Better Late Than Never: When It Rains, It Pours

IMG_2615 Scott Todnem
I had the misfortunate of being born a Cubs fan.

I use the term misfortunate only because of the obvious– the lack of a World Series win since 1908.

I love the Cubs, however, and stick with the northsiders through and through like a true Chicago sports fan. Up and, well, mostly down, I’m here, waiting ’til that next season everyone’s always talking about. Perhaps Stockholm Syndrome is too harsh of a term, but the basic concept may be within shouting distance for us fans who bleed Cubbie blue.

Since that World Series win back in aught-eight, many things have occurred. To offer a quick, non-exhaustive list: we’ve endured two World Wars and many other conflicts; four states were added to the union; women earned the right to vote; Prohibition and the Great Depression came and went; mankind landed on the moon; the NFL, NBA, and NHL were all formed; 18 U.S. Presidents were elected; the Titanic was built, sank, and was finally located after 73 years; both penicillin and Pluto were discovered (separately); and noteworthy inventions include television, crossword puzzles, canned beer, Mother’s Day, traffic lights, and sliced bread. Also, comically enough, Wrigley Field was built and has since become the oldest ballpark in the National League.

Despite all this, and over 100 years of losing, I had the true fortune of going to the first Cubs night game.

My father got two tickets to the game at Wrigley Field on August 8, 1988. I was 10 years old.

Section 208, Row 21, Seat 1. A $6.00 face value. I still have the ticket stub.

I remember looking forward to that night because it was such a big deal. There was a build up in the media, on TV and in the newspaper, because of years of opposition and because Wrigley Field was of course the last major league baseball stadium to add lights. Up until then, the Cubs only hosted day games.

So, on 8-8-88, a date chosen for historical reasons, my dad and I set out to enjoy the first evening of baseball under the lights on the north side of Chicago. And history it did make. At least for me.

August 8 was two days before my family was set to move. Leave the state, leave the country, uproot all things midwest and relocate to the United Kingdom. England, to be exact. A two-year, planned hiatus on account of my father’s job.

The house was all packed up. Everything was in boxes, most already taken by the movers. We were living out of gym bags until the long plane ride to our new home.

That night it rained.

I remember it was a hot and muggy Chicago summer without much rain the entire month before, but the impending weather reports warned something nasty was in the air, and upon arrival to the ballpark word was spreading fast that a storm was certain.

Minutes prior to the game, rain clouds were conspicuously absent. When the lights went on, when they first called over the old intercom “Let there be light!”, I vividly recall the hundreds of big bulbs flashing white like a spaceship scene from the old movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Looking up, blinded at first, my eyes eventually settled in on a beautifully lit blue-gray sky as the crowd roared and history was made. Goosebumps. Something magical was happening– I knew that at the time. Even at age ten, I could tell: I would remember this forever.

The game got going to cheers and standing applause, yet immediately, almost in true Cubbie fashion, starting pitcher Rick Sutcliffe gave up a lead-off home run… just four pitches in to Phillies outfielder Phil Bradley.

Amidst all the hoopla of the first night game, however, that homer was no cooler for the over-hyped Cubs fans. No, more action was destined to develop, on and off the field. It was in the air alright, right alongside the scent of rain.

Back in the 1980s, a woman who called herself “Morganna the Kissing Bandit” used to leave stadium stands to try to run onto fields at various sporting events and kiss famous athletes. Her Wikipedia page can offer up all of her accomplishments, most of which we would never see now, not in the new age of sports, what with the worry of players’ safety.

On this Chicago night Morganna was there in attendance, and without much delay, in the bottom of the first inning, she took off from the first base side at Cubs superstar Ryne Sandberg, standing at home plate for his first Wrigley nighttime at bat. After she was stopped short by security, unsuccessful on her cheeky mission that night, Sandberg stepped back into the batter’s box and rocketed the second pitch into the left field stands, giving the Cubs a 2-1 lead.

The crowd erupted with a thunder of its own. “Ryno! Ryno!”

As the next couple innings went on the Cubs were able to keep the lead, but it was in the bottom of the fourth that the clouds finally opened up and it started to rain. And it rained hard.

It stormed so bad that the game went into a lengthy rain delay. The blue tarps came out and beers were instantly watered down… but not the spirits of the crowd. The spectators all stayed– no one wanted to leave that historical night behind. After an hour or so, to the cheers of the sold out stadium, Cubs legend Greg Maddux and 2-3 other players ran out on the tarps and splashed around in the puddles and pelting raindrops, sliding headfirst back and forth to thousands of raised cups of Old Style in the stands. About a dozen fans tried the same stunt and were hauled off by security.

After a two-hour rain delay, the game was called, cancelled on account of the rain, just six outs short of a full game. It never counted for the record books. The Cubs were leading 3-1 before the downpour, but that was that.

My dad and I went home, bummed at the weather but content with the experience. Still battling the torrential elements, after a slow drive home we pulled in the garage well past 10pm. I recall sleepily unbuckling and seeing my mother, awake and in tears, frantically standing in the garage doorway.

Our basement had flooded.

This was the house we had sold– we were moving out of the country in two days– and water was steadily seeping into the finished basement.

I’m sure she worried that the damage would be severe, that we’d have to pay for the repairs or maybe even that the sale wouldn’t go through for whatever reason. This was before the time of cellphones and she couldn’t get ahold of us during the game. There we were, enjoying a soggy hot dog and history, while my mom and little sister sat at the mercy of mother nature.

So away we went, bailing out water and figuring out how to get the basement clean and dry the carpets… as well as my mother’s eyes.

It sits securely in my mind, though, that everything worked out. We cleaned up the house, we laughed at the bad luck, we made the move, and the Cubs played again the next night… coming up with a win, believe it or not.

My father and I still reminisce about that soggy night where, despite having the lead, mother nature wouldn’t even let the Cubs get it right. Yet I hold that father-son experience as one that no one can take away from me, no matter what the yearly standings show.

So here we are, all these years later, and the Cubs still haven’t won a World Series. Eventually there will come a time when they do… or one would think. And at that point, whatever point that is, it’ll be history.

I just hope I’m alive to witness it all.

[Addendum: full game available on YouTube, complete with a Bill Murray interview while he and Harry Caray share a can of Budweiser.]

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