T.Puzzle has to write a speech to be performed in front of his class. Thankfully, like his brother before him, he is fairly at ease with public speaking so this is not the challenge. The challenge is coming up with a topic. No lie, these are the highlights from the actual list we generated. The ones in bold are my ideas, the ones in italics are T.Puzzle’s:
Adopting our rescue dog
T.Puzzle’s first visit to Wrigley Field
The Olympics, I only like events where crashing happens
The Making of a Lego World
Cows, observe the cows
How to be a smart mouth to your mother and how this leads to success (or not, most definitely, not!)
Cheeseburgers: why are you so delicious?
Origins of Fortune Cookies and the top five I would create: #1. Alive today, dead tomorrow
This last one is all Full Speed’s idea: The challenges of having an older brother who is a track star
Like you, I am on the edge of my seat waiting for how this all unfolds.
In every woman’s life there are defining moments. There are milestones such as college graduation, falling in love, having children, etc. Once children are a part of the picture, suddenly their milestones become our treasured markers of the passage of time. For instance, the first time Full Speed reached earnestly to play with a toy hung from the arm of his baby carrier, I was overjoyed. I was convinced by this simple act that I had given birth to a certified genius. We were at the mall and the air was heavy with the scent of salty pretzels and my overblown perceptions of my ‘super baby’. Still, it was an awesome moment and to this day whenever something great befalls my kiddos, it’s like it is happening to me as well.
That’s why when my boys lined up against the backstop at Wrigley Field before the start of the game, I was giddy with anticipation. Mad Dog had arranged for them to be part of the nine lucky kids that got to run on the field and meet a player. We had no idea which player it would be. We hoped for the best and made peace with the worst (you know who you are). I was seated alone and peered anxiously at them to see where they would run. Once given the signal, they were to sprint to the position that would coincide with the player they would meet.
I almost couldn’t take it. Who would they get?!? Who!?!
Finally, they were off and running. It seemed obvious Full Speed was headed towards the outfield. But then, oh my god, T.Puzzle ran to FIRST BASE! He was going to meet ANTHONY RIZZO! I repeat….ANTHONY RIZZO!
Is it obvious he’s my favorite player? Hmmm, what gave it away?
I jumped for joy and screamed so loud the fans in my section thought I had lost my mind. I was able to compose myself enough to articulate that both my kids were out on the field and one was meeting ANTHONY RIZZO. This made sense to them, but I could tell they still thought I was mildly insane.
T.Puzzle had a brief exchange with Anthony (yeah, I’m now on a first name basis with him), and got him to autograph a baseball (proudly on display in our front room). It took all of two minutes but for me, it is a defining moment that still brings me great joy.
Full Speed was sent to right field and had a lengthier exchange with near-giant Jason Heyward (well, giant compared to Full Speed and most of America). J-Hey was so genuine in what he said to Full Speed, he is now Full Speed’s favorite Cubs player. I love that, clearly he is a player that is gracious and I’m so glad he had such a positive impact on Full Speed.
Mad Dog and I looked at each other. The stakes were high. Do we roll the dice? Do we go all in? Do we leave it all on the field?
Yes, yes and yes.
So what if we watched The Professor lose by a painfully tiny margin at game 3? So what if we might see Cleveland take the Series at Wrigley? So what if the price tag for tickets made me silently weep?
THE CUBS WERE IN THE WORLD SERIES!
There had already been so many tears. Tears when we made it to the World Series realizing I couldn’t share that moment with my mom. Tears when we lost game 3. Tears, tears and more tears. You may wonder why I allow myself to be a part of something that makes me cry so much. It’s in my genes. I can’t not bleed Cubbie blue any less than I can’t not breathe. After 42 years of being a Cubs fan, I figured tears were always going to be a part of it. I knew that ultimately if I was heartbroken again, I would rise up and keep on cheering…and crying for my team.
Mad Dog and I went for it and got the tickets. We figured we would rather face our fears than live with regret.
Every pitch we watched was like taking a bullet. I had to keep asking Mad Dog ‘Are you sure about the money? Will you be able to let it go no matter what?’ He reassured me he was fine but I could see the worry in his eyes. He was concerned that his extremely sensitive wife would not recover from witnessing a loss of this magnitude at her beloved Wrigley Field. He was probably right.
Game 5 felt different than game 3. Maybe it was when Anthony Rizzo changed his walk-up song to the Rocky theme that embers of hope began to ignite. Maybe it was Kris Bryant’s solo home run that shifted the tides of momentum in our favor. Maybe it was my lucky socks. Maybe it was finally damn time that the baseball gods realized the Cubs were due.
By the end of the game I felt faint. The standing, the cheering, the adrenaline all were taking their toll. Chapman’s heroic 8 out save to send us back to Cleveland was the most stressful stretch of a baseball game I have ever seen. Game five was epic. Only to be outdone by game 6 which gave way to the greatest single game 7 in the history of baseball.
When the final out of game seven was called, I think you know where this is going…
Tears, tears and more tears.
Finally tears of joy.
Thanks to the Chicago Cubs, I will now always believe in miracles.
We were on our way. We had travelled many miles and planned months in advance for this day. This was THE day.
Full Speed and T.Puzzle were going to their first Cubs game.
In the weeks leading up to this momentous event, I tried to convey to them how special this was to me. So much of my childhood and memories of my mom were wrapped up in Cubs’ fandom. I had met Mad Dog because of the Cubs. Our first date was in the left field bleachers. I fell in love with Mad Dog at Wrigley.
Wrigley Field is my mecca.
Obviously, I was feeling a bit emotional but mostly excited. We decided to walk part of the way from our rented, summer apartment and grab a cab closer to the field.
Then, I felt the first raindrop. Then, another. Soon, I wasn’t sure if I was feeling rain wet my face or anxious tears.
How could it threaten to rain on this of all days? The most holiest day of my young children’s lives?
Inwardly (ok, outwardly, too) I started to freak out. Full Speed could tell I was losing it and quickly grabbed my hand.
“It’s okay, Mom. It’s only raining a little. It’s going to be okay.”
And, then, almost instantly it was okay.
Here’s why: I stopped focusing on all the things that could go wrong (possible rain, thunder, game cancellation) and started to look at all that was wonderful.
First of all, I had this incredibly handsome and caring young man holding my hand. Wow, Full Speed is going to make one heck of a husband when he grows up. Which brought me to my own husband. He worked so hard and planned so carefully for our little family to have this awesome Cubs experience for two reasons. First, he is a Cubs fan, but secondly, because he does all he can to make me happy. Seeing him up ahead leading our little family and watching him stay positive that no rain would slow us down, made my heart full.
I decided in that moment that I wasn’t going to let the threat of bad weather ruin this awesome day. However it unfolded was going to be perfect. I was with my favorite guys and all I felt was gratitude.
Sure enough, soon after we arrived in the park it rained and rained and rained.
What did we do? We got some ponchos and soldiered on.
With much anticipation and thankfully no thunder, the game started on time. Within moments, the Diamondbacks had a runner on and their clean-up hitter launched a line drive home run to right-center. It was the kind of homer you instantly knew it was gone. The way it cracked off the bat was soul-crushing.
And, it still rained on us. A lot.
Somehow the Cubs made a comeback, honestly if you’ve been watching their season at all, this is hardly surprising. Offensively they are a juggernaut. They managed to get the lead back by the fourth inning and maintain it until the end. This only got sweeter when my favorite player, Anthony Rizzo, clocked a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning. I screamed so loud I nearly lost my voice. You can actually see us on the MLB recap as we were behind home plate as Rizzo completes his trek around the bases. We are easy to spot because I am jumping for joy. To this day, Full Speed does a dead-on impersonation of me jumping around like a crazy person for Anthony’s home run.
Now you know the girl had a happy ending. She found true love and had two, awesome little Buckeyes. But, there’s more to the story.
Before there was the Buckeye, there was just the girl. She was a quiet girl. She grew up tucked away in the cornfields of Illinois in an unassuming one-story house on an unassuming tree-lined street. This quiet girl loved her Mom dearly. When the girl would arrive home from school she would find her Mom watching the Cubs on WGN. At first the girl didn’t think much of baseball, but she thought much of her Mom. Over time, she was slowly indoctrinated with a die-hard love of the Cubs. It was in her genes passed all the way down from her Grandmother. You can’t fight genes.
The girl’s bond with her Mother, and remember, they already were quite close, grew stronger over a shared love of the Cubs. The Cubs were often uninspiring to watch and even though the girl and her Mom cringed each time Harry Caray slurred his way through a seventh inning stretch, they were faithful to their team. Of course, there were moments of glory. The ’84 Cubs stirred hope in their hearts and while this season brought great joy and this amazing song- Men in Blue– it ended in heartbreak as practically every Cubs’ season does since the dawn of time (boo Padres!).
So, how exactly does the Buckeye factor into all of this? Turns out, he was not much of baseball guy (growing up, soccer was more his thing), but attending college on the far, far north side of Chicago lends an easy transition to Cub fandom. The girl suspected initially his fandom was less about the baseball and more about the ever-available and free-flowing beer of the Friendly Confines’ bleachers. No matter, he was a Buckeye who grew to appreciate the Cubs.
And, that’s how they met. The girl, her Mom, her Aunt and Cousin all travelled to Navy Pier to go on a Cubs’ charity dinner cruise. There, they got to meet their favorite players (yes, the girl still has a soft spot for Mark Grace), and there, the Buckeye was. He was seated at the table next to them. He was with friends and the girl didn’t notice him at first. However, SEVERAL other girls noticed the Buckeye (the girl didn’t find this out ’til much, much later).
To her credit, the Cousin recognized the Buckeye appeared to be without a date. Being that she knew the girl was very, very single, encouraged the girl to talk to him. Initially, the girl did not agree to talk to the Buckeye as she was skeptical of all men, but since she was giddy at having schmoozed with so many handsome Cub players, she reluctantly agreed. He offered to take her to Wrigley Field and watch a game from the bleachers. She had never watched a game from the bleachers and as a die-hard fan, this offer was extremely tempting.
It took a couple weeks, but eventually, the girl and the Buckeye set up a date. The girl wasn’t very nervous as she had all but given up on love. She was just happy to get a free ticket to watch her Cubbies in person (she was also extremely poor at the time). She took the bus from her northside neighborhood and met the Buckeye at his apartment on Sheffield. Yes! He actually lived across the street from Wrigley. Wow! Maybe this Buckeye was something special.
The girl didn’t know it, but she pretty much fell in love with the Buckeye right off the bat. As we know, the Buckeye was a lot slower in this regard. A. LOT. So began their up and down romantic history which included countless bleacher games at Wrigley Field. It wasn’t always a fairy tale, but it turned out amazing in the end (the relationship, NOT the Cubs’ season).
Once they were married and raising their boys Buckeye, they still followed the Cubs closely. However, soon after starting their family, tragedy struck. The girl’s Mom got sick and passed away so suddenly, it crumbled the girl’s world completely.
The girl’s heart was shattered into a million pieces. She didn’t understand how just when her little Buckeyes were getting more awesome every day, that her Mom wouldn’t see them grow up. She wouldn’t be there to call when the girl didn’t know if she was mothering them correctly. She wouldn’t be there to laugh with, or cry with.
The girl was lost.
Six years later, the girl was still a little bit lost without her Mom to anchor her. And, during those six years of grief, the girl couldn’t bear to watch the Cubs and not just because they were terrible (as they usually were), but because watching them without her Mom was too deeply painful. It hurt her soul to watch them.
The girl was pretty sure she would never love baseball again. She focused on her little Buckeye family and let the Cubs drift slowly away from her.
Somehow, the Buckeye sensed under all her hurt, that the girl still loved baseball. This baseball season he made a decision. He would get the girl access to all the Cubs’ games on TV and download an MLB app on her phone (which is awesomely addicting). The girl doesn’t know how he knew she was ready, but she was. The brokeness of her heart, while not quite fully healed, had scarred over enough that it made watching the Cubs bearable. Actually, she had healed enough that she was excited to watch them play. Hearing the crack of the bat, watching a perfectly executed double play and hearing the fans of Wrigley cheer made her happy once again. She couldn’t believe it. And, to add to her happiness, her two little Buckeyes have shown the beginnings of their own Cubs’ genes emerging. Finally, she could share something with them that was unique to her. It was amazing-ness.
Time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds, but it makes it possible to live life anew. While the girl will never share a Cubs’ World Series victory with her Mom (or with anyone for that matter given the Cubs’ history), she can at least remember she really does love baseball. She really does love her Buckeye and she really does love her boys.
And, she really was the most blessed daughter to have had a Mom as special as the one she was given.