Peanuts and Crackerjack

By Lloyd Graff

My son Noah had been begging me to go to a Cubs game for several months.  Sunday morning, the second day of the National League Championship Series between the Cubs and the Dodgers, he called me and put the hard sell on.  I had no excuse to say no, except that it was so much easier and cheaper to watch the game on TV like I had done all season.  I hedged and told him I would think about it and get back to him in a few minutes.

For Noah, such decisions are pretty simple.  If you want to go, you go.  For me it seemed much more complicated.  I see the game so much better on my 60” Samsung.  I deal with constant double vision with one eye 20-300, the other 20-25, thanks to six retina surgeries.  Knee replacement, heart damage and 71 years make everything a little harder.

But Noah was persistent.  He texted me, “If not now, when?”  He used my own B.S. on me, and it worked.  I called him, told him to buy two tickets for $250 each or less off StubHub, and I’d meet him at the L station next to Wrigley.

I picked up the three o’clock train into the city.  A father and son were sitting across from me.  I was wearing a Joe Maddon Cubs jersey that I had just ripped the tag off of, and he had one too.  They were headed to the game and had been there the night before.  We started talking like we were members of the same family.  I guess we were.

These days most folks on trains have earbuds on, isolating themselves from the other passengers, but I was in a mood to engage.  A young guy next to me was wearing a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt and carrying a skateboard.  I tried talking to him about this year’s Bulls team.  He looked at me like I was a Martian, but a black fellow in front of me was delighted to talk hoops.  He knew the game, and I think he was amazed that I did too.  We talked about the seemingly brilliant trade the Bulls had pulled off that day of Tony Snell to the Milwaukee Bucks for Michael Carter Williams.

After the one-hour trip to the city, I got off the train and headed for the subway three blocks away to get to Wrigley Field.  There were 200 people there trying to get on a train that could accommodate maybe 100 more.  I squeezed on, inhaling deeply to fit in my ample behind ahead of the closing automatic door.  Just made it.

Lloyd and Noah Graff at the Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

At the Addison station I finally exhaled and exited the train.  Noah was parking a mile away at the lakefront tennis courts, the night’s only freebie.  I watched the teeming masses go by as I waited for him.  There were beggars with their pathetic pleas for dollars to fill their cups—to buy booze I imagined.  I gave to one of them.  Two fellows in electric wheelchairs looked upbeat.  A blind man in a Cubs jersey surveyed the street, crossing with all of his senses and his white and red cane.  Two sexy escorts with skirts wrapped tightly around their slender bodies ending just below their navels added some local color.

Noah finally ambled along.  We bought some relatively inexpensive bottled water at a little Latin grocery, liquor store.  We headed for the stadium to imbibe the vibe and met a cousin of my daughter-in-law who talked some baseball with us and then shot photos of Noah and me on our iPhones.

We entered Wrigley after traversing the metal detectors.  I think President Obama and Michelle were at the game, incognito, because there were four ominous black Suburbans parked next to a side entrance with a “Secret Servicey” looking guy standing guard.  On the way home the four Suburbans sped by us at 80 miles per hour, sirens blaring, headed toward the Obamas’ Chicago home.

We eventually shoehorned into our seats, about 50 rows up behind home plate.  Good seats for someone with some vision impairment.

Andre Dawson threw out the first ball, and Wayne Mesmer, the wonderful baritone voice of the Cubs, sang God Bless America and then the Star Spangled Banner.  I sang along as loud as I could and felt very patriotic and blessed to be an American and a Cubs fan, in that order.  If the rest of the game was rained out it still would have been worth coming.

As I was singing I remembered my mom taking me to Wrigley 60 years earlier to see the Brooklyn Dodgers play the Cubs.  The Dodgers had Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and an 18-year-old Sandy Koufax.  I think she paid 25 cents to get in on Ladies Day.  I recalled her dad, who was a kid in 1908 when the Cubs last won a World Series.  He used to regale me as a kid about meeting Tinkers, Evers and Chance from that team.  They used to buy liquor at his mother’s little grocery.  My Cubs lineage runs deep.

I loved our seats, not for the view, but for the people sitting all around us.  There was a mom and daughter right in back of us who really loved the game.  They had been there the night before to the watch the Cubs win.  A man and his wife held their two babies through the entire game next to Noah, and the kids never cried.  A very knowledgeable fan interpreted some finer points of the game to me next to my right shoulder.

We had blue towels to wave and stood up every time it got exciting.  Unfortunately that wasn’t that often in a 1-0 game won by the Dodgers with five hits, total, by both teams.  Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers pitched like Sandy Koufax.

But it hardly mattered.  The game may be the “thing,” but the “vibe” was everything to me.  If not now, when?

Questions: What is the best sporting event you’ve ever attended, and why was it the best?

Are sports better on TV?

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19 thoughts on “Peanuts and Crackerjack

  1. Marvin

    1984 Tigers vs Blue Jays @ in Toronto for the division. Tigers won the series but the best part was the group I was with and all the autographs received. It was loud and fun fun and more fun. I get what you mean about the best part of the game, being with all the rest of those peeps in the stadium and the excitement of it all. Yep, know what you mean.

  2. Kevin

    Not trying to brag, but somehow I’ve managed to be in attendance the last three times my STL Cardinals have won the World Series (82, 06, 11)–would have been four had they not lost game 6 in Minnesota in 1987. The combination of tension and excitement that engulfed the stadium in the late innings is something you never forget, especially the two series that went 7 games.

  3. Val

    My daughter always sticks it to me with this comment so I thought I’d give it back to you…
    “but a black fellow in front of me was delighted to talk hoops”
    What was the necessity of the descriptive ‘black’ to this sentence? Never was anyone else noted as ‘white’?
    Just an observation that jumped out at me – my daughter would be proud of me for noticing these things now.

  4. Lloyd Graff

    Hi Val,
    That was a good catch on the “Black man,”. I thought about it a good deal before writing it, so it was not accidental or pejorative. I used a lot of descriptive language in the piece and I thought I was using another useful adjective todescribe the people on the train, where half the passengers were Black and White people seldom engage Blacks in conversation on commuter trains. The fellow in the Bulls sweat shirt who did not talk to me was also Black. My intent was to show that sports talk can cross ethnic and racial barriers which normally rule engagement.

  5. Bob Ducanis

    Great story on the ball game and your trip to Wrigley. Some events are better to watch on TV with the replays and the comfort of being in your home and not dealing with the hassles of traffic and weather. The excitement of being at a big game is undeniable. I am so glad that Noah talked you into going to the game to see your beloved Cubs. Great line to motivate you…”if not now, when?”

    I remember being up at IMTS the summer that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire were having their home run battle. I scored some great tickets early on to catch a game….Milwaukee Brewers…..I think Sosa hit his 60th home run at the game and the Cubs ended up winning something like 15-14 by scoring 4 runs in the bottom of the 9th. When you hear the phrase ‘dancing in the streets’ that’s exactly what I saw on Addison after the game. Great time and great memories.

  6. Patrick Brogan

    1986 World Series Game 6 Boston Red Sox vs. New York Mets. The “Ball thru the Legs” game with Bill Buckner having a ground ball go through his legs and the Mets tied the series at 3 – 3. Boston lost Game 7. Missed World History class in college to attend the game.

  7. rick

    I generally do not follow sports – too busy working at the family machine shop and my family obligations.

    There were two games that I will not forget, both in 2000

    I Was so lucky, I Got 4 free box seat tix behind 1st base to the last game of the Mets vs Yanks world series in 2000.
    don’t ask 😉
    Home game at Shea Stadiun before it was torn down. Unfortunately for me, the Mets lost, but the electricity and excitement was incredible.

    The best and most “amazing” had to be Friday, June 30, 2000, again at Shea.
    Mets vs Braves
    The Braves, John Rocker, took out the Mets the year before at game 6 of the National League Championship, denying the Mets their first trip to the World Series in 13 years.
    The most police you ever saw at a ball game before 9/11.
    The Mets were down 8-1 going into the 8th
    The stadium would normally have been more than half empty at this point, but, it was Fireworks Night, celebrating Independence Day.
    everyone was waiting for the Fireworks Show, not knowing there would be two great shows that night.
    They had the greatest comeback ever with 10 runs in the bottom of the 8th and held it there in the 9th
    Shea was still filled to capacity of 58K+ fans, all fired up
    I never heard a stadium so loud in all my life
    people jumping, stomping & screaming
    you couldn’t hear the planes flying overhead into & out of LaGuardia airport
    I thought the whole structure might crumble before the game ended
    And then the scheduled fireworks show started…
    what a way to celebrate such a great ending

  8. Dick Crosby

    Lloyd: Just curious to know if Noah had tried to get you to go the night before. No let down when that one ended.

  9. Seth Emerson

    I have never really been a Cubs fan. I have been a Giants fan since attending at Seals stadium in San Francisco. But our rule is root for the Giants and whoever is playing the Dodgers! The Cubs qualify! Go Cubs!

  10. Dennis

    I have been to many great games at Wrigley Field over the years but have to admit the best I ever saw was not a Cubs game. The first Chicago Bear game I ever attended I saw Gale Sayers score six touchdowns. 1965 vs. the 49ers. Still ranks as the best single performance by an athlete that I ever saw in person.

    Back to baseball, Go Cubs Go!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Irish guy

    October 15, 1988: #4 Notre Dame defeated #1 Miami (Fla) by a score of 31-30. Game was decided when Pat Terrell batted down a 2-point conversion attempt by Miami. The spirit in the stadium was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Love him or hate him, Lou Holtz understood that spirit and led the Irish to the National Championship that year.

  12. Tom Firsching

    September 10, 2011 – Football, West Point NY – Army Black Knights vs San Diego State Aztecs. It was the day before the 10th anniversary of the events of September 11th and under the same cloudless blue sky day a couple of friends and I made the 5 hour drive to watch a football game.

    I think it was a couple of weeks before that I saw member of the NFL Hall of Fame, Floyd Little, honored at a Syracuse University game by being recognized on the field during one of the many “Media” time outs. As an alum he received a large round of applause and respect from the Syracuse fans.

    Fast forward to September 10th, 2011. It was a picture perfect early season game day and the buzz in the air did not predict the impact of the next few hours would have on us. We moved through the crowd at Michie stadium and to the upper deck where we were ushered to our seats by a very respectful young cadet. We arrived just in time for the Corp of Cadets to march in. While I have been to a number of games in the past there was something a little different that day. There was the normal game ball being brought in by parachute and the band playing and songs from the Corps. It was then that I had my first, and only, experience of a full field American Flag displayed for the National Anthem. Thousands in and out of uniform, all at attention. West Point is the ultimate display of respect and tradition.

    It was a pretty normal game aside from the halftime remembrances by a number of civilian and military leaders. What came later I was not ready for.

    I think it was during a “media” timeout in the third quarter. The teams were huddled along the sidelines doing what they do during timeouts. It was then that public address announcer asked that attention to be directed to the 20 yard line where, Medal of Honor recipient, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry was standing at attention. As I looked down my gaze went right to glimmer of the sun reflecting off of his stainless steel right hand. During the next 30 seconds the stadium changed. All seemed to freeze in place and then I noticed that he San Diego State team had broken their huddles and was standing along the sideline in silent respect.

    It was then that it hit me, as it had in the past, that the players dressed in Black & Gold were not planning on a career in the NFL. They, as well as all of the cadets in the “student” section were heading in a very different direction.

    Final score: Sad Diego State Aztecs 23 – Army Black Knights 20

    TV or Live game.

    Attend a game at Michie Stadium and you will have the answer.

  13. Noah Graff

    One of the best live sporting events I’ve experienced was a football game for my Wisconsin Badgers as a sophomore in 1999. It was the last game of the season and Ron Dayne broke the NCAA rushing record held by Ricky Williams, rushing for 216 yards that night, finishing his college career with 6,397 yards. Wisconsin also clinched going to the Rose Bowl that day with a 41-3 win over Iowa.

    The energy the entire game the fantastic, the notorious Badger student section did its drawn out signature cheer “Ronnnnn Dayyyyn!” after every carry by the beast of a running back who often practically carried his opponents on his back trying to tackle him. My dad used to call Dayne one of the best “fallers” ever, as he could basically get an automatic 2 to 3 yards every play just by dragging his adversaries.

    Following the historic record breaking run a streaker ran onto the field! Those were the days!

    Out of mercy for the pathetic Iowa Hawkeyes the Badgers substituted the teams backup, Matt Unertl, who continued Dayne’s domination. The student section began imitating the “Ronnnn Dayyyyn!” cheer with a drawn out “Maaaaaaat Unerrrrrrtle!” after every run.

    It’s an experience you can only have sitting in the student section at Camp Randall.

    I’ve been to many a great Cub game, but it seems like

  14. Jerry Levine

    It was game 2 of the 2005 World Series between the White Sox and Astros. It was a typical scary Chicago night around Halloween time–37 degrees with a freezing drizzle. I was with my son. The Sox were at bat and down by two runs in the bottom of the 7th, but had the bases loaded. Houston brought in their top reliever to pitch to Paul Konerko, who hit the first pitch into the left field stands for a grand slam, and the place went wild. The fans continued to stand and scream all the way into the top of the ninth when Houston scored two runs to tie the game, but the noise didn’t abate. Then in the bottom of the 9th, lead-off hitter Scott Posednik, who probably hadn’t homered all season, hit one out for the win, and the screaming continued for another half hour before anyone even thought about leaving the park. We went home drenched and frozen, but ecstatic!

  15. Tom

    Best sporting event – Rams/Titans Superbowl.

    A friend and I snuck into the NFL Hotel and spent two evening chatting with whatever athletes wondered into the lounge (Gretzky/Namath/Kelly/Chrebet/Alstott to name a few). The highlight was chatting with Eric Dickerson as we walked to the bathroom. He said, as we stood at the urinals, that I should have Gayle Sayers sign my jersey who was at the sink washing his hands at the time. I told him I had my hands full and we both got a laugh. One of the most down to earth gracious guys I have met.

    It was, bar-none, the most fun “guys-weekend” I’ve ever had. We had a blast.

    Turned out – it was a great game to boot!

  16. Kevin

    1991 World Series, game 7. Braves at Twins. My company, Reell Precision, had a drawing for two tickets. My buddy won them and invited me. Jack Morris pitching against John Smoltz. Goose eggs on the scoreboard for 9 1/2 innings. Then Gene Larkin knocks in Dan Gladden. The place went wild. Dancing and high fiving in the streets of Minneapolis until 3 in the morning! No overturned police cars, no arrests, just a great time I will never forget.

  17. Lloyd Graff

    Late Post. Cubs Dodgers 6th game. Visiting my daughter and son in law Scott and granddaughters in California. Friends from Chicago too. Texting with Noah in Chicago. Yelling with each hit. Singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame in the 7th. Jumping up with each hit. Lots of screaming. And after the game ended watching a video of Steve Goodman singing the Ballad of a Dying Cub fan, soon before he died.
    Sweet and sad remembering the people you wished you could have watched the game with.


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