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Parched Yard

October 17, 2015

“I’ve been brought down to zero, pulled out and put back there
I sat on a park bench, kissed the girl with the black hair
And my head shouted down to my heart you better look out below
Hey, it ain’t such a long drop, don’t stammer, don’t stutter
From the diamonds in the sidewalk to the dirt in the gutter
And you carry those bruises to remind you wherever you go”

– John Prine, from Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)


As a young boy, I can remember the annual trip with my family to the shoe store by the river to buy dress shoes. The shoes were made of smooth black leather. The boxes were blue.  I wore the shoes to church on Sundays and for the many get-togethers with the extended family. As you’d expect, the blue boxes were small. Large enough for my modest baseball card collection, however. I took particular care of my cards, especially those of Cubs players. The Cubs were my favorite team.

I can’t recall how I chose the Cubs. There wasn’t a particular moment or event that sticks with me. No  My parents were not big sports fans, but I guess as I was just learning about the game I picked up just enough encouragement from the chatter about the team from my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. They were Cubs fans. So I guess I concluded, “why not me too?”


The scorecard from my first game. Rob Gardner, a spot player who pitched a total 31 innings for the Cubs, signed it for me. I had no idea who he was at the time, but he was wearing the right uniform.

My first game at Wrigley Field was in June 1967, when my Aunt Ina graciously hosted us in third row tickets right behind the Cubs dugout. Amazing. I’ve been to a lot of ball games and had plenty of great seats, but those still stand out. The Cubs played the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sandy Koufax was gone. We missed Don Drysdale, who pitched the day before and Fergie Jenkins, who pitched the day after. That’s the kind of special I’d look for now, but none of that mattered then. I was in a kid’s paradise.

Grandma, Ina and their sisters and cousins liked to go to the games on Tuesdays. Why Tuesdays? Back then, Tuesdays were Ladies Days, when any female age fifteen and older was admitted to the yard free of charge. Baseball fans, stop and think about that for a minute. Free. Gratis. On the house. Your money’s no good here. Discrimination? Sure. I suspect that Gloria Steinem was not a Cubs fan.

Choosing a sports team at a young age isn’t unusual. Many even stick with their first choice forever. I’d guess that stories abound in Chicago about people who have waited their whole lives for this very moment, when the Cubs only need eight more wins to be baseball champions once again. Just eight. Four against the New York Mets and another four in the World Series.


Gloria Steinem in 1969. Photo from HBO.

The last time the Cubs were in the World Series was 1945, seventy years ago. Things were different then. Franklin Roosevelt passed away early in the year. The Second World War had just ended and millions of soldiers were being sent back to the United States under Operation Magic Carpet. The first bill written to pay women on an equal basis as men was introduced in the U.S. Congress the year before. Still, nothing was passed into law until 1963. We’re still dealing with disparity. Discrimination? You bet. Gloria Steinem was eleven years old in 1945, but due to family circumstances, attending school regularly for the first time.

The last time the Cubs  won the World Series was in 1908, one hundred and seven years ago. Things were different then. Theodore Roosevelt was president. New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska were not part of the United States. American women could not vote. Discrimination? Yes. Gloria Steinem’s mother was a child in Germany in 1908. Her paternal grandmother was a committee chairwoman to the National Women Suffrage Association.


Here is another photo of Gloria Steinem in 1969. This one came from Pinterest.

Setting up two thousand miles west eventually made it impractical for me to remain locked in with the team. The San Francisco newspapers weren’t writing about the Cubs, so my connection became frayed. And so, years later when my son started learning about the game and began followed the local teams, I did too. The Giants and A’s are my teams now.

But there’s still something about my first that has a grip on me. Things have changed, of course. The park’s not the same as it was when my relatives were in the stands for decades or when I fell in with the team in the 1960s. I could grouse about that, but I don’t like the sound of it and this is certainly not the time. In spite of relentless assault on Wrigley and MLB’s insistence to make it just like every other ballpark, there’s still enough there for an old fan to enjoy.

Those of us who were young Cubs fan all those years ago days still wear the mark from the 1969 season. The bruises may not show, but the pain still lives. It’s hard to shake that slow motion September slide. In our minds, there was no better team than the Cubs. Certainly, not the Mets, who had finished in ninth place the year before, but came out of nowhere to beat not only the Cubs, but then the mighty Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.


Some of the Cubs players from 1969. Don’t they just look like the guys on which kids would rest their hopes?

Things were different in 1969. The war in Vietnam was in the news everyday. War protests were common. The Weatherman’s three-day “Days of Rage” riot in Chicago to demand the overthrow of the U.S. Government was held at the same time the World Series was starting. In June of that year, just hours after the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Mets at Shea Stadium, NY City police raided Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Manhattan. A riot broke out when the police started arresting people for their sexual preferences. Abortion was illegal in thirty states and the Supreme Court would not rule on it until four years later. Discrimination? Indeed. And we are still fighting about all of this, aren’t we? In 1969, Gloria Steinem was a young woman and making big waves with “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation” and other challenges to the status quo.

Today, the Cubs start league championship series with the Mets. Four wins and we’ll get past 1945. These two teams have nothing to do with the 1969 series. The Mets’ manager was a college student that year. The Cubs’ manager was in high school. None of the players on these two teams were born by 1969. Not even close – their parents were likely toddlers or in grade school at the time.

Some of the Amazin' Mets from the late 1960s. Don't they just look like the kind of guys who would rob kids summers and leave them tarnished for life?

Some of the Amazin’ Mets from the late 1960s. Don’t they just look like the kind of guys who would rob kids summers and leave them tarnished for life?

Nonetheless, old Cubs fans relish this series against the Mets. The kids on the playing field with NY on their uniforms are simply wearing the wrong laundry and we’ll not mourn their loss.

Beating the Mets this week will not heal the disappointments we endured when we were kids. We’ll never get another chance to beat Tom Seaver or Jerry Koosman. A flashy play at third base won’t make us forget about Ron Santo. A Cubs player’s home run, no matter how clutch, will not be the same without Jack Brickhouse’s joyful cry of “Hey! Hey!” as the ball crosses the ivy-covered outfield walls.

While the association can only be made in the irrational and emotional way so common among sports fans, this series is possibly the best that old Cubs fans can get. We’ll celebrate the wins, but won’t forget our losses. It’s not that easy. Heartbreaks generally aren’t.


Gloria Steinem is still active and engaged. She recently wrote her memoirs and is on a book tour. I don’t know how she took such a large role here on Ram On today. Ladies Day at the ball park started it all. She is welcome to Ram On anytime.

Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.

– Gloria Steinem


  1. I’m certainly glad you gave Gloria lots of air time in your post. I’m sure she would be too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had to look it up … I had to know who pitched the game that you were at. The internet is a beautiful place … so many box scores hidden away on here! The second of the 3-game Dodgers at Cubs series was on June 14, 1967. The Dodgers won 4-3. Claude Osteen pitched for the Dodgers. He also homered. (So did Ron Santo for the Cubs.) Ray Culp took the loss for the Cubs.

    I can’t remember a single thing about the first game I ever went to. Isn’t that odd? All I remember is where I sat and thinking, “I’m home.”

    Good luck to your Cubs. If they win, you owe a little thank you to the Orioles … since we supplied five of your pitchers including Jake Arrieta. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jackie – you are right. Culp and Osteen. Dodgers 4 – Cubs 3. Ernie Banks and Ron Santo hit home runs. The hot dog and Coke hit the spot. It was a perfect day (except the score).

      Remembering the feeling of feeling at home is pretty good.


  3. Wonderful post that weaves the history of baseball into the history of this country. Well done. Baseball romantics sometimes go too far, but I do believe there is some truth to the idea that baseball wraps itself around us unlike any of the other major sports.


  4. Bruce I love your opening quotes. You always pick something that hits hard. Good for all the baseball topics.

    I was thinking that with such good seats at your very first live game, you really had no choice but to stay hooked for life. I remember my first game just because it was recent. Camden Yards in 2007 and I don’t even remember who the Orioles played. Just that it was really amazing to be there and experience it all. And I loved the ballpark.

    Well, one game down. Let’s see how it goes from here. I’ll be pulling for the Cubs for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Since I know more about writing than baseball, I wonder if Ernest Thayer, who wrote the poem, “Casey at the Bat,” was a Cubs fan.


    • I don’t know, Paula. But after this weekend, there’s certainly no joy in mudville. The Cubs need a big swing in things when they return to Chicago tomorrow.


  6. Another great post Bruce. The new shoes and the box reminded me of the treat of new shoes as a kid – I would put the shoes back in the box, wrapped in the tissue each night so I could savour the thrill of ‘unwrapping’ the shoes again the next morning!


    • Rebecca – what an enjoyable image of you wrapping and unwrapping your shoes. There’s no reason the thrill had to be a solitary moment. Are you still particular about your shoes?


  7. Thank you for evoking things from my youth, too. I remember the backdrop of the Vietnam war and I had boxes of shoes, purchased every year at Easter. I remember hearing about Stonewall and the the Days of Rage didn’t seem all that far away in Minneapolis.


    • Mat – I was always a few years young to understand all the upheaval or other current events. The headlines of the Chicago papers I delivered door-to-door were very active. I had a better grip on the sports pages.


  8. kdk permalink

    This is a great read. So many good references to the ’60s through the baseball devotees’ lens. The shoe store by the river: I think I know that store. I think of it as where we bought school shoes, but good shoes too. Was it just a few doors down — no more than a half block from the bridge? Maybe on the right side of the street as you faced the river? Not sure. But there was a tobacco shop across the street that also traded coins which my brother collected.


    • KDK – thank you.

      I can’t remember much more about the shoe store (or even the blocks near the bride…). It was too long ago. Your recall is much sharper. Perhaps you are still near that old river.


  9. Once again Bruce, while others simply pretend to be writers on WordPress you prove over and over that you are the “real deal.” Great job.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. <<<Standing, Clapping! Well done, my friend.


  11. I always enjoy the way you tie the world into your well loved baseball Bruce. Somehow it brings it down to a more human level, makes it more meaningful. Thanks. Curt


    • Curt – it’s just baseball. A bunch of talented young guys on the field with odd-looking uniforms doing things most of us did on summer afternoons in between lunch and the afternoon paper routes. The simple beauty in that pastime still has some of us hooked.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I went out and communed with the wildlife. I tired out for Little League without realizing I couldn’t see. After being bonked on the head a couple of times, I decided baseball wasn’t my sport. So I went back to counting skunks. –Curt


  12. You got me at “Gloria Steinem.” Ha ha. Baseball does make my eyes glaze over, but not the way you write about it! Such lovely nostalgia and history. I can almost smell the peanuts and popcorn and see the ‘ladies’ sitting on their Tuesday seats for free. This day and age, as they say, I’ve seen pregnant women standing on a bus because no one will give them a seat (I do, oh boy, I’ve been there and know how swollen feet feel). Some people blame Gloria for the lack of ‘male chivalry.’ I blame rude people too engrossed in their cell phones to notice. Anyway, sorry, off topic. A good Bay Area friend of mine grew up in Chicago. HUGE Cubbies fan. She’s in mourning right now. You may be also…


    • Hi Pamela. Happy to bring you out to the yard for some baseball. Did you bring a pencil? We can help you with your scorecard so you remember every last detail about that fifth inning. 🙂

      I’ve tapped folks on the shoulder on BART or simply called out for someone to get off the seat for a pregnant woman or someone else who clearly needed to sit down. It shouldn’t be necessary.

      As for people too involved with their phones on trains, I wrote about that in one of my first Ram On posts. I don’t think we were blogging buddies at the time. “Euphoric, Narcotic, Pleasantly Hallucinant”

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Love posts that tie our lives to baseball. Very well done. The Giants have given you many thrills in recent years, but those Cubs are still deep in your heart. They had a very good year … and look promising ahead … but ran into a Mets buzzsaw. Meanwhile, I’m trying to get back into the swing.


  14. Bruce, Thanks for liking my Woodinville post. I’m here again, after commenting on your gambling post, to say that I agree with other commenters that you should write a book. You draw people into memories they didn’t know they had. You bring the recent past to life as Bill Bryson does in “The Thunderbolt Kid.”

    I’m older and trying to do this differently through older history because my research has taught me how the past informs on the present, especially with families. This post of yours brought me back to Smith College where I was a year ahead of Gloria Steinem. You taught me what she did back then. Now she’s back at Smith setting up a program to help women achieve.


  15. Bruce, I must confess I’m not much of a baseball fan (sacrilege!) or well-versed in baseball lore, but what a wonderful read your post is! How you interweave your childhood memories of the game and historical happenings in our country kept me engrossed from beginning to end. I am sorry about your Cubbies loss though (I do at least know who won the Series 😉).


    • Hi Stacie – you read from start to end, just waiting for the suspense of a 0-2 pitcher’s count crossing into a 3-2 after four foul balls, a couple questionable calls by the home plate umpire, and a catcher’s blocked curve ball that hit the plate. I hope you aren’t disappointed. 🙂


      • I’m sure you know I have no idea what all that means (I’m assuming you’re recounting how the Cubs lost?), but I sure got a kick out of your reply, Bruce 🙂 Disappointed? Didn’t have a dog in this fight, though after reading your story, my “for-the-underdog” mentality would have found me routing for the Cubs!

        Liked by 1 person

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