Tag Archives: Ernie Banks

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.

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.

Three Indelible Life Lessons from the Game of Baseball

Last Saturday morning, Wendy and I went out to the local ball diamond to watch my good friend Nathan playing Little League baseball. I grabbed my camera to capture my buddy in action. Anyone who follows my blog knows that Wendy and I love the game of baseball (and our hapless Chicago Cubs). In fact, as time goes by our love and appreciation of the game only seems to grow deeper. We thoroughly enjoyed the gorgeous, early summer morning watching Nathan play. It reminded me of all that is great about the game of baseball, and in particular I was reminded of three important life lessons that the game teaches me over and over again.

2013 06 08 Nathan VL Baseball 02

1. “Everyone strikes out. How you handle it is what makes you a man.”

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.
-from “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Thayer

When my young friend Nathan was just a few years old, Wendy and I gave him a copy of “Casey at the Bat” for his birthday and this was the inscription I penned on the inside cover of Ernest Thayer’s timeless classic. What an amazing word picture of life. The very BEST hitters in the big leagues will fail to get a hit 7 of every 10 attempts. Time and time and time again we will try and fail in life. Those who learn from failure, who dare to walk back up to the plate, who keep swinging despite overwhelming failure will eventually knock one out of the park. You’ll never know the thrill of driving in the winning run if you let failure discourage you from ever trying again.

2013 06 08 Nathan VL Baseball 012. It’s Not About Winning or Losing, but the Joy of Playing the Game.

Wendy and I watched and laughed ourselves silly on Saturday as we watched the young boys of summer doing their best to play and learn the Great American Pastime. I can guarantee you that at the end of the game not one of the li’l sluggers knew the final score of the game. But, as the team ran the bases together at the end of the game the look of joy on their faces was priceless.

I have known many a man who has wasted time, energy and resources in a manic drive to prove to who knows who that he is a “success” through winning every game, closing every deal, burying every enemy, and acquiring every needless possession. Never have I met such a man who experiences a deep, abiding sense of peace, joy, and love. The further I get in this life journey, the more I’m convinced that what is important is not winning every game, but loving every moment.

In similar fashion, those who love the game of baseball understand realize that the game itself transcends wins and losses. Win or lose, an afternoon or evening at the ballpark is time well-spent. As Chicago Cub great Ernie Banks is famed for saying, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame….let’s play TWO!”

2013 06 08 Nathan VL Baseball 03

3. The Point is to Make it Safely Home.

As we play the game of life, we will all make our share of errors. We all hit our share of foul balls. We all strike out. But as Yogi Berra said, “the game ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Every baseball fan can share stories of dramatic come from behind wins and walk-off “home runs” in the bottom of the ninth inning. In the end, the goal of the game is to arrive safe at home. Even the Prodigal Son eventually found his way home. Every funeral I’ve ever attended has included a recitation of the 23rd psalm (i.e. “The Lord is my Shepherd….”). The psalm ends with the words “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In other words, in the end the psalmist finds himself safely home. Baseball not only provides us a word picture for constant reminder, but even shapes home plate like a little house for added effect.

Our friend Nathan may, or may not, play baseball for long. Like millions of American kids (myself included) he may play a year or two of Little League only to hang up his bat and glove until his own children choose to run the bases. The love of baseball, however, lasts a lifetime, as does the life lessons baseball teaches each of us.