Tag Archives: Chicago

Spring training for baseball fans

March 24, 2015

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Podlasek’s was where as just a boy I first was accused of being brainwashed into being a Cubs fan.

On the way home from, well, just about anywhere, dad would stop in at the neighborhood tavern at 47th and Kedvale on Chicago’s southwest side — White Sox territory. Since I was invariably wearing my Cubs cap, I was invariably verbally harrassed and ridiculed by the suds-sipping gentlemen on the bar stools.

I call the teasers gentlemen because they’d regularly buy dad a Pilsner and a root beer “for Eddie’s kid.”

When my father was in his formative years in the 1930s the Cubs had winning teams, which is why he was a Cubs fans.

A Nice Little Place on the North SideThanks to dad, if graditude is in fact appropriate, I’ve been a fan of the Chicago National Leauge Baseball Club literally since birth, a lifer as my Cubs fan brother-in-law Mike says, his words leaning toward meaning fated to a life sentence.

Naturally then I loved George Will’s “A Nice Little Place on the North Side,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist’s history of Wrigley Field and my Cubs, published last year upon the 100th anniversary of the ballpark at Clark and Addison. Any fan of the national pastime — not just Cubs fans — will be be entertained by all the baseball lore Will has dug up.

The 194 pages are actually a history of the nation, the world and life itself captured anecdotal style, because Will works into his book connections that Ernie Banks’ “friendly confines” have had with war, politics, organized crime, racism, love, McDonald’s, beer, and of course, chewing gum.

The famous, oft-told baseball stories are all there and superbly rendered in detail: Babe Ruth’s alleged “called shot” home run in the 1932 World Series; Gabby Hartnett’s “homer in the gloamin’ ” in 1938; the disastrous Lou Brock-for-Ernie Broglio trade; the Bartman foul ball episode in the 2003 playoffs; and the full, expletives-adjusted text of manager Lee Elia’s tirade against booing fans.

The obvious characters are all there, too: owner William Wrigley, his reluctant successor son P.K., Hack Wilson, Leo Durocher, Banks (of beloved memory!), Harry Caray and the infamous “College of Coaches,” plus personalities readers may not have known have a Wrigley Field connection, including Al Capone, Jack Ruby, Ray Kroc and Jim Thorpe.

The stories Will shares and enhances so well with his own research and that of previous Cubs historians understandably couldn’t possibly include everything in Wrigley’s hundred-year history, yet a few classics seemed to be missing, including:

walt moryn• Walt “Moose” Moryn’s catch of a sinking line drive to end the game and save Don Cardwell’s no-hitter in 1960.

• The tragic off-season plane-crash death in 1964 of Kenny Hubbs, the Cubs’ errorless game record-setting, Gold Glove-winning, rookie of the year second baseman.

• Carl Sandburg making the book but not Ryne Sandberg, who in 1984 hit a game-tying home run off legendary closer Bruce Sutter in the ninth inning, then a game-winning two-run homer off Sutter in the 10th, on the nationally televised “Game of the Week.”

Props, however, go to Will for giving the appropriate credit to each and every one of the sources of the tales he shares. And for writing a truly satisfying book that even has a few religious notes.

New Yorker essayist William Zinsser is quoted comparing baseball fans to “parishioners,” who every half-inning pause “to meditate on what they have just seen,” and the author himself finds that fans cheering “a kind of prayer in a secular setting that somehow helps their teams’ successes.”

It would have been easy for Will to take the “lovable losers” theme too far, but “A Nice Little Place on the North Side” avoids what could easily have turned cloying.

Instead Will puts a professorial spin on being a Cubs fan, terming it “a lifelong tutorial on delayed gratification” and Wrigley Field “the most pleasant of purgatories.”

There’s baseball trivia on these pages enough for a game-full of between-innings challenges, and any fan who picks up the book now can consider it their own spring training.

Opening day, after all, isn’t that far away.

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Ready for your close-up?

August 29, 2011

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Here’s a valuable lesson for budding actors — and for you and me

By Michelle Martin

Each afternoon when I pick Caroline up from her theater camp, the students perform short pieces from the plays they will be presenting for the other campers and their parents.

What impression do we give everyday to the people you see -- and see you -- all day long? "Remember," Catholic mom and columnist Michelle Martin writes, just as young actors learn, "you are always auditioning."

It gives them a chance to work on new pieces in front of a small and friendly audience, without the high-stakes pressure of it being their one and only on-stage performance, and it gives the parents a chance to see what their kids are doing all day.

It also is a teaching situation, both in terms of the actual pieces being worked on — the teachers don’t hesitate to stop the music and remind the children exactly how they are supposed to be singing or to correct a dance move — and in terms of general life lessons.

So when a camper asks when the auditions for the next play are, the answer is, “You’re always auditioning.” That includes when they are supposed to be watching and listening to other campers perform.

When campers are practicing how to introduce themselves for auditions, they are reminded that the audition doesn’t start when they walk out onto the stage and say, “Hello, my name is … . “ When they are waiting in the wings, that’s part of the audition too, so they should projecting a sense of calm and confidence, not fidgeting with their clothing and poking the camper next to them.

That’s a valuable lesson, for people who want to be on the stage and for the rest of us.

Sure, there are times in your life when you know you will be evaluated or tested or have to prove yourself. There are exams and job interviews and tests of faith and courage.

Character counts. Everything counts.

But those aren’t the only times when you have to comport yourself well, with grace and dignity and kindness. Everything counts. Character is what you do when no one is watching — a line that has been attributed to half a dozen speakers, but most often to legendary basketball coach John Wooden.

Because, of course, someone always is watching. It seems trite to say that God is always watching, but that’s what Jesus tells us. In Chapter 6 of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.”

Nearly as often, people are watching, but they might not be the people you think about trying to impress. Ask anyone who is the primary caregiver for a toddler: Is there any time those eyes aren’t trained on whatever you are doing, or those ears aren’t straining to catch what you have to say? I remember watching Caroline play with her dolls when she was small, and seeing her repeat interactions I had with her word for word.

What about all the people you see every day, the waitstaff and store clerks and bus drivers? What impression do you give them as you go about your day?

Remember, you are always auditioning.

Reprinted with permission from Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Contact Martin at mmartin@archchicago.org.

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Try a slice of politics, Chicago style

March 19, 2008

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“Windy City,”
by Scott Simon

My wife, Barb, who grew up in central Illinois farm country, used to say that my Chicago friends and I were afflicted with the same disease: “You guys think that Chicago’s the only place to live.”

At the time, her diagnosis was spot on.

Chicago can spoil you, and until you take the antidote of living elsewhere, love for Chicago is a tough illness to shake.

Obviously I’m not completely cured, despite having lived away from the Windy City for more than 25 years. When I spotted Scott Simon’s book, “Windy City,” at a bookstore, I didn’t think twice before plopping down $24.95.

The novel starts with the city’s long-serving mayor found dead at his desk, his face in a prosciutto and artichoke pizza. Finding the killer or killers is part of the unraveling, but to be honest, solving the crime is really only background music. A whodunit this ain’t.

The plot? Chicago politics. In the raw.

The characters? Chicago’s aldermen. In all their humanity, all their sins, all their antics, all their shenanigans, all their deals, all their in-fighting, all their “character.” How they work with and around one another in complex relationships that can’t be described as all bad– but they aren’t all good, either.

What keeps you turning the pages, ostensibly, is the storyline about who will become the next mayor, since the City Council must elect a replacement until the next general election.

One aldermen recommends that another vote for a certain candidate because she “knows how to express her appreciation,” wink wink.

But Simon, the host of National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition,” has put together a package that combines accurate descriptions of Chicago’s ethnic variety — ward by ward — with an inside-baseball view of Chicago’s City Council and its city government operations. He captures life as every Chicagoan will tell you is exactly the way it is.

It’s the speeches at the Museum of Lithuanian Civilization, the Baptist church and the wedding reception in a Chinese neighborhood, the flashbacks to how the now-dead mayor forced Chicago to live up to its motto as “The City That Works,” and insight into machine politics — aldermanic votes are dependent not upon who is best for the job but who will agree to put a police station in their neighborhood or vote for a tax enhancement zone in their ward. You get to keep you seat on the council if you do two things: fill the potholes and clear the snow off the streets.

“Windy City” was a fun read for me because I was able to identify with so many of the locales that Simon takes his readers to and with the ethnic mix that has such an impact on politics in Chicago.

Others will love the circus-like atmosphere in the City Council chambers that Simon portrays perfectly, almost historically!

There’s really great writing, too. Simon doesn’t just say an alderman is “in bed with” one of the city’s unions, he “shares bedbugs” with it. When a City Hall worker commits suicide from a high-rise apartment, the police officer involved admits his investigation hasn’t produce any reason. He tells an alderman, “All we know for sure now, sir, is that he wasn’t Peter Pan.”

The amazing thing about “Windy City” is that Simon doesn’t involve the cardinal-archbishop of Chicago in the story — not in any way. In this day and age, an author deserves a plenary indulgence for resisting the urge to take a cheap shot or to pile on the hierarchy and the church.

The most religious action in the whole story comes just before Chicago’s 50 aldermen are to vote on the mayoral replacement. Because the Rev. Jesse Jackson is unavailable, an alderman who is also a rabbi is asked to do the invocation for the council session. And there’s a bit of good old Chicago pride that seeps through, as you’ll see in this excerpt:

“May God give us wisdom today. And if we don’t choose the best or the brainiest candidate, please let us at least find a good man or woman who loves this city and will grow wise in the job.”

Now for the worst part of “Windy City” — the jacket design. A weather vane with a donkey, an elephant and an American flag, plus convention-type boater hats. Please. Chicago politics isn’t akin to a party convention. And there’s no Republican anything in Chicago, not even a weather vane. Sure, you could vote Republican in a city election — but why waste your vote? — bz

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