There’s an old photograph of you and me at the yard. I was maybe 14, my first time at the ballpark of my dreams. There, it’s always 72 degrees and sunny. Santo’s and William’s flags on the foul polls. I remember when Ron said having his number retired by the club was better than being in the Hall.
I remember going to the Hall with you and Dave. Cooperstown, where the game was “invented” by Doubleday. I blew a gasket on the drive to Cooperstown. Leave it to me to screw up an otherwise perfect weekend, huh? Still and all, it was pretty spectacular, even if they didn’t allow beer at the ballpark in Oneonta. That’s a “bucket list” kind of trip, going to the Hall of Fame. Remember, after the steroids fiasco (well, the first one anyway. Didn’t A-Rod get the memo the first time?), we used to joke that they should have a Roids Wing in the Hall with a special exhibit with the Bonds and Sammy and Giambi and McGwire plaques?
Good old Sammy. Even if he was juicing, that season was one of the most exciting of my life. I mean come on, a Cub and a Cardinal in the race for the HR title? Honestly, that’s why I chose Chi. The theater department was just a reason to go to Loyola. You had that rule, within a day’s drive and preferably Catholic. Loyola had all that and “next stop, Addison” to round out the deal. There’s a song by the band Green Day, the one with the line “I hope you had the time of your life.” The song plays over a montage of that ’98 season. Well, I did have the time of my life.
Those were some days though. You and me, Boyo and Coop, Pooks (or is it Mumps) and Looney and AstroJack and Spilzbury. That’s where my brother and I became friends. And Stinktown had something to do with it too. And, of course, the infamous Wrigley Field incident. I let him explain that one to you. First and only time I went to jail for someone else’s wrongdoing. “We wanted to see the field under the pretty snow, your Honor.” You’ve still got our rap sheets framed on the wall. At least I was good for a laugh now and again.
You always had that morbid request of having that Donald Hall poem “Game Called on the Field of Life” read at your funeral. But I am clean now and I want you to stick around a lot longer. Who knows, maybe we could have your body frozen Ted Williams-style and thaw you out if I have your grandkids. Besides, Jake is going to need you take him to his first baseball game with his Bapa. Of course, in a couple years bleacher seats at Wrigley will require a donated kidney. But to hell with it, you’ve got the Sigler immune system. The Ebola virus couldn’t bring you down.
Besides, with all the parallels they’re making with human and veterinary medicine these days (I know, I’ve read articles about this), I may come up with something. Probably just in time for us to catch one of those late-April, bone-chillers, like the one when the usher caught Dave peeing in the trash can. Coldest. Game. Ever. I swear, you drank beer to fill your bladder so you had to go the john to get warm and empty your bladder in order to go back to your seat to drink more beer. That men’s room was behind the section of the ballpark where “The Catch” occurred. No, not Mays at the Polo Grounds. I’m talking about that time a foul ball went sailing over the stands and, in one motion, you raised a hand, caught the ball bare-handed (at least that’s how it happens in my mind’s eye, so don’t ruin it) , and handed it to your daughter. That was nice work, Da. It’s the section of the ballpark in front of that store where, again on an especially cold day (we saw a lot of games over the years and they weren’t all 72 degrees and sunny), on the concourse where I purchased that gray “Wrigley Field: Est. 1918” sweatshirt. $80 for that one. So what did I do? I wore that sweatshirt for like 10 years until it was literally falling off my torso.
Remember that time we were walking back to the parking lot outside the clubhouse and Harry Caray came out of that little side door? You had to push me a little, but I scampered up to him and he signed my ball. “Holy Cow Harry Caray!”. I still have the ball, the one with the signatures of Ryno and Andre Dawson and … Luis Salazar. Who knew that 20 years later, his signature would make the ball unsalable. No matter. That parking lot is on the exact opposite side of the ballpark where that little bar was that you always used to go get a brat before the game. Just down the street from Hi-Tops. Me and Spilz and Pooks and Looney and Astro logged many hours playing Golden Tee there.
All my memories of Astro at the yard involved us sitting in the bleachers. The bleachers were great because there was never a bad seat (remember when Harry called a few innings at that spot in the bleachers?) I literally have pictures in the slide show in my mind of you in the floppy hat and all the guys in those bleachers Unlike the grandstand. There was one time when your other son toted me and Looney around to like 4 different seating places to get a better view. I think we found you eventually, right near where we started. Honestly, that was the difference between me and my brother and baseball. I have always had a romantic, “eating a hot dog, popping peanuts, Singin-In-the-Rainout” take on baseball. Dave just wants to find better seats.
Post-season starts soon. All original teams in the National League going to the playoffs (Who cares about that “other league”), including the hated Cardinals. If pressed, I’d say “Go Dodgers”. Tommy Lasorda and Jackie Robinson and all that (although it still kinda stings that the guy who moved them out of Brooklyn was named O’Malley). All will be quiet in Wrigleyville though. I’ll be busy with school, but I will make sure to catch a least a couple games at the house where the Shrine to the Cubs sits in your basement. That old wooden board with all the Cubs memorabilia and the signed Doug Dascenzo card (remember when they called on him to pitch an inning!) is on the wall with me and Dave’s rap sheets and that El token machine and those panoramic paintings of Wrigley Field. I love that basement room, I always feel a child-like sense of comfort and belonging when I sleep down there. We’ll go back to Wrigley day one day, you and me. And we’ll say “Hi” to the Scary Harry statue outside the ballpark and of course we’ll sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame at the seventh inning stretch with our arms around each other’s shoulders. I’ll see if Santo’s free that day.