Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., May 16, 17 or 18
This week is this baseball season’s first trip to Chicago, and either the beginning of the end with the Cubs, or the end of the beginning of a restored Wrigley Field.
A half dozen times each summer, the trek conjures great memories, but over the last couple of seasons it’s made fewer ones for the future.
Starting in the 1980s, the trips were launched each April with an annual journey that came to be one of long-underwear-and-parka patience. With time and age, the Opening Day jaunt shifted to an afternoon in a much-warmer TV room. This year, three hardy, heartfelt survivors of those adventures – one uses a wheelchair, one carries oxygen, and one writes this column – met at a sports bar and, in the immortal words of Harry Caray, quaffed several libations in another loss.
Even in futility, we re-lived 1994's amazing 12-8 loss to the New York Mets when Cubs outfielder Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes hit three home runs off Doc Gooden and prompted an editor pal to repeatedly murmur, "Who the **** is Tuffy Rhodes?"
(Before that Opening Day, Rhodes had 5 homers in 280 at-bats; afterward he had 5 homers in 306 more at-bats before going on to a successful career playing pro ball in Japan.)
That Opening Day also featured Olympian Bonnie Blair and then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Fans’ reaction to her was “mixed,” to be charitable, despite her donning a Cubs ball cap and leading the 7th-inning stretch singing of “Take Me Out to The Ballgame.”
A sign in the stands echoed a gag circulating at the time. The joke was something like, “I had a weird nightmare. I dreamed that I went to bed with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Lorena Bobbitt and Tonya Harding, and in my nightmare woke up with a sore knee, my manhood gone, and no health insurance.”
The hand-scrawled sign said, “Tonya Rodham Bobbitt,” referring to Bobbitt’s 1993 mutilation of her abusive husband, Harding’s role in an attack on competing figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, and Hillary’s part in the Clinton administration’s failed attempt to reform health care.
Will another game against another Mets lineup be as fun?
Although I started occasionallly going to Wrigley with groups or family in the ’70s, stepping up attendance since the ’80s, these days my wife gamely accompanies me, bringing a pile of magazines (and forgetting how a Sammy Sosa foul almost beheaded her 15 years ago).
The distance, Chicago’s traffic congestion and exorbitant parking fees have been checked by more leisurely Amtrak travel and a convenient L ride on the Red Line, but owner Tom Ricketts is sending a chill down my spine that’s colder than a “prevailing 30 mile-an-hour southwest wind” (as the late, great Steve Goodman sang).
Ricketts’ $500 million proposal to restore the 99-year-old ballpark on the city’s North side includes clubhouse renovations, an open-air plaza, an adjacent 175-room hotel, a nearby office building (“with retail space”!) and – grrr – more night games.
Oh, yes – double-grrr – there’s also a planned 6,000-square-foot video screen to dwarf the fine old scoreboard above center field.
If OK’d by city planners and Chicago’s City Council, construction could start at the end of this season (which, AGAIN, will be on Sept. 30, when other teams will gear up for post-season play). However, the restoration wouldn’t be done for five years.
Meanwhile, neighborhood rooftop owners are threatening a lawsuit over a contract that lets them keep 83% of revenue they generate from charging to essentially eavesdrop on another’s product. I respect contracts but resent this insistence on capitalizing on others’ investment.
What about FANS’ investment – devoting “time, talent and treasure,” as it’s said in my church – in what’s become an unceasing exercise in exploiting people who pay through the turnstiles in the hopes that skilled athletes will compete and sometimes – once in a while, for goodness’ sake – win more than three consecutive games?
To add insult to the injury of breaking fans’ hearts for decades, Ricketts threatens to leave Wrigleyville if he doesn’t get his way, saying, “The fact is that if we don't have the ability to generate revenue in our own outfield, we'll have to take a look at moving – no question.”
Mimicking goofballl governors such as Indiana’s Mitch Daniels, Texas’ Rick Perry and Wisconsin’s Scott Wilson, Rosemont Mayor Bradley Stephens reportedly offered Ricketts 25 acres not far from O’Hare International Airport for free if Ricketts wants to relocate.
It’s almost enough to ask for oxygen and a wheelchair.
Or a pile of magazines.
[PICTURED: Graphic from delusionalcubsfan.com]