- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
While lefthander Cole Hamels was throttling the Cubs, staking the Phillies to a 1--0 lead through the fourth, Chris was catching me up on his metamorphosis from bartender to executive producer of his own company, Region Sports Network, covering local sports in northwest Indiana, and of what had become of Marty's Sosa home run ball. "Marty had it encased in a plastic box and bought 50 copies of that SI," reported Chris. "He used to bring the ball to my bar to show the girls."
"Did it work?" I asked.
"They took the ball home, not Marty. The ball got more than he did."
The two buddies had learned, like all Cubs fans, to seize such moments in spite of—or because of—their imminent decay, to salt their remnants with mirth so they could be larded away for all the long winters to come. Sammy's bat would shatter a few years later, exposing its illegal cork interior; Sammy's integrity would splinter again under oath at congressional hearings on steroid use when his answers and grasp of English both suddenly turned wooden; even Sammy's allegiance to Cubdom would go to pieces when he slipped out of its hallowed uniform and ballpark in the middle of what would turn out to be his final Cubs game. That somehow even the summer of '98—that love affair with that ballplayer who'd bolt like a happy young bull to rightfield at the start of every game and exchange nine innings' worth of finger kisses and heart taps with the bleacher fans like some mute, lovable son—could turn to ashes was so ... so Cub-esque. But thus it was, every bleacherite told me, Sammy having forfeited his surefire induction into the Cubs pantheon that flapped in blue lettering upon four pinstriped white flags, two from each Wrigley foul pole: Banks and Santo in left, Williams and Sandberg in right.
All four of which now stood starched, weather vanes pointing toward Lake Michigan as darkness fell, signaling.... "Watch out," said Chris, his expert eyes going directly to them the moment he'd entered the park. "It's the first time the wind's been blowing out hard all summer."
I looked down at the object in my hands. In other ballparks' bleachers a man would think nothing of passing a fellow fan's peanuts down the row. In Wrigley's we thought nothing of passing Dr. Drew's nuts down the row, the pink synthetic ones that security guards had the gall to order him to remove because they "might offend the women and children." They were now being passed to every female under 35 who entered the area, along with a pen with which to autograph them, each lass smiling and complying and inadvertently heaping more ridicule upon the spoilsport security guard. "Are you offended?" a Brokebacker shouted to two college-age women as they scrawled.
"Oh, no, we're fine," they replied.
"See that!" he bellowed at security. "You say it offends women and children—they're women and children!"
Nothing happening on the field could kill, or even flesh-wound, the bleacherites' buzz. Not Carlos Ruiz's nor Chase Utley's run-scoring singles in the sixth, which gave the Phillies a 4--1 lead. Not the constant chirping of Marty's cellphone—his girlfriend miffed by his hasty, unexpected departure to a Cubs game—which Marty kept ignoring. Heathenlike, I bolted from my seat during the seventh-inning ritual, the mass crooning of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, chased to the men's room by Old Style #4 but not yet, thank God, so muddled that I didn't remember to remove my Brokeback hat first and leave it on my seat.
I returned to chaos, four security men glaring at the Brokebackers and barking, "Who doesn't have a hat?" and bristling to find the culprit in the party who'd just flung a white plastic cowboy hat onto the rightfield grass.