Tag Archives: Chicago Cubs

A Grumpy Old Men Adventure

As mentioned in previous posts, my friend Kevin McQ and I are in a production of the one-act play Freud’s Last Session scheduled for October 17-20 (Dates have changed!). The play imagines a meeting between Sigmund Freud (just weeks from his death) and C.S. Lewis.

C.S. Lewis’ desk at the Marion E. Wade Center.

As part of our research of Lewis we became aware of the Marion E. Wade Center on the campus of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. The center hosts an archive of Lewis’ writing and correspondence along with a collection of Lewis’ possessions including his desk and his childhood wardrobe.

This prompted an idea for a one-day Grumpy Old Men marathon adventure for Kevin and me. So it was that we departed Pella at 4:00 a.m. this past Friday morning and drove in a cold rain all the way to Wheaton College. We pulled up to the Wade Center at promptly 9:00 a.m. when they opened. My nephew Sam is in grad school at Wheaton and hooked us up with his friend, Aaron, who works at the Center.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Desk

Aaron gave us a tour of the Wade center. We got to see (and touch) the Wardrobe (For Wendy’s benefit, I checked to see if maybe…) and Lewis’ desk where he penned many of his books. There was also the desk of J.R.R. Tolkien where he wrote The Hobbit and much of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. As a lover of writing instruments  I also enjoyed seeing both Lewis’ and Tolkien’s fountain pens. The archive there contains an exhaustive collection of Lewis’ voluminous correspondence. Both Kevin and I wished we’d had more time in the schedule to explore the archive.

Chicago’s Red Line train to Addison.

It was still raining when we caught the 10:55 train from Wheaton to Chicago. We walked in the rain to catch the Red Line to Addison and then walked to Wrigley Field for the Cubs’ 1:20 p.m. game agains the Cincinnati Reds. It was our good fortune that the rain stopped just as we entered Wrigley and held off for the entire game. We watched Alec Mills on the mound for the Northsiders in his MLB debut. He pitched a gem and even notched his first MLB hit. The game also included Daniel Murphy’s first home run as a Cub and the Cubs won the game in the bottom of the 10th with a walk-off homer by David Bote. Stellar afternoon!

Kevin and I retraced our tracks back to Wheaton and it was raining again by the time we arrived. We drove back to Pella, arriving just before midnight. A memorable 20 hour adventure!

Someday … is TODAY!

Anyone who knows me even moderately well knows that I am among the millions of long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans. My precious young daughters endured long, chilly April afternoons at Principal Park with dad watching the AAA Iowa Cubs play. They did, however, get to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame for a local news story about the ubiquitous “Businessman’s Special” (forgive the extremely poor VHS archive footage):

Taylor even dutifully went along with me on my first visit to Wrigley Field.

Tom and Taylor at Wrigley - 1

When Wendy and I married she allowed me the joy of teaching her about baseball, about the Cubs, and she has walked this journey with me for over a decade. She’s endured the chill winds blowing in at Wrigley with me. We try to watch or listen to every game, often recording it and watching it late if we have to, and planning our travel to the lake to coincide with Pat and Ron calling the game on the radio. My wonderful wife has become such a baseball fan that while I was on a business trip a few years ago she was watching all of the major league roster moves on the MLB network at the trade deadline and texting me up-to-the-minute news. Man, I love that woman.

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Our family and friends have had to live with (endure, really) the reality that the Cubs are always on at our house. It’s just the way of life at both Vander Well Manor and our Playhouse at the lake. I’m happy to say, however, that more than a few have embraced our crazy. It’s been a blast to share the fun together.

Every year hope has sprung eternal. Opening day is a bit of an annual rite of passage at our house. Wendy has hot dogs, nachos, and cold beer ready. We put it on the calendar and make watching a priority.

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I crank Eddie Vedder’s Someday We’ll Go All the Way and dream quietly that it just might be a day this year, this season.

Every autumn hope has ended with acute, even horrific, post season tragedy or the painfully slow, obtuse seasons in which there were far more losses than wins.

There’s been more sorrow than joy over the years, but it hasn’t really  mattered. We still watch, listen, follow, cheer, scream, and cry. Then we grieve the long months of winter until the sounds of a Cubs game can once again resonate through Vander Well Manor each day.

Ask any Cubs fan and they’ll tell you that this season was special. There was something different about this crew of bear Cubs. There is the zen, hippie manager who organized pajama parties on road trips and petting zoos at practice. There are the expensive free agents that the front office were willing to sign. There are the talented free agents who passed up more money and longer contracts because they wanted to play for this team. The National League infield in the All-Star game were all Chicago Cubs. And, there were wins. A lot of wins. The “W” flag risked getting tattered from consistent exposure to the elements. We’d experienced some great seasons, but we’d never experienced a season like this season.

There’s this thing I’ve learned about hope when all you’ve experienced is disappointment. You want so desperately to give yourself wholly to dance with hope, but you’re always waiting for disappointment to show up, tap hope on the shoulder, and cut in. We’ve been conditioned to expect that our hopes will be dashed. The rug will be pulled out from under us. 

Our team swooned in June before the all-star break and we thought, “Oh no, here we go again.”

Our team won more games than any other team, and we were told “the team who wins the most games rarely wins the World Series.”

Our team lost to the Giants in 13 innings, and we thought “The momentum’s gone. Here we go again.”

Our team couldn’t eek out a single run against Kershaw in Game 2 of the NLCS, then we get shut out again in Game 3. We thought “Surely, this is the beginning of the end.”

Our team gets shut out in Game 1 of the World Series, then loses two of three at Wrigley. We have to win three straight, and win the last two in Cleveland. We’re reminded incessantly by Joe Buck and the rest of the baseball talking heads how long the odds are, how improbable it would be, and how many times the Cubs have blown it before. And, we think, “The dance with hope is over. I see disappointment making its way across the gym floor to cut in. Again.”

Then we win Game 5 at Wrigley and salvage one victory at home. At least we won’t have to endure watching Cleveland celebrate a World Series victory in the Friendly Confines.

Then we win Game 6 in Cleveland and relish the thought of having pushed the series to the limit. Still we have the talking heads reminding us of the improbability, the long odds, the history of our dashed hopes.

Then comes Game 7. Lead off homer by Fowler. Strong effort by Hendricks. 5-1 lead. The Indians get a couple of runs but we’ve got a lead and it’s getting late in the game. Hope is dancing. Hope is literally cutting the rug, and we are feelin’ fine. Put on the dancing shoes.

Nine outs away.
Six outs away.
Four outs away.

Two down. Bottom of the 8th. Bases empty. Just one more out and we’re on to the 9th. 

Indians double. 

Indians Home Run. 

Tied 5-5. 

There is disappointment tapping hope on the shoulder. “Excuse me. I’d like to cut in.”

Rain delay. Seriously?!

Texting with Madison in SC.

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Texting with Kevin M.

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Texting with Chadwicke.

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Texting with Kevin R.

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Texting with Matthew.
Texting with Harry.

Then comes the top of the 10th.
Cubs score one.

Cubs score two.

The Cubs are doing it. They are defying the odds and the naysayers and the talking heads and the curses and the nagging disappointments.

Carl Edwards Jr., the kid we watched pitch at Principal Park for the Iowa Cubs just a month or so ago, is in to close it.

Indians score one. Disappointment is still trying desperately to steal the dance.

Texting with Taylor

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I have always dreamed of this day. I had always envisioned being in Chicago. I imagined driving to Elgin and taking the train into the city and the Red Line to Wrigley. But, there was something so right about being here at Vander Well Manor. It was just Wendy and me listening to Pat and Ron call the game while we watched the muted television feed. This is where we celebrate Opening Day with hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and beer. This is where we listen and watch and cheer and groan and cry nearly every day from April through September. Now it’s November. It’s the last day of the baseball season. Game 7 of the World Series. The Chicago Cubs were the last team standing. We won the big one.

Hope shrugged off disappointment this time. It’s time to dance, really dance, for the first time in 108 years. Wendy and I hugged, and cried, and went outside to #FlytheW.

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Someday was TODAY. I can’t describe how much fun it was to exchange calls and texts and messages and posts and tweets with friends and family. And, most of all, with the little girls, now grown, who endured  chilly April afternoons at Principal Park with dad watching the AAA Iowa Cubs play and learning to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. 

It’s root, root, root for the Cubbies, if they don’t win it’s a shame…

No shame tonight. We won. It’s time to dance.

madison-watching-cubs-in-sc

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Mourning…and Moving On

The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.
Deuteronomy 34:8 (NRSV)

Wendy and I enjoyed watching Joe Maddon take over as manager of the Chicago Cubs this year. He brings a lot of fun and laughter to the clubhouse, keeping things light and his players relaxed. “It’s just baseball brother,” Joe says, “never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.” And so, the Cubbies have enjoyed petting zoos, magicians, pajama parties, and a rookie Disney princess dress up day.

As silly as some of it seems, I have also observed some simple wisdom in some of Joe’s clubhouse rules. For example, when the Cubs win, Joe lets the players party and enjoy the victory for 30 minutes. There’s a disco ball and loud music and dancing and a raucous party…for 30 minutes. Then, it’s on to preparations for the next game. Likewise, when the Cubs lose, Joe allows the team to grieve and groan and grumble. A black cloud of mourning the loss can hang in the clubhouse…for 30 minutes. Then, it’s on to preparations of the next game.

In today’s chapter, Moses’ death is followed by a period of national grieving…for 30 days. Then, the mourning ended and it was time to move on to the next chapter of their lives and the conquest of Canaan. As wise King Solomon put it, “there is a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” But, in either case, it’s only for a time.

Today, I’m reminded that there is wisdom in grieving for a time. I’m sure that being swept in the NLCS will be mourned by all of the Cubs this year, and the pain of it will be felt for the rest of their lives. Still, there’s another season for which to prepare. Mourn the loss, but then you’ve gotta move on.

Likewise, we all experience tragedy and loss along our life journeys. The pain will be with us to the end, but at some point the period of mourning has got to end, and the next stretch of the journey has to begin.

These Cubs Aren’t Following the Narrative

This Cubs team is not sticking to the narrative. The narrative is legendary. It is mythical in proportion, and as a long time Cubs fan you begin to trust the narrative like the you trust the impending arrival of winter.

Our friends Kevin and Linda experienced the narrative when they made a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field this past summer to watch the Cubs play the rival Cardinals in the friendly confines. The Cubs had a 5-4 lead in the rainy 9th inning. Two outs. Two strikes. Wrigley was rocking and the fans were pumped to take the mid-season series at home. Then the narrative kicked in. Jhonny Peralta belts a two run homer off Pedro Strop. Once again, our hopes are dashed at the moment we were about to experience eucatastrophy.

Soaring hopes tragically dashed. That’s the narrative. The ’84 Cubs get to the postseason for the first time since 1945 then watch Steve Garvey take our hopes away. The ’03 Cubs up 3-1 in the NLCS and the Wrigley faithful preparing for our first trip to the World Series since World War II. Then the narrative kicks in with a fly ball to left, an angry outburst from Moises Alou, and it all unravels before our eyes as the Marlins take three straight and go on to win the World Series. The ’07 and ’08 Cubs packed with all-stars and raising our hopes with stellar regular season play. Then the narrative kicks in early we couldn’t eek one postseason win in either year.

“That’s the Cubs,” Cardinal fans laugh with smug arrogance as they smooth out the wrinkles on their latest World Champions t-shirt. That’s the narrative and this is our lot.

Last night Wendy and I stood in our living room and watched Hector Rondon take the mound against the rival Cardinals in the 9th inning. Up two runs and here we are again. We’re just a few outs away from going to the NLCS. We’re just a few outs away from beating the dreaded Cardinals in the postseason for the first time in history. This is when the narrative kicks in. This is when the meltdown happens. This is when Peralta homers, or a Cubs player trips on a shadow, or a black cat appears and steals the eucatastrophic moment from us all.

Then, a strange realization creeped into my conscious thought as I stood stood there behind the couch and felt the adrenaline rush I have not experienced since 2003. This Cubs team is not following the narrative. This batch of talented youngsters and their aged hippie Manager seem to know nothing of Billy Goats or curses or mythic narratives. This is not our father’s Cubs teams running from the past and feeling the pressure of the ages. With the death of Ernie Banks this past spring, his spirit seems to have been freed to descend on this group of boys. These young men in Cubbie blue pinstripes are playing with joy. They are living in the moment. They are rewriting the narrative.

Swing and a miss. Strike three. Cardinals vanquished. Cubs win!

I make no predictions. This young, inexperienced team may yet fall short to the Dodgers or the Mets. The Cardinals are not the only team who know the Cubs’ narrative. Nevertheless, I wake up this morning and look out the window to see the “W” flag wafting over Vander Well Manor. We beat the Pirates in Pittsburgh. We beat the Cardinals at Wrigley. It’s the first time we’ve beat the Cardinals in the postseason in history. It’s the first time a Cubs team has ever won a postseason series at Wrigley. It’s the first time a team with so many rookies has won so many games, made it to the postseason, and hit so many home runs. And on, and on, and on it goes.

These 2015 Cubs appear to be rewriting the narrative. I can’t wait to find out what kind of story we get to experience in the coming week.

Cubs Win!

Document-Cubs vs. Padres Sat Apr 18 2015 Tom Vander Well Page 1

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I’ve been enjoying watching the Cubs and scoring the games in this early season. Really nice win in extra innings. Though the bullpen blew the “W” in the 9th, the story-line thus far this season has been the young team’s ability to come through late. They didn’t give up, and ultimately got the job done.

It’s early, but nice to be two games above .500 and just one game behind the “evil empire” in St. Louis. Today was Kris Bryant’s first major league hit and RBI. It’s always fun to watch when you just might be witnessing a little moment in baseball history.

Missing the Signs

Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro at bat d...
Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro at bat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So [Saul] demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself. 1 Samuel 13:9 (NLT)

As anyone who reads my blog for any length of time knows, my wife Wendy and I are big baseball fans. In particular, we are fans of the Chicago Cubs. One of the hot topics this off season for our beloved team is the play of young short stop, Starlin Castro. A few years ago Castro was brought up to the major leagues when he was still a teenager. He hit a home run in his first major league at bat and set a major league record of six runs batted in in his first major league game. His rookie year showed all sorts of promise.

Fast forward a few years and everyone in Cub’s nation is wondering what happened to the young phenom. His defensive play is atrocious, his concentration in the field is sometimes non-existent, and the tremendous talent at the plate has waned to the point you could call him average, at best.

How quickly things change. It’s tough to be consistent in the spotlight. Case-in-point: King Saul. After an initially grand start to his monarchy (which we observed yesterday), King Saul quickly begins to reveal some classic leadership blunders. The rookie king came out of the gate with some huge wins against the national rival Philistines. Saul had to feel on top of the world. He was young. He was king. He was batting a thousand and feeling invincible. Everyone faces adversary, however. And it wasn’t long before the young leader found himself behind in the count in the bottom of the ninth and staring at a bitter defeat. Saul panicked.

Those who are not avid followers of baseball may miss a lot that happens in a game. To the uneducated, the game moves slowly and there are huge periods of time when it seems nothing is happening. But, the game of baseball is constantly in motion. There is a continuous chess match going on between managers. There is psychological warfare happening between pitcher and hitter. There are secret signs being delivered constantly between the coach and the hitter, the catcher and the pitcher, the dugout and the fielders and runners. Critical mistakes are sometimes made because a player missed or ignored a sign from his manger that you’ll never see on television. Games are won and lost by seemingly insignificant mistakes which, innings later, lead to defeat.

When reading the ancient stories of the Old Testament, there is a very similar parallel. For those who are unaware of Old Testament history, it is easy to miss the hidden customs and contexts of historic, cultural and spiritual significance. To the casual 21st century reader, it seems of little consequence that King Saul called for the offerings and burnt them himself. On the surface, it appears that the rookie king is taking initiative, doing what needs to be done, and honoring God. In the context of God’s story, however, Saul just blew it – big time. He ignored the coach’s sign and foolishly attempted to steal home.

The Old Testament rule book for the nation of Israel was the law of Moses which is contained largely in the book of Leviticus. The major league rules of Saul’s day were very specific. Only the prescribed priests from the tribe of Levi were allowed to offer sacrifices. Period. When Saul ignores the law and offers the sacrifice himself it is as clear cut as if Starlin Castro punched the umpire an the face because he didn’t like being called out at second base. There is no gray area. No instant replay is necessary. Immediate ejection.

I have learned along the journey that leadership is not just about taking initiative and decisive action. There are times when a leader is required to sit back, bite his or her tongue, and let others do their job – even if others don’t do them the way we’d like them done or as capably as you think you could do it yourself. Sometimes leadership requires you to choose not to swing. You take a few pitches and work the count even though your entire being wants to swing for the fences. Sometimes you have to hold yourself in check, be patient, and let others do their jobs. By his refusal to wait for Samuel, who as priest was the position player designated to make the offerings, Saul showed his pride, arrogance, foolishness, and contempt for God’s rule book. It was more than a simple rookie mistake. Saul broke the rules in a big way and dishonored the game. The commissioner quickly bans Saul from ever making the hall of fame.

Today, I’m thinking about my own leadership. Where am I acting on my own when I should be letting others do their jobs? How might I be displaying impatience? Where am I displaying an “I’m the only one who can do this job” attitude? In what areas do I secretly believe I am irreplaceable?

God, help me learn from Saul’s mistakes. Help me to lead in such a way that I elevate others and honor you.

All Time Best Chicago Cubs By Position

English: Chicago Cubs logo
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This, from a long conversation over cold beer (and cigars) on a hot summers evening with my friend Kevin McQuade, here is the authoritative list of the top Chicago Cubs of all time by position:

  1. Pitcher: (tie) Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown/Fegie Jenkins
  2. Catcher: Gabby Harnett
  3. 1st Base: Cap Anson
  4. 2nd Base: Ryne Sandberg
  5. 3rd Base: Ron Santo
  6. Shortstop: Ernie Banks
  7. Left Field: Billy Williams
  8. Center Field: Hack Wilson
  9. Right Field: Andre Dawson

Extra bases: After long consideration, Kevin and I also concluded that the number one reason for the Cubs’ 106 year World Series drought is: historically weak pitching.