I’m meticulous about keeping them as spotless as possible after I get new ones, even to the point where I inspect them at least twice a day and wipe them down with wet paper towels each night to keep the dirt off of them.
However, about 5:45 p.m. last Sunday afternoon, I noticed a fresh streak of dirt along the side of the bright, white rubber sole of my left shoe...and I had no intention of wiping it away.
You see, it’s not often that your shoes pick up dirt from the sacred, hallowed grounds of Wrigley Field.
I’ve always been a Chicago Cubs fan. They may not have always been my absolute favorite team, but the Cubbies have always held a special place in my heart, one that dates back more than 30 years.
It was right around 1980 when my family got cable TV for the first time, and words could not fully describe the sheer awesomeness of it at the time. The number of channels we got literally quadrupled (from three to twelve) literally overnight. I was seven years old at the time and it was perhaps the single greatest day of my life.
By that age, I was fully immersed in the game of baseball. But before cable, the only teams I was really familiar with were the ones that were regularly shown on national TV via the Game of the Week, which usually meant the Yankees and/or the Dodgers, and sometimes the Reds, Orioles, Pirates, or whoever was winning at the time.
I supplemented watching my one game a week with collecting baseball cards, but it wasn’t until we got cable that my baseball world really opened up. Not only did we get WTBS out of Atlanta, which broadcast Braves games, we also got WGN out of Chicago, which aired the Cubs.
With no lights at Wrigley back then, the Cubs always played home games in the afternoon, and when it got too hot to be outside, I’d break for a couple of hours to sit inside the comforts of an air-conditioned house and watch them play, no matter who was in the other dugout.
I probably watched as many Cubs games as I did Braves games growing up, and those guys in the white uniforms with the red “C” and the blue pinstripes became just as big of heroes to me as guys like Dale Murphy and Bob Horner were with Atlanta.
So when I found out that my recent trip to the Midwest would include not just a game, but a tour of Wrigley Field itself, I knew a 30-year wish was about to come true and another item would be checked off my bucket list.
The day began with an hour-long train trip from our hotel near O’Hare Airport, just me and my nephew, Mason. He’s seven now and as big into baseball as I was at that age. I tried to explain what we were about to see, but he was too jumpy to sit still. Hopefully, when he gets to be my age, he can look back and fully understand and appreciate what I was saying.
At age 39, and in charge of a seven-year-old in a big, unfamiliar city, I was doing my best to be a responsible adult, but even I couldn’t help getting wide-eyed when we got off the train, rounded the corner, and caught our first glimpse of the stadium. And when we reached the gate for our tour and saw the famous red and white “Wrigley Field - Home of the Chicago Cubs” sign, I was grinning from ear-to-ear like it was Christmas morning.
After talking to our tour guide, I was able to secure Mason an on-field pass to the pre-game Kids’ Corral, where he loaded up on batting practice baseballs and autographs. He even scored a wristband, which enabled him to run Wrigley’s bases after the game. A brief passing shower cooled off the weather considerably, and with a nice breeze blowing for most of the game, our upper level box seats in the shade couldn’t have been better.
The Cubs, to the delight of nearly 38,000 fans, made quick work of the Houston Astros, and we made our way down to the concourse to get in line so Mason could take his lap.
As excited as I was for him, I don’t mind admitting that I was extremely jealous as well. I mean, I cover sports for a living now, so I’m kind of desensitized to being on a big baseball field, but this was Wrigley Field. I just wanted to be seven again too and get in the lap I had pretended to take for years playing Wiffle Ball in the backyard.
But as we walked onto the field and over the bullpen mounds, I saw them. Grown men running the bases with their kids, probably under the guise of taking photos, but more than likely living out their own childhood dreams as well.
Suddenly, we’re in the first base coach’s box and Mason steps on the bag and makes a beeline for second. Wristband or no wristband, camera or no camera, I was about to make my own childhood dream a reality.
I hit the bag in a homerun trot, gliding past the spot where Leon “Bull” Durham and Mark “Amazing” Grace used to stand. I jogged past Ryne Sandberg’s familiar spot at second, and took a look at the white flag with the big, blue “W” at the top of the scoreboard, signifying Chicago’s victory just minutes before.
I stepped on second base where Tinkers and Evers would hook up before throwing to Chance to complete the most famous double play in history. I felt a cold chill and the hair stood up on my neck and arms when I reached the spot where the great Ernie Banks, and later Larry Bowa and Shawon Dunston, once stood at shortstop.
I got to third, passing where Ron Cey and the late, great Ron Santo once patrolled the hot corner. I took a final look at the pitchers’ mound. The same mound where Ferguson Jenkins and Rick Sutcliffe and Kerry Wood and even guys like Bill Campbell once threw.
I shot a glance skyward to the press box and saw where Steve Stone and the late, great Harry Caray sat and filled my childhood summer afternoon with play-by-play calls and baseball stories and whatever random thoughts would be in Harry’s head at the time before finally stepping on home plate.
And with a final tip of my cap, I walked off the field and out Wrigley’s hallowed gates as we made our way back to the train station, but not before one final glance back at the corner of Clark and Addison.
As only Harry could say it, “Holy Cow!” What a day.
Scott Herpst is Sports Editor of the Walker County Messenger.