends and the next generation.
It was a swell trip, with barbecues and great conversation mixed with good food and wine. The weather was hot and muggy, but what should one expect in the dead of summer in Illinois?
The fireflies were delightful, or would have been were the Chicago mosquitoes a tad less aggressive and blood-thirsty.
There was an old-timey Fourth of July parade in Glen Ellyn including ancient fire trucks, horses, bag pipers, tumblers, twirlers, and cheerleaders. Ha, and a drachma of politicians.
I saw the interior of a Frank Lloyd Wright house for the first time…built in 1911, where we held a potluck on Fourth-night, just before the fireworks began.
And, with my pal George, now Uncle George, I went to watch the Cubbies play. We brought along two of George’s nephews: Alex and Dexter. The younger of the two had only attended a baseball game or three in his entire life.
Uncle George had the brilliant idea of teaching the youths (youts?) how to score a game.
We hopped on the Chicago Northwestern train and headed east toward Lake Michigan and Wrigley Field. The train was jam-packed on the day before the Fourth and our party was separated.
Now, I’m not saying George is gregarious, but he could make friends in a graveyard. By the time we reached Ogilvie Station, George had met an octogenarian headed for A Taste of Chicago. This fellow provided us with explicit instructions for getting to Wrigley Field.
We boarded the underground, and as it steamed toward Wrigley, each stop brought more and more passengers festooned in baseball finery. This was not just any old game, it was an intra-city rivalry, the Cubs against the White Sox, and feelings ran high.
The last couple of stops, the train became so packed that the heat and lack of air brought on a momentary hallucination…I was in Tokyo at rush hour and white-gloved workers packed us in tighter and tighter until we could not breathe…pant, pant, pant, and then the doors opened and the train expelled us into the street where we joined the thronging thousands treading toward one of the finest baseball stadiums in the world.
Wrigley is famous for its ivy-covered outfield walls. And beyond sat small apartments. When I had lived in Chicago in the 1970’s, folks used to watch the game from the apartments, holding small baseball parties. Now, bleachers sat atop each apartment and spectators paid for the privilege.
Our seats were terrific, just behind the White Sox dugout on the first base line. . Low clouds blocked the sun and made the weather nicely warm.
An ancient couple sat in front of us, regular Cubs fans for many, many years. Several rows in front of them sat three rowdies, White Sox fans in enemy territory, daring the Cubbies to try something. The ushers spent much time keeping these fellows in hand.
After a fine rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful, the game began. The pitching was excellent. It was a tight game, one hit here, another there. Cubs fans and White Sox lovers jeered at one another and the game rose to a fever pitch.
Finally, the Cubbies strung several hits together and pulled ahead 3 to nil. The Sox fans were silent, and sullen. A low muttering ran counterpoint to the cheering Cubs fans.
Then came a signal moment. The Cubs starter was removed, having only given up two hits and zero runs. In came the beloved and much-injured fireball-hurling reliever…Kerry Woods. Oh ho, the tumult rose.
But Woods was not the Woods of old, and a White Sox batter was on base. Next up was the aging Sox star, Paul Konerko, who was injured. Konerko in to pinch hit, fought off pitch after pitch and drove Woods out of the game.
Tension rose…3-1 with the tying runs on base. Everyone stood. The rowdies were raucous and the din shook old Wrigley Field. But the new Cubs’ reliever held his ground and erased the threat.
The Cubs had won, salvaging one single win from their cross-town rivals. The sun was shining and there WAS joy in Mudville on this very day.
Baseball’s Sad Lexicon: Tinker to Evers to Chance
These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
By Franklin Pierce Adams
New York Evening Mail July 10, 1910