Missing in Action: The Week’s Overlooked News Stories

missing

The Cubbies are coming, tra-la, tra-la! All of Chicago and Cubs Nation has shut down for Games 4, 5 and 6 of the World Series. The excitement is palpable, as is the anticipation for the November 8 conclusion of this horrendously long and agonizing presidential election. In celebration of competition everywhere, let’s look at some fun, uplifting sports stories that may have escaped your notice this week.

Olympic swimmer may have fan to thank for saving his life

“If you see something, say something” has become one of the hottest phrases of the 21st Century. It’s often dropped with regard to counter terrorism activity, but in this case the principle was exercised by a fan who noticed a suspicious mole on the chest of an Olympic swimmer. Australian Mack Horton took to social media to give a shout out to the person who contacted team doctors about the mole after seeing the athlete compete in Rio. The results of the biopsy have not been released, but this could have been life-saving outreach from a Good Samaritan.

More evidence that 2016 could be the year of the woman 

So far, 2016 has seen a tremendous public rise in demand for “equal pay for equal work.” The first female nominee for President of the United States by a major political party is poised to take the White House, and the aforementioned Summer Olympics were dominated by American women. In the sports arena, yet another glass ceiling has been shattered, this time by a surf board. For the first time in the history, women are participating in the invitation-only Titans of Mavericks competition. Hang 10 ladies!

Long suffering Cubs fan has more than one dream come true 

It’s no secret that the blood in my veins runs die-hard Cubby blue. Watching the Lovable Losers was a huge part of my childhood, and as an adult the long-term, championship-less suffering has become more acute. A running joke grew into a painful yearning for something completely out of my control. Now here we are in 2016 and the Cubs have made it to the World Series for the first time since 1945. I’m 38 and can only imagine the agony of my elders, who waited even longer for a dream come true.  This story about a 97 year-old World War II vet, lifelong Cubs fan and the generosity of a stranger will warm your heart. This kind soul is fulfilling the wishes of folks like my grandmother and great-grandmother, who didn’t love long enough to see this day, but are with all of us in spirit.

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Wait ‘Til…Now?

Wait Til Now
1984

The Chicago Cubs are Division Champs! I’m six years old, my father not yet 30. Two kids jumping around the living room. We’re living in our old apartment at Byron and Leavitt in the North Center neighborhood. My grade school and maternal grandparents are a reasonable walking distance from our place, and there’s still six months left before the wheels completely fall off my immediate family’s functionality wagon. I don’t even know it’s coming. I have never seen my daddy so overjoyed, so euphoric and full of hope. I will again during other manic moments – later – but for now the whole North Side of the city has the fever. Cubs fever.

The Cubs led the Padres 2-0 in the National League Championship Series, but go on to lose three straight – and a trip to the World Series. A ground ball got by first baseman Leon Durham during a disastrous Game 5. Durham was one of daddy’s favorite players. How could he do that? This is the first time I ever remember seeing my dad fight tears. It takes him days to recover. I sit next to him helplessly, knowing something tragic has happened to Chicago. Daddy says it’s not the first time, and unlikely to be the last. This seems horribly unfair.

1989

The Cubbies are Division Champs again and I’m the perfect age – 11 – to truly appreciate the wave of excitement that once again sweeps the city. By now I have the 1985 Bears Super Bowl Shuffle under my experienced belt. Let’s do this. Daddy’s out of work again and the house we bought is trashed, but if the Cubs win the World Series (oh my god!) everything will be ok. Dad will be so pumped. We’ll all clean up together and he’ll be in such a good mood. Go Cubs go!

The Cubs lose Game 3 of the NLCS to the San Francisco Giants when reliever Les Lancaster gives up a two-run homer. The Giants take a 2-1 series lead and the Lovable Losers are unable to mount a comeback. Daddy is upset. But it’s not his mood that’s crushed me. One of the post-mortem sports shows plays a video montage against the backdrop of Peter Gabriel’s mournful tune, “Don’t Give Up.” I feel like I’ll never stop crying. The disappointment literally hurts.

1998

I’m a junior in college, sharing an off-campus apartment with Theresa. With interesting classes, a decent part-time job, a recent breakup behind me and a new set of friends, Champaign feels possible for perhaps the first time. And Sammy Sosa’s record-setting home run derby with Mark McGuire has been a lot of fun this season. Just a few years away from the 1994-1995 Major League Baseball strike that hugely disappointed my father. Said he’d never been more ashamed of the sport. I try not to talk to dad as much these days. It always leaves me upset, but I’ll definitely call him if the Cubs pull off an upset.

The Cubs lose the National League Division Series to the Atlanta Braves, 3-0. A few years later we’ll all learn that Sosa was juicing. Another huge black mark for the sport. Eh. The Cubs didn’t really belong in the playoffs. I’m sure dad knows that too. There’s always next year.

2003

I’m a married woman now and all season long I’ve forced Mark and my long time best friend Gary to watch, really watch the games. Like almost all of them. I believe. I’ve made them believe. I know every player, follow every nuance, injury and farm report. This is fucking it bitches. Cubbies! I see my dad and talk to him now and again. He never seems to be quite on track, always has his hand out for more than he gives, but we agree on this. Now.

Game 6 of the NLCS. The Cubs are five outs from the World Series. The city is electric. It’s our time. Moises Alou. Bartman. A man’s life ruined and I don’t need a Game 7 to know how this ends. Finished. More tears. I avoid my father. I don’t want to listen to his tirade. I just want this self-inflicted loserdom to be done.

2008

Marriage number two to the dashing, distant Eddie. He’s more of a cricket fan but I manage to get to him. The Cubbies are in the playoffs for the second year in a row! I still don’t understand why Piniella removed Zambrano early in Game 1 of 2007’s NLDS but no matter! This is going to be it. Finally. Eddie works a lot, even on the weekends, and needs quiet time. So I’ve been to a few games on my own. I like what I see. I pretty much avoid Gregg (I don’t call him “dad” anymore) like the plague but I don’t have to talk to him to know how he feels. For me personally though, if the Cubs choke again, I’m out. I’m starting to believe what they say. Wrigley Field – the world’s biggest tourist attraction. Not the home of a serious baseball team. Prove me wrong guys.

The Dodgers sweep the Cubs 3-0 in the NLDS. I cried again last year but this year? Furious. I actually talked Eddie into going to Wrigleyville with me to watch Game 3 from a bar. Eddie rarely likes my entertainment ideas. Fooled again. But I drank so many PBR tall boys and I am pissed in every sense. As Eddie and I walk home, I decide that every orange cone in my path gets it. To my surprise, he even points a few out for me. This whole evening has been surprisingly supportive. But this girl? Done with the Cubs.

2015

I enter the park for the first time in years. The story goes that it’s because my company paid for the tickets. But in reality, Bob has been working me for months.

During the long break I took from Wrigley Field, I also evaluated, ripped up and rebuilt a lot of other destructive patterns in my life. The result, a good man by my side in a Cubs jersey, both of us happy and feeling excited about our future together.

Gregg’s out of my life but I know he’s somewhere rattling off statistics in that encyclopedic way of his. The fortunes of a baseball team no longer bind us.

As I repeatedly declare my hard-earned skepticism, Bob momentarily checks his mild manners. Tomorrow is the Wild Card Game. “Shut up and enjoy it Waldorf! I’ll be surprised if Jake Arrieta doesn’t throw a perfect game tomorrow. Cubbies!”

And somehow I know that even if the Cubs make a muck of it like they always have throughout my lifetime, I will enjoy it. 

The Year After “Next Year” (December 31, 2014)

In 2006, filmmaker Ouise Shapiro released the documentary, Wait ‘Til Next Year: The Saga of the Chicago Cubs. IMDB.com describes the movie as follows:

“Using the frame of opening day, 2006, this documentary examines the Cubs’ 100 years without a World Series title.”

The film is almost a decade old. Midnight tonight officially marks 107 years since the Cubbies last found themselves in the winner’s circle. There is no one alive who remembers that glorious day. Yet the consistent elusiveness of victory has not proven deterrent enough to dampen diehard enthusiasm. Each fall, fans exit the Wrigley Field turnstiles for the final time until spring, proudly offering, “Just wait ‘til next year.”

I’m not quite 107 years old. But maybe because I grew up in the Windy City, and was born into a family situation that was consistently defeating, “Wait ‘til next year” carried special mantra significance. No matter how tough the current moment, I survived it by mentally moving the goal post. In fifth grade, when I thought the isolation and intellectual stagnation of a botched home school experiment might kill me, I looked forward to fighting for a classroom return the following year. When I was 15 years old and tired of waiting for a persistently tardy father to collect me from school or choir rehearsal in his latest trash-filled hoopty, I anticipated 16, when I could legally acquire my own driving privileges.

No matter how bad things got, it was usually easy to formulate a vision of something better that would encourage me to grit my teeth. I wasn’t who I wanted be, didn’t have the life I desired, didn’t necessarily know how to get there, but I would dammit…maybe next year.

At the close of 2014, I find myself wrestling with an unprecedented psychological dilemma. What do you do the year after “next year” arrives? Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got plenty to anticipate in 2015 and am bursting with energy to get her started. But 2014 was seismic.

I’m pretty sure now that I know who I am and what my limitations are. I accept them. I’ve grown fond of my quirks. I’m often creative, usually a hedonist, individualist and passionate. I have a hard time sitting still. I’m not great with romantic relationships, but make a pretty solid friend/aunt/sister/colleague. I hate failure. I am stubborn, clumsy and sensitive. And I’m finally ok with not being perfect. Not that I was ever close, mind you. It’s just stopped frustrating me.

The life I always wanted? Check. I could be younger, richer and healthier. But I am free. I do exactly as I wish for the most part, with a clean apartment that has morphed from a post-divorce prison into a sanctuary of peace, kitty cuddles and Pilates. I write, which is a must. But more often than not, I get paid to do it. My words are my profession. Enough people have chosen to read them. That’s more than I ever dreamed possible.

As for how to get there. I am still traveling, but learning to enjoy the scenery and finally beginning to trust the internal compass. A solid year of slower, adrenaline-free decision making will do that.

I’m not miserable. Most days I’m pretty content. I don’t need saving. Dread and anxiety are no longer constant companions.

The only way to weather the past was to live for the future. Today I quite enjoy the present. I’ll see next year soon enough of course because time moves on. But I’m no longer urgently waiting for it as reprieve from now.

Now’s just fine.

Are We Still Ready for Some Football (October 9, 2014)

It happens each time I pull out my Chicago Cubs-branded debit card to pay for a transaction, especially if traveling somewhere outside of Illinois. The look of disgust, a glance of pity, perhaps even an outright laugh from the bolder amongst them. I’ve come to regret having ordered the damned thing from Bank of America in headier, more optimistic days.

As any member of Cubs Nation well knows, ours is a long-suffering lot. It was 2008 the last time the Cubbies made the playoffs, 2003 when we came close to the World Series (still so painful to recall) and 1945 the last time we actually appeared. And with the recent conclusion of the 2014 season, it has now been 106 years, longer than anyone living could possibly recall, since the Cubs won the World Series. As a child growing up in the 1980s, the whole “Lovable Losers” thing was all in good fun. But that’s also when bleacher tickets cost $10, and youth permitted indulgence of the “Wait ‘Til Next Year” fantasy shared by fans.

Many broken hearts, one upwardly mobile corporate takeover of the Friendly Confines and an elimination of David Berg hot dogs from the concession stand later, I found myself in search of a new fix for sports cravings. It wasn’t just the Cubs latest post-season embarrassment that broke me in the fall of 2008. It was years of corrupt performance enhancing cover-ups, the mid-90s strike which led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, etc. Baseball felt used up and broken.

I started paying closer attention to the NFL during the 2006-7 season, the last time the Chicago Bears made a trip to the Super Bowl. True we were humiliated in epic fashion by Payton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, but at least we were there! And of course many native Chicagoans of my generation are still huffing the contrails left by the glorious 1985 Monsters of the Midway. Some denizens of this fine city may never recover from the pinnacle of the Ditka/Ryan era. ‘Da Coach, a near Illinois Senatorial candidate in 2004, remains a Christlike figure wherever he travels across the state.

Bear fever aside, I wasn’t sure football could hold my attention. To begin, the game is insanely complicated. My track record for staying engaged in activities I don’t understand is rather spotty. I’ve been a devoted Sunday disciple for eight years and I still only comprehend 60 percent of what takes place on the field – on the best day. But the good news is I learned that I really don’t mind. The promise of future expertise gives me an ideal for which to strive.

Secondly, I can’t see the players’ faces during the action. This may seem like a bizarre reason for avoiding a sport, but as a writer, critic, former youth stage actress and singer, emoting is an important part of any experience. I need to feel it. My favorite childhood baseball moments: former Coach Don Zimmer kicking dirt at umpires while yelling his face off, the usually calm and professional outfielder Andre Dawson tossing equipment onto the field from the dugout after being unjustly ejected from the game, Ricky Henderson’s not-so-humble “I am the greatest!” proclamation.

For me, baseball was all about the passion, the commitment..until it wasn’t. Though the sport is trying desperately to recover from two decades of fake records created by cynical, juicing bastards, it may have forever forfeited its special status as “America’s favorite past time.” And as I grew up, it became clear that Cubs ownership knew it was sitting on top of a sellout goldmine, so why spend money on trying to win? Schedule a game at the Wrigley Field, one of Chicago’s biggest tourist attractions, and they will come. Not exactly a great way to treat loyal fans left pining for competitive respectability.

At this point some of you may be thinking to yourselves: “Way to jump from the money grubbing frying pan to the fire Becky! The last time I checked the NFL was hardly a nonprofit operation, and they have plenty of violent, scandalous and cynical troubles of their own.” All true. I shall not disagree. My point is this. The 2014-15 NFL season is starting to look an awful lot like the MLB of the early aughts: a gut check moment of internal assessment and criminal player purging, leaving many a loyal fan wondering if all the concussions, abused women and children, bullying and weapons violations are worth it.

I can’t stand the Ginger Hammer of bald-faced moneymaking, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He’s a huge part of the league’s current PR problem. Similar to the follies of the MLB, he’s been willing to look the other way at a laundry list of disgusting behavior until fans and the media alike were brought to attention by a disturbing video of Ray Rice punching out this then fiancée. But dollars decide and as long as Goodell continues proliferating them for league owners, he’ll remain in charge.

Rehabilitation of the NFL’s image is not off to a smooth start, but if the league wants to avoid the fate of previous favorite American sport, baseball, this season’s high ratings suggest there’s still time. We await your next move Ginge.