Opening Day ’74

I am a Chicago Cubs fan–but I’m the kind of fan that the word “fanatic” was created for. I love the Cubs, despite their ups and downs and the fact that they haven’t won a World Series since 1908 (what’s winning anyway?). And despite the fact that I turned the TV off last night in the bottom of the 3rd inning when the Cubs were losing 10-1, I still live and breathe Chicago Cubs.

That’s why I was thrilled to find the following short story in my stack of writings from years past. This story is even more apropos because my husband Marty and I went to Cubs spring training in Mesa, Arizona, this year–a dream I’ve had for much of my life. Enjoy my enthusiasm about Opening Day 1974 [again, I’ve left the spelling and punctuation as written in 1974]:

We were crazy little kids. Fanatics, they called us. From the last day of the previous season we counted down the days toward opening day of the next season. We just couldn’t get enough of it. We followed them through spring training, trying our hardest to get down to Scottsdale to see them in person [The Cubs used to play spring training in Scottsdale; now they play in Mesa, Arizona]. Of course we were never successful, but we sure tried. By the time opening day rolled around, I had already memorized the batting averages of each of the players (not to mention their birthdates, heights, weights, and middle names).

For months we had been planning our trip to the ballpark on opening day. We got up during the wee hours of the morning and bundled ourselves up in layers of clothing (it’s only around forty degrees in the beginning of April). Someone’s parents protestingly drove us to the Skokie Swift at about 6:00 a.m. Our train route was memorized, of course. We didn’t need parents to chaperone us. All the way there, on the Swift and the “L,” we were the only people talking. The anticipation was unsurmountable. In fact it was almost too good to be true–we were actually going to see our favorites in action after a break of seven months! Once again we counted down the stops until we were finally at Addison. Off the train we went, flying down the stairs and around half the ballpark until we were at the gate of the bleachers. The line was already halfway down the wall but for opening day that isn’t too bad.

We ran into all the regulars–Ronnie, who is crazy [this was Ronnie Woo Woo]; Dennis, who has class; Pattie, who always budges in line, plus a few old friends. The reunion was great. We talked about the offseason, the basketball games, and spring training. We still had four hours to go until they opened the gates, but what’s four hours anyway? We strolled around the park many times, stopping in the snack shop and all the sport stores, and walked down to the lake.

And then the Andy Frains [used to be the ushers at Wrigley Field] told us they were opening the gates! One mad rush for the door and we were lost in a huge mob of people. My buddy was the first casualty in the first-aid office. He cut his finger on a piece of broken glass.

Somehow all of us made it in there. After our tickets were paid for, another mad dash was made up the ramp and then down the leftfield catwalk to the corner seats. We had to fight for the best. Now all the fun began. The organist started playing songs like “Havanagela” and “It’s a beautiful day for a ball game.” All the girls would be dancing the Hora and singing to the music.

When batting practice started, we’d try to catch the balls hit to the bleachers. It was always amusing when someone caught a ball but everyone else dove for it, not realizing they were fighting for nothing.

We whiled away the pre-game hours with jokes, autograph hunting, and eating. We went through a lot of food in one day, with the assistance of the vendors who were always there when we needed them.

Finally, after seven months of waiting, there was the announcement of the line-up, the national anthem (which we changed the words to), the umpires meeting at the plate, and then–PLAY BALL!

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After many years of not being able to go to Cubs games because I lived too far away, I was able to get to a game in May 2008 with my niece Kristin. We sat in the left-field bleachers very close to where I always sat when I was a kid. Here we are, freezing in May in the left-field bleachers:

And spring training in Mesa this year:

I don’t know if my pictures taken in the 1970s at Cubs ballgames still exist or not. I think that years ago my mother threw away the great scrapbook I kept back then. Alas, you’re stuck with these images.

Published in: on 29 April 2011 at 10:22 am  Leave a Comment