An Opening Day story for all you MLB fans. Play ball and all that...
It was the summer of 1990, specifically June. I was 12 and stoked for the summer, because 12 means lots of swimming, softball, and tennis, with TV breaks for important programming like The Price is Right, Night Tracks, and Welcome Back, Kotter reruns.
Up your nose never loses its charm.
But back to being 12, enter one bench swing and a pack of friends. A particularly impressive game of jumping from the swing ensued. I spent the first several rounds standing on the back of the bench swing, holding on to the top bar tightly, and helping propel the swing for the jumps of my comrades. They eagerly squished into the swing in packs of threes and fours, the middle children jumping first, and shrieking with the delight of youth freed from elementary school. We weren’t too cool for the playground--shit I don't think many of us still are. I could probably make a couple calls and recreate all this nonsense. It would just require plane tickets and an amount of planning typically reserved for paying gigs.
My turn to jump came and I was mad air all the way. I was flying! Kicking and screaming in the best way possible until gravity sealed my fate and I landed in hole on the ground with a very sore ankle, at which point there was just kicking and screaming. Being from a small town with no hospital or acute care clinic, the best thing to do was call the parents and get home. Home where I sat from Friday night till Monday when it was decided that I needed to go to the doctor. I didn't really want to let on how much it hurt because trying to be tough is in my nature and I figured that my parents wouldn't be too thrilled about doctor's bills and insurance claims. Yes, I actually already worried about that type of shit by the tender age of 12. Virgos and ulcers for lyfe!
There was a water feature in the doctor's office and all I could think about was how much I had to pee, but the overactive imaginer in me assumed I shouldn't go because there would be all kinds of tests and I would definitely need to provide a urine sample for my bum ankle. I hoped he would have a kind smile like Trapper John, MD, and that he would say, "Everything will be just fine, Julie." That's really all I ever want anyone to say to me.
The x-rays showed four fractures.
While I'm fairly confident that there was some crying and drama about all the things I was going to miss over the summer, I've blocked all that out. I considered sitting still as an average 12 year old would and found ways to amuse myself by considering what would one of my heroes of those days, Jessie Spano, do?
I totally got loaded on diet pills and broke my other ankle during a bad bender.
That would have been the most fun choice if this were a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
I hooked my bike pack filled with books to my crutches.
I exhausted my parents’ old record collection.
I watched tons of sports.
I smashed tennis balls into the garage door when the crutches made way for the walking cast.
The sports watching was all over the place with ESPN randomness, a love of tennis because it was one of the few sports where you could see women kicking ass, and of course, baseball. Cable television with TBS and WGN afforded two reliable options: You watch the Braves or you watch the Cubbies. I picked the Cubs and I offer you complete clarity on why: Harry Caray.
What a hot fucking mess.
I loved him instantly without really understanding why.
Since Chicago wasn't forever away, it seemed like a good fit. The stadium was old-looking, which I thought was cool. There were some decent players--this was back in the days of Andre Dawson, Ryne Sanberg, and Mark Grace, who I developed a giant crush on, something I now find hilarious since blonds don't do it for me. But he played first, so we had something in common.
Caray was a treat. Anyone with that type of enthusiasm was cool by me. I didn't grasp the booze-propelled quality of it at the time, but I loved him. "HOLY COW!" and "CUBS WIN!" became staples in my vocabulary. It was the 7th Inning Stretch that was the real selling point, Allah only knows how many beers deep, leaning out of the booth, "And uh, one, uh, two..."
It's gold. Actually, it's probably a fucking miracle he never fell if we wanna get granular about it. But, dammit, he was a good one and an original. After he passed away, I didn't really make much of an effort to watch the Cubs, so I guess you all know where my fan's heart truly lay and here's why.
A couple of years after the broken ankle, I was in Chicago with my mom for a national youth conference. We were with a large group of kids and teachers from Minnesota, but happened to have one night where there wasn't a scheduled activity, so mom asked if I wanted to go to Harry Caray's restaurant for dinner. Duh. Of course I did!
"Wouldn't it be funny if he were there?" she remarked as we were leaving the hotel.
I doubted that would happen, but was pretty excited at the prospect of what types of baseball stuff might be there and just knowing that it was his place was good enough for a middle schooler. A short cab ride and we were there. It was quite busy, so I just people watched as we waited for a table and when the host was seating us, I asked something along the lines of, "Does Mr. Caray eat here often?" I assumed her, "Yes, he does," was just being polite until we sat down and WHO WAS AT THE NEXT TABLE?
Mayor Richard Daley.
He was there. Harry Caray. HOLY COW.
"Do you think he would sign a menu for me?" I asked my mom, trying my hardest not to look like a complete dork, which for a girl in middle school is basically impossible. "Or a picture?"
Never before was I so glad that my mom always had a camera on her.
"You'll just have to ask," was her reply.
You wanna talk about nervous. He was so loud. There were mere feet between us, but I felt like he was already yelling in my ear. Budweiser bottles littered the table. I took a deep breath.
"Mr. Caray, I'm a Cubs fan and I was wondering if you would sign this menu for me? Maybe let my mom take a picture?"
I have no idea how sheepish I sounded or if I was confident. I was in the presence of a god as far as I was concerned.
He looked up at me, his glasses as thick as old Coke bottles, "Well, only if you sit in my lap!" and he laughed that laugh. He laughed that laugh that I can still hear, typing this almost 25 years later.