This is a blog written by my husband, Tony Marrazzo, reflecting on a more personal significance behind the Cubs winning the World Series. I’d say his heartfelt and kind story is perhaps a more profound take on not only how passion for a team can bring families together – but what life, love and family mean. Enjoy my first ever guest blogger.
The Cubs won the World Series. I can’t believe I just typed that. There are no words to describe how I feel. Well, maybe a few. Allow me to reflect. As I write this, I completely understand that most everyone could care less about other people’s personal attachments to the team – the stories are all basically the same. I think you might find mine interesting and parts of it familiar.
Like most kids who grew up in the 1970’s, watching Cubs games on WGN was what you did. My crew during those years – Chris Pupillo, Phil DeMichel, Donny Lazuka, Mike Solesky, Frank Becker and Mike Kenna – would spend summer mornings in Elmwood Park playing whiffle ball. We would head down the block to Tom’s Mom’s (a local bar on Harlem Ave that would serve lunch) and grab a burger and fries for a $1.10, then hurry back home to watch the game. If a good team was in town, like the Pirates or Reds, we would jump on the CTA at Harlem and Grand, take the Harlem Ave. bus north to Addison, buy a transfer and take the Addison line down to Wrigley. Ten bucks could get you into the bleachers and you would still have enough money for a hot dog and bus fare both ways. Wrigley would open the gates at 9 a.m. back then, and you could watch batting practice. After the game, hop back on the bus and you were home in time for dinner and a game of whiffle ball. Dad would come home from his job delivering Tribune Newspapers and he would always interrupt the whiffle game to take a couple of “cuts”. He would mimic his favorite player, Billy Williams, and would often hit for way too long, always to the chagrin of the 10 year old boys who wanted to finish the game.
My father loved baseball. He played on a team while serving in the Army, and he was proud of the team photo. And he loved the Cubs. Like all Cub fans his age, he suffered through the 1969 collapse. At eight years old, his father took him the 1945 World Series. As Italian immigrants, they couldn’t afford to get in the game. My dad climbed a tree to get a glimpse of his heroes. That thought makes me happy.
The 1970’s were my Cubs fandom formative years. Those teams were awful. Between 1973 and 1983, the team did not have a winning record. They averaged 1.5 million in attendance during those years – half the number that pass through the gates on Clark and Addison these days. But I watched every game.
My dad would take me to Opening Day at Wrigley every year. He would pull me out of school and we would go. Sometimes, my Grandpa Rudy, my mother’s father, would tag along. He was also a Cub fan, but a different kind of fan. He was a Polish immigrant who worked the coal mines in Southern Illinois. A big man with a mean streak who was bitter, especially when it came to the Cubs. Who could blame him, he was 70 years old and never saw the Cubs win anything. (He arrived in this country after 1908).
My Dad on the other hand was the eternal optimist, always believing it was going to happen. In the evenings, when the Cubs were on the road (no night games at Wrigley back then), we would sit together in the den and watch Cubs games together in our apartment. The Cubs would take a beating from the Dodgers or some other National League team, and Grandpa Rudy would chide my Dad to no end. “They’re bums”! “They’re never going to win anything”! “You will never see the Cubs play in a World Series, Marrazzo”! My Dad would try to argue the merits of a bad team, but then just go to bed to get some rest, because he had to get up early and deliver the newspapers, which were full of headlines about the Cubs loss. I didn’t take it as well. I shared a room with Grandpa Rudy. After Cubs losses, my Mom would give me Pepto Bismal because I was so upset. As I lay in bed next to him trying to go to sleep, I would try to understand why Grandpa Rudy was so bitter. I didn’t get it. Did he like to make my Dad upset? Did he get some joy out of all those Cubs losses? Or maybe he considered himself a realist. Fortunately, I ended up like my Dad, the eternal optimist, believing it was going to happen. And hopefully, someday, Grandpa Rudy would be wrong.
Some of my greatest memories as a kid was going to a Cubs game with my Dad. We would get in his Oldsmobile Delta 76 and make the trek down Addsion. I would always bring my baseball mitt, and he would assure me on the ride down that I would catch a ball. It never happened. In 2002, he passed away, never seeing his beloved Cubs never win the World Series. In 2003, I attended my first baseball game after his passing. Eric Young got around late on a Carlos Zambrano fastball in the first inning and hit a scorching line drive foul ball over the first base dugout, directly at me. I caught the ball. Divine intervention? If you believe in that kind of stuff, then yeah, of course. Could it be the randomness of a foul ball finding me among 40,000 spectators. Maybe. I choose to believe the former. That ball sits next to his ashes in my Mom’s bedroom and has been there for 13 years.
We came close, Dad and I. 1984 – that was the year. We had a good team. Driving back from a Cubs 7-4 victory over the Montreal Expos on June 13th, 1984 in his Oldmmobile Delta 88 (Dad upgraded his Oldsmobile), we were listening to the Cubs post game on WGN AM 720. Lou Boudreau told us that the Cubs had traded away two of their top prospects – Mel Hall and Joe Carter – for pitcher Rick Sutcliffe. I was not happy. Being a loyal fan, I knew about Hall and Carter. Hall was a rookie of the year candidate the previous season (he finished third), and looked the part. Carter was a highly touted prospect and his career speaks for itself. But I quickly got over it as Sutcliffe would win the Cy Young award going 16-1 down the stretch leading the Cubs to their first Division title in 39 years! I would move away from home to attend college that fall in Rock Island and couldn’t watch the playoff series with Dad. Going up 2-0 in the series and even though Grandpa Rudy had passed several years earlier, I had a feeling this was the year the Cubs would prove him wrong. We all know how it turned out – 2-0 lead in the series, ball under Durham’s glove, Steve Garvey, etc, etc, and the Padres were on to the World Series.
Several years ago I was at a business meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona. A co-worker, my wife and I made our way down to the bar at the Kierland resort for a late night drink. The bar had a side room designed for a shuffleboard table and nothing else. I spotted Sutcliffe playing alone with a friend. I grabbed my co-worker and wife and told them we had to play shuffleboard. I challenged Sutcliffe to a game, he accepted, and I took the side next to him. I immediately told him the story of the car ride home with my Dad. Sutcliffe let out a bellowing laugh and said let me tell you a story. He went on to tell me that after the trade, Mel Hall bad mouthed him in the media. The next year, in a Cactus league spring training game, Mel Hall came to the plate to face Sutcliffe. The catcher, Jody Davis, called for a curve ball. Sutcliffe shook him off, so Jody put down one finger for the fastball. Sutcliffe then hit Hall. Baseball revenge. The next batter was Joe Carter. Davis called for a curve ball. Once again, Sutcliffe shook him off. Davis immediately charged out to the mound and started in on Sutcliffe, “You can’t hit Joe, he’s a good guy.” I love that story.
1989. The Boys of Zimmer – Hawk, Sandberg, Grace, Maddux, The Wild Thing, Jerome Walton, Dwight Smith and Sutcliffe. Five all-stars and a rookie of the year. Three future Hall of Famers. In August 1989 I was relocated with my job to Holland, Michigan. After an exciting summer of division winning baseball, I was left to watch the division series alone. But I remained confident, we would prove Grandpa Rudy wrong. No doubt, this was the year. Then Will Clark happened and we all know how it turned out.
The Cubs would go dark for another 10 years. They had one winning season between 1990 and 1998. And it was a dark time for Major League baseball. The 1994-1995 strike cancelled the entire 1994 post season. In 1995, I moved once again, taking a job in Milwaukee.
Then, 1998. Harry Carry dies in February. Kerry Wood strikes out 20 on May 6th, as a rookie! Sammy Sosa hits home runs – 66 to be exact. I personally saw number 64 and 65 from the second row behind home plate at the old County Stadium in Milwaukee. That was the Brant Brown game. Ron Santo famously yelled “Oh no, he dropped the ball!” on WGN radio. The Cubs did not win the division, but in 1994, MLB added wild card teams, and the Cubs ended in a tie with the Giants. The Cubs would go and win a one game playoff against the Giants to make the playoffs. I couldn’t watch the NLDS with Dad because I was in Milwaukee, and the Atlanta Braves happened – a quick 3 and done sweep at the hands of Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine. I was beginning to think Grandpa Rudy might be right after all.
The Cubs would go to miss the playoffs for the next four years. 2001 was close. I was living in St. Louis, relocated once again. The Cubs were 13 games over .500 and 1 game behind the Cardinals and 1.5 games behind the Giants for a Wild Card spot. Then 9/11 happened. Baseball took a week off and when they returned, the Cubs went 10-11 and missed the playoffs.
The following year we learned Dad had cancer. I lost him on October 3rd, 2002 and moved back home to Chicago. He was gone way too early. When you lose someone you love, you are left with memories. And my memories of my Dad were all about baseball. Coaching my little league teams, interrupting my whiffle ball games and most of all, our passion for the Cubs. Then 2003 happened.
I really thought 2003 would be the year. I remember celebrating the Cubs clinching the Division, watching the game in my garage with neighbors on a small 19″ color TV, opening a bottle of champagne after the game. It was meant to be, right? Dad in heaven, getting the last laugh over Grandpa Rudy. Telling the old man “you haven’t seen me in 25 years and I came here just to watch the look on your face when the Cubs win the World Series”. Oh, and I caught that foul ball earlier in that season. I wanted the Cubs to win for so many reasons – but mostly for the memory of Dad. Game 6, 8th inning, five more outs. Five more outs! We all know what happened – Bartman, Gonzalez, Marlins rally, game 7…… my belief that it was going to happen and my Cubs optimism was beginning to feel silly…. and Dad was gone. Grandpa Rudy was probably right.
Then 2007 and 2008 happened. Lou Pinella, Ramirez, Lee, Soriano, Soto, Dempster, Zambrano. Those were good teams. My brother Danny’s favorite singer Eddie Vedder wrote the song “Someday we’ll go all the way”. I could totally relate to that eternal optimistic piece of song writing. It was like trying to will it to happen through lyrics. But back to back sweeps at the hands of the Diamondbacks and Dodgers in the NLDS and the Cubs were quickly dismissed.
By now we know the rest of the story. Ricketts buys the team. He hires Theo. Theo tells us to have patience. Trades everybody. Drafts hope. Hires Maddon. A shot, a beer and a promise. I feel like a kid again. Checking minor league box scores like I used to read the back of a baseball card (For the record – I have an awesome baseball card collection – much better than Brian Hooker). I installed a 120″ HD projector TV in the garage to watch the games – hope had returned!
2015 didn’t end with a World Series appearance, and I’m sure Grandpa Rudy thought, like the rest of us, that this doesn’t look like any Cubs team we have ever seen before. Young talent. Really good young talent. A Manager who seemed to know what he was doing. A front office you could believe in, a stacked minor league system, improvements to the infra structure (Domincan Republic facility, a new minor league complex, improvements to the stadium, a new club house). This felt different. Disappointment over not proving Grandpa Rudy wrong was replaced by a feeling of confidence.
Then 2016 happened. The year started interestingly enough back in Scottsdale, Arizona at a resort, again, there for a business meeting. I was sitting in a hot tub with a co-worker and Jake Arrietta appeared with his son and John Lackey and joined us. We went on to talk about the 2015 season and our mutual anticipation for what was to come (I found Lackey to be a bit surly – go figure. Jake was Jake, serious and focused). It was the day before pitchers and catchers were to report. I made my treks down to Wrigley during the season….memories. There was the game I attended with my wife on our anniversary, the rooftop game in September, the Lincoln Park game with my brother in law where I met Tom Ricketts and personally thanked him, (My brother, Danny, Phil DeMichel and Joe Greskoviak ended up riding Divy bikes from Wrigleyville back to Joe’s house in Lincoln Park after the game – we were in no condition to be on Divy bikes), and the game where I took relatives from Florida to see their first game at Wrigley. (I love seeing the reaction of friends or family when they first walk up the stairs at Wrigley – it reminds me of being a 5 year old boy, holding Dad’s hand, Cubs hat, baseball glove). I was also fortunate enough to attend the second game of the World Series in Cleveland (Thank you Joe!). All of the games I attended resulted in a W. As usual, I watched every game on TV, with a feeling that something good was going to happen. But were Cubs fans, right? Conditioned for disappointment.
Then Wednesday night happened. I was a wreck, couldn’t focus, couldn’t think about anything except the game. My anxiety was torturing me. I kept telling myself, don’t reach for the Xanax, you don’t need it, not now, this game is too important. When it was time to leave work to head home to get the garage ready for the game, I reached for my keys, where I always put them, side pocket, back pack. Grab them and go, time for game 7. But they weren’t there! I emptied the bag over and over – no car keys! I tore through the office – every garbage can, every desk, every person I had come in contact with throughout the day. Nothing. We had an extra car at the office, so at 4:45, I was given a key to the spare vehicle and drove home.
14 years earlier, after Dad had passed away, my Mom called and said the kids could come to the house and take any of his belongings. I showed up not really intending on taking anything. I went for Mom, I knew it would be good for her if I came and showed interest. When I arrived, the first thing I saw was my Dad’s key chain. He had a buffalo nickel that was inserted into a round piece of metal on a circular metal ring. It was worn from years of use. I never knew the significance of it, other than for as long as I could remember, that was his key chain. If you saw the buffalo nickel on the key chain on the counter, you knew Dad was home. I scooped it up and exclaimed “I’ll take this”!
As I drove home from work, all I could think about was losing that key chain. Dad’s key chain. I was overcome with a feeling of guilt and sadness – why now? Why was this happening? Bad timing.
Game time. I couldn’t think straight. My daughter Abby was working on a school project that was due the next day, a report on the Godfather movie. My wife was stressed because Abby had procrastinated. My neighbors edgy because the garage wasn’t set up (This isn’t like Tony – what’s wrong?). The stress of game seven looming – and the keys, what happened to the keys?
My friends who watch big Cubs games with me in the garage know I can’t sit still. I set up the best chair for myself in front of the TV and rarely use it. Pacing nervously, anxiety ridden, hopeful. 15 minutes before the game started, my neighbor Chris Kalscheur approached me and simply said “I know how much this game means to you” with a warm look in his eye. Suddenly, a feeling of calmness overcame me. I sat in the chair. The whole game. No anxiety. The Cubs go up 5-1, then blow the lead with two outs in the eighth, been there before. Rain delay. A feeling of impending doom as another Cubs torturous loss seems imminent, angst among my 30 or so guests in the garage. But not me – I’m in my chair, in the den, second floor apartment. Grandpa Rudy on my left, Dad on my right. Then the 10th inning happens. Cubs win the World Series. Dad smiles, hugs me, goes to bed, important papers to deliver in the morning. Mom puts the Pepto Bismal away. Grandpa Rudy gives me one of his expected mean glares and says “I guess I was wrong.”
The next morning, I woke up. Got to return the extra car back to work. I grabbed the spare set of keys. Then, for no explainable reason, I decide to check the back pack one more time. I pull everything out, laptop, notebook, power cord, etc. Nothing. The notebook looks a little thick. I open it up ….. buffalo nickel key chain.