Sunday, April 27, 2014

the alternative occasional baseball weekly written by an ex-cub fan resurrected found alive & semi-conscious in michigan’s upper peninsula: This Week: Wrigley Field as Tragedy Which Explains The Billy Goat Curse

Who? Me?

Wednesday I was enjoying the celebration of Wrigley Field turning 100 years old and feeling that at least in mind and spirit one can go home again when it came to my attention that Wrigley Field and William Shakespeare share this birthday of April 23 and, as well, a kinship for tragedy. Shakespeare is the Bard of Tragedy. Wrigley Field is the Field of Broken Dreams.

Wrigley Field, August 8, 1988.

Yes, tragedy. Shakespeare wrote it, Wrigley Field stages it with an ever-changing cast of baseball players (called the Chicago Cubs) and a stalwart crew of supporting actors called umpires, announcers, owners, coaches, managers, vendors, ticket sellers, organists, and, of course, fans. The performance given on Wrigley’s 100th birthday was classic, the stage set with sweet memory and sunshine snuggled into beams and walkways of cold steel, concrete and brick, spiffed up with red-white-and-blue bunting and souvenirs, hard plastic seats of green filling with well-heeled dignitaries and blue-clad, smiling children in tow with parents and grandparents bedecked in finery and costume and hats and jackets. Accolades and reminiscence were offered by the famed and the ordinary alike. Singing was off-key. Beer, peanuts, and hot dogs flowed from merchants on-stage and off. Red, white, and blue balloons took to the sky and the main players of the day, complete in 1914 costume, took to the trimmed spring-green field, and when serious play began the Chicago Federals—as they would be known for this performance only—played fine. Fine pitching, fine hitting, fine fielding. All in all, a fine and perfect birthday with a glorious cast of thousands. Even Shakespeare took the stage with a hot dog as he professed to like it.

But alas! All did not end well. The final act was yet to play. The ninth inning. Error, injury, and yes, tragedy, the friendly confines becoming once again a cold, bleak house. Fade out, spotlight linger, find, highlight: the crying, stricken, hapless child.

Some might say: Only at Wrigley.

I looked up “tragedy” in the dictionary. It comes from the Greek tragōidia, the song of the goat.

Well, OK. Now I get it. Tragos, The Goat.

Yes. You.

Wrigley’s tragic plays began in 1945 with The Curse of the Billy Goat, and I am now convinced that this curse indeed lies at the very core of the players’ troubles, and until some adjunct lecturer in romance languages ensconced in some public university in Mississippi or Missouri whose ancestry dates back to England and Scotland with a bit of Italian thrown in and perhaps an obscure Russian footnote finds, quite by accident, on a hot summer night, the anti-curse for The Curse of the Billy Goat in a dusty book uncovered in a musty attic in an old Victorian house where he (or she) rents a room, nothing will change at Wrigley Field: the Song of the Goat will play on. But then, when this anti-curse is found and performed without fanfare, without publicity, without any big stunt or ado, then and only then will the curtain come down on the tragic plays of Wrigley Field.

Oh. Sorry. Perhaps you don’t know what the heck I am talking about. Perhaps you have never heard of The Billy Goat Curse. Well, here’s a video that does a fair job of explaining. And Wikipedia lays it out nicely.

But, in a nutshell: The Cubs were leading two games to one in the 1945 World Series when a Mr. William Sianis tried to bring a goat into Wrigley Field to watch the fourth game of the series. Even though he had a ticket, the goat was turned away. This pissed off Sianis, so whammy, a goat hex: The Cubs will never win another World Series game. So be it, and so it has been. Heck, since then the Cubs have never even made it to the World Series.

You may ask: Who is William Sianis and why was he bringing a goat to the ballpark? And, did the Cubs and their fans run him out of town? Was he vilified and cursed?

Answer: Sianis brought the goat to Wrigley Field as a promotional gimmick for his restaurant, The Billy Goat Tavern. People love this restaurant. Cub fans love it. Remember the old Saturday Night Live sketch? That stupid thing about cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger? That’s the Billy Goat. How many Cub fans do you think were in that sketch? How many Cub fans do you think love that sketch? How much mileage do you think the Billy Goat Tavern is getting out of this goat curse thing? Please, check out the website, you’ll see.

Heh heh heh. Bah.

So a guy puts a goat hex on Wrigley Field and those who love Wrigley Field love this guy, love his restaurant, love his goat.

What a mess.

What a tragedy.

Perhaps Cubs fans should have their heads examined.

But let’s remember that sometimes tragedy begets comedy, and such is the case with Shakespeare and Wrigley Field. In a never-ending play such as baseball, tragedy must at some point become comical lest it kill you, lead you to exile, or turn you into a Yankees fan.

Me, I’m just glad to be back, watching the drama unfold.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

the humming teakettle: a pea picklin’ pictorial

Finnigan cruised The Strip.


Elliott watched the snow melt.


I contemplated life in the U.P.


A tea kettle hummed.


My sister took pictures with her new mini iPad.


And while listening to a Cubs game, I made a new candle mold.


It rained, and a fog rose over the snow.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

on the appearance of spring

I start with a mash-up of sentences from four books received this week. The mash-up contains every word and every punctuation mark of each book’s first sentence; I changed letter case only as necessary.
There is but one significant middleweight boxing champion of Princeton of 1860, and I find it hard to sum up in one word the character of Lucera. The lithographers Currier & Ives depicted the results in their fashion. The most unusual effect it produces on the mind is blurred; one sees so many towns that a history becomes freshness. In images of the nation’s presidential election that once truly popular suicide Robert Cohn was the most serious philosophical problem—in November.
Reading the mash-up is, for me, kind of like reading “The Myth of Sisyphus,” by Albert Camus. I am neither a philosopher nor prone to reading high-falutin’ literature, but I heard something about this book (actually an essay, a long essay) on the radio so ordered it along with these other books and reading it these past couple of days has been, remarkably, the best thing for my head, which once a month tends to slip into a funk, a seemingly irrational depression. More and more I am conscious of the onset of this funk as it has distinct physical manifestations, and when Camus arrived on the very day I was falling I dove into reading. I was conscious of my reading and even more conscious of my incomprehension. Then, bam zoom.
Of whom and of what indeed can I say: “I know that!” This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction. (ac)
I understand well the next page or two, am carried along and feel somewhat excited, then return to enraptured murkiness.

It’s been an amazing week. If you go back to last Saturday’s dawn of near-zero degrees and a snow cover of three or four feet, back to when I looked at the river that afternoon and it was all ice and snow with just a soft, slushy edge, it’s been an amazing week. The sun shone, it was rarely below freezing, and all the drabness of spring gurgled and cooed and moldered and steamed. Snow disappeared from the small garden bed and shoots of daffodils emerged. Tuesday morning I walked to the post office and by the time I returned and was walking up the muddy drive, skirting the larger puddles, I was stripped down to a T-shirt. The cool air drifting off the fields of snow felt good.

A neighbor checking her mailbox joined me for part of the walk, and I heard of peppers and tomatoes growing in a south window, of hay fields changing hands, of cows growing large with calf. I had been noticing the cracks in the road, some two or three inches wide, some smaller, cracks traversing the entire expanse of the black-topped, two-lane road like the perverse smiles of a Cheshire winter. Farther up the road are places marked with orange barrels where the road sinks and if you don’t slow down, wooee, you get a ride, straight up, straight down. Some places are marked only with little bent orange flags.

Wednesday a cold grey morning in the twenties. Frost on the raggedy grass and mud. For the past several days I’d been re-organizing the loft, trying to put away some of that stuff one might just stuff in a closet if one had a closet, and Wednesday morning I opened a box full of photo albums to put on a newly cleaned off shelf. You might guess what happened.

Do I really want all these photos?

Oh, here’s a good one. I’ll scan it and send to Jennifer and Jill.

I really should go through all of these and toss …

The albums cover the late 1980s through the early 2000s, but there were also some strays in the box from different eras, such as this one of the dog I grew up with.

Joey, 1957-1969.
Notice the hockey game to the right and a bit of hamster cage in the
upper left corner. We had so many hamsters. This one could have been

Kiwi, or more likely Hercules. I don’t know. And the set of books, I believe,
is the Childcraft series. Now those were great books!

Wednesday afternoon I thought I saw Sadie along the river, which now looked like this,

from the bridge, Wednesday

but I suppose it could have been any old deer with a scar on her flank. The deer have been visible, crossing the roads, walking up drives, hanging out in plowed yards, and now, finally, with the snow letting go, getting back into the fields to graze.

Sadie or Sadie’s doppelgänger?

But spring is drab. Brown and grey moldy grass, spiky brown stubble, black and brown and grey heaps of snow, sticky brown mud, dark leafless trees, slushy cold swamps, muddy swirling waters, still puddles of depths unknown. But the birds have come back and in mornings and evenings we hear the cheerio of robins, the soft hoots of mourning doves, the chatter of chickadees and the calls of the crows. This more than anything draws Elliott outside to become once again the hunter and the hunted. (We hear the coyotes at night.) He does this so seamlessly—goes from a near-vegetable stupor lounging by the fire to a sidestepping, tail akimbo, lithe and watchful being hunkered down now on the porch, alert, zeroed in on a small mouse hole at the base of a decrepit snowbank.
You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. (ac)
For those of us who consider ourselves to be lonely souls—or for those of us who are simply alone—I think spring can be the hardest of seasons. It’s just not all kittens and puppy dogs and tulips. “April is the cruelest month” and “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” But,
Everything considered, a determined soul will always manage. (ac)
Saturday—the Saturday that was yesterday—it snowed. As that snow turned to rain, just a light sprinkle, I headed out for a walk. It was a perfect spring day. All was well, my heart was full.

from the bridge, Saturday

Below are the four sentences, unmashed.

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. (Albert Camus)

In November 1860 popular lithographers Currier & Ives depicted the results of the most significant presidential election in the nation’s history in a most unusual fashion. (Jules Tygiel)

I find it hard to sum up in one word the character of Lucera—the effect it produces on the mind; one sees so many towns that the freshness of their images becomes blurred. (Norman Douglas)

Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. (Ernest Hemingway)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

now back to our regularly scheduled program: snow!

Saturday morning
The snow is a beast and I suppose a burden but I see the beauty in it.

Saturday morning looking northwest from the porch to the river.

The sky is clear, the air is still, the temperature barely above zero.

Elliott coming and going. Believe me, he did not go far.

Saturday afternoon
A walk to the river. Thursday I tried and every third step sunk a foot, maybe two, maybe three. Up to my knees. But today, just a few inches. The snow that sticks to the snowshoes is a lead weight.

Looking north across the river. Not my tracks!

The edge of the river softens, the sun is warm, there is a slight breeze. Temperature in the forties.

Saturday evening
The snow puckers, slides off the roof with great elan, drips, crashes, shrinks, evaporates, recedes, melts, even (maybe) disappears.

Saturday evening looking northwest from the porch to the river.

Friday, April 4, 2014

a perfect day for opening day: it’s snowing! (kind of a special report)

Snow, snow, and more snow. “Snow, blowing snow, and heavy snow,” says the weather woman on the radio. It is snowing in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the NPR morning announcer says. Snow, yes, and more snow. Snow coming down like bleached flour through a giant sifter shaken with vengeance by a malevolent ogre who has—HELLO—won the battle already. I swear, this is like living far down deep in a white white bowl that just keeps getting whiter. The only sign of spring—the only sign of spring today, anyway—is baseball.

Opening Day 2014.

Yes, my friends, baseball. Baseball is back for yet another season and I am back to baseball like a blood-thirsty tick on a raggedy dog. For so long it was so easy on this wooded peninsula to find the bliss of not knowing about runs, hits, errors, mishaps, every gripe and every glory that seeps into a person by osmosis, let alone attentiveness, because you live close to it, next to it, are steeped in it daily, steeped in that teamug of baseball they call Chicago. Living there it’s hard not to know the score of every game and the misdemeanors of every player, every manager, not to mention every fan. The constant chatter of it! As if the sport were not only a metaphor for life but life itself.

In getting away from all that, I found bliss, but unfortunately, also, ignorance. Ignorance picked up like a burr during a walk in a field of wildflowers.

My gosh, to think I knew nothing about last year’s bushy-bearded Boston Red Sox until I wound up in California in October! It’s not just the beards, of course. It’s where the beards take you.

In this case, straight
to the House of David.

I began leaving baseball for a number of reasons in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but removing to the U.P. in 2004 helped to get me away from it once and for all. Or so I thought. When I lived in Columbia, Missouri for a year, I was removed in a similar way but resisted. I was, after all, just removed from my team, the Chicago Cubs, and what happened then, 27 years ago, was that I simply delved deeper into baseball itself, sought it out, read books like Jules Tygiel’s Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy and took trips to Busch Stadium in St. Louis (arg!) and the Royals stadium in Kansas City (I remember there being a fountain … ). I worked on the sports desk of the Columbia Missourian and took a harrowing trip to Springfield, Illinois, to interview Bob Faron, an up-and-coming pitcher, but ended up talking to Dave Otto, which was great. The trip was harrowing because on the way home my Volkswagen Rabbit stalled out on the highway on the edge of St. Louis and in the middle of the night I had to deal with tow truck drivers and a seedy motel and the next day a burly mechanic in a junkyard … but I got home safely and then had an argument with my editor: Wasn’t my story of a young journalist’s midnight trials on the road as interesting as the rained-out trials (did I mention the rain?) of yet another dreamy young man playing A-ball in small-town USA? (Answer: Heck no.)

With a ruler and pen I made blank scorecards to fill in while watching any game I could find on old-timey TV, and while watching I would try to recreate my favorite spot for watching a game—the front row bench of the centerfield bleachers at Wrigley Field. This basically entailed getting a beer and having peanuts on hand, because there was little I could do to recreate Wrigley Field sunshine, wind, rain, and noise; organ riffs and fan chants; the hoots and name-calling of Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers; the rumble and squeal of the nearby “el” train. I had no peanut shells and Cracker Jack, no mustard, no squashed beer cups and hot dog wrappers underfoot, and there was no faint smell of stale beer and sweat and catsup and grass. (I am a tidy housekeeper.) There was no aroma of coconut oil slathered on leathery skin. And, perhaps most important of all, there was no chatter, no incessant chatter and laughter of people talking baseball as if it were some kind of metaphor for life; the simple camaraderie of friends, fans, my sister, my dad.

Still snowing.

Now I have come back to baseball, and today is Opening Day at Wrigley Field, and Wrigley Field is now 100 years old. I found that out while in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. Louis and I were talking, and I wondered aloud when Opening Day at Wrigley would be and he immediately asked Siri, this woman who seems to live in his iPhone. Louis said, “Opening Day, Wrigley Field.” Siri responded with something like, “OK, I got that. April 23, 1914.” It took a second for 1914 to register, then we realized Siri must have given us exactly what we asked for—Opening Day at Wrigley Field. April 23, 1914. One hundred years ago.

I wonder: What was the weather like?

This year, the weather is perfect. I look at the Chicago forecast. A drizzling of rain in the morning, temperature rising to the mid-40s, be prepared for strong southwest winds. On days like that balls can pop out of Wrigley like corks from champagne bottles and when that happens, for a minute, you forget the rain and the cold.

And the snow.

Shortly before game time, my plow guy shows up.

I will watch the game on WGN-TV via my basic subscription to MLB.TV, which I guess is the modern way to do it. Since Monday, I have been watching games on my laptop, which has its drawbacks but also its portability, and the option to watch a game after it is over is a fine feature, especially in this neck of the woods where one is not likely to have heard any scores anyway. I cannot watch Detroit games, which is mysterious. I am 500 miles from Detroit—why deny me access? I’m not sure what these blackouts achieve, but the fact that I can get all games via radio broadcasts, home or away, somewhat makes up for that slight. Actually, right now, the Cubs radio broadcast is what I am loving most. Pat Hughes, the play-by-play guy, simply cracks me up. He knows his stuff and he’s funny as heck. I listened to him and Ron Coomer during the final innings of the 16-inning game Wednesday night, and the image he evoked of the 19 men the Cubs left on base being, why, a small town, Ron, is one that sticks with me. Makes me smile.

So how did I get back? How did I get back to baseball? It certainly wasn’t the promise of a winning season—I do not fall for that. But I do fall for other things. Wednesday night, before that grand finale of extra innings with Pat Hughes, I was watching the Cubs game and the White Sox game with Louis at his cabin about an hour south of here. One game was on tape and one was live and we (or he) kept flipping back and forth and both games went extra innings and somebody won and somebody lost and there were wild pitches and a hit batsman and shivering fans and long delays for this new thing called “replay review”—now that is going to be a fun thing to gripe about!—and balls and strikes and hits and catches and I suppose a home run or two? It got confusing flipping back and forth, but it sure was fun.

Snow piles up outside the bathroom window.

Now today the snow piles up. I shoveled a path through 10 inches or so to get to the garage—a path that yesterday was clear all the way to green grass—to haul in wood to keep the fire going. I’m making candles and staying warm and soon I’ll be watching Opening Day at Wrigley Field. Ryne Sandberg will be there managing the Philadelphia Phillies. There will be much hoopla, I am sure, it being Wrigley’s one-hundredth birthday and all, and I imagine in Chicago it is all over the place, sifting down through every media outlet like a snowstorm or a shower of sparks, burying people. But me, I’m just up here having fun, win or lose.

And it’s snowing.

And I’m looking for signs of spring.