Editor’s Note: I wrote this column three days after the now infamous congressional hearing that included Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmiero, hoping against hope that the steroid problem in baseball wasn’t nearly as bad as it was beginning to sound on March 17, 2005. I now know otherwise, and I also realize now that my memories of one of the favorite days in my life will forever be cloudy. Not because I can’t recall them, but because they were probably fraudulent.
Thankfully, I’ll always have Ron Santo.
Why am I re-publishing this column? Good question, but maybe it’s because not only wasn’t I surprised about the news two weeks ago about Sosa appearing on the 2003 positive drug test list, neither was anyone else. The news came and went, and then it was gone, kind of like a belt-high fastball pitched to Sosa in his juiced-up heyday.
But it still bothers me. And it probably always will.
So here’s the column, filled with hope and finished with dread, as it appeared on March 20, 2005, in The Herald:
I remember walking off the red line and onto Addison street, where Wrigley Field stood before me, like it had been waiting for me to show up all those years.
Settled into the middle of a North Side neighborhood, Wrigley Field is the embodiment of Cubs fans, who, for the most part, are blue collar through and through.
My trip to Wrigley Field to see my beloved Cubs play in what I refer to as the Church of Baseball was an odyssey decades in the making. My buddy Mike and I would spend many a high school history class pining for a way to get to the Windy City to see the Cubs play — and likely lose — a series.
Our dream became a reality in 1999, when, after years of discussion, we finally decided that it was time to shut up and go. We got the Cubbies’ schedule, picked out an August series with Ken Griffey Jr. and the Reds, and the day single-game tickets went on sale, we lit up Ticketmaster like it was the Fourth of July.
We drove 11 hours the first day, stopping 20 miles west of Indianapolis to stay the night at a hotel. The next morning, the day of game 1 of the series with the Reds, we drove the remaining three hours to Chicago, checked into our hotel, and took the shuttle to Midway Airport, where we would connect with the subway.
When we got off the train, we nearly fell down the stairs because our eyes were locked onto the unimpressive facade of Wrigley Field. We didn’t care what it looked like from the outside. We took our pictures of the big red sign out front, then shuffled inside as soon as possible, stopping only to spend a buck on a scorecard.
There’s no real way I can describe how we felt the moment we saw the green grass come into view, or the ivy on the wall, or the three men who manually lined the chalk lines. It was just pure baseball.
For that first game, we had scored two seats directly behind home plate, just 15 rows up.
If either one of us said a word for three innings, we don’t remember it. We just stared blankly at the game unfolding in front of us. There were our last-place Cubs, one year removed from winning the wild card, being swept out of the playoffs by the Braves and the Great Home Run Race.
There was no piped-in rock music between at-bats. Only the organ. No exploding scoreboard showing the last play from 1,572 different camera angles. Only the manual scoreboard soaring toward the crystal blue sky, telling us all we needed to know about the rest of the major leagues. (Those darn Cardinals won again.)
We kept score without uttering a word, just grinning like two kids skipping class.
Then Sosa homered.
A tremendous, towering drive. Deep to left field, over the screaming bleacher bums and onto Waveland avenue.
I can still see it. I can still hear it. A crack like I had never heard before, a baseball ascending so high and deep that Harry Caray would’ve had to reach up in Heaven just to grab it.
Sosa trotted around the diamond to the thunderous applause of 40,000 Cubs fans, who show up every summer no matter how bad the North Siders are.
We stood. We roared. Me in my Mark Grace replica jersey. Mike in the Sosa jersey that I bought for him for standing with me at my wedding. Our hero toe-tapped the plate, was greeted by the two runners he drove in, and pointed to the sky before chest-bumping his way back to the dugout.
Griffey homered late off of Steve Rain to steal that first game, and the Cubs never scored again that weekend after Sosa’s blast.
But Sammy’s homer was our best memory from our Wrigley Odyssey. Even better than meeting Ron Santo.
I just hope it was legit.