From my mother, Darlene Maher, I inherited a strong Irish heritage, a love of words well-written, and the Catholic Church.
From my father, Dick Larson, I inherited a smart mouth, a tendency to blame, and the Chicago Cubs.
My earliest memory is of my dad walking me into Wrigley Field. He was raised in the shadow of the park. I was born less than a mile from it.
You can’t see the field when you enter the main gates at Wrigley. The diamond is set below street level. You walk around the gray cinderblock and steel concourse and up one of the concrete ramps before the field is revealed.
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A 5-year-old boy crests the incline with his left hand reaching up to his father’s right. The tow-head’s blue eyes are suddenly splashed with green – from the giant center-field scoreboard, to the ivy-covered outfield walls, to the grass stretching as far as he can see.
Men in white uniforms with blue pinstripes are scattered about the field, running and throwing and catching. Others stroll the stands lugging metal containers with steam escaping and hot dogs on the sides, or big chests filled with ice and bottles and openers dangling from their wrists. Bright organ music is everywhere.
It was the first Magic Kingdom I ever saw, and it’s still the most magical.
By the time I was a fully conscious young Cubs fan, they had successfully become “The Doormat of the National League,” as Steve Goodman sang. Yet, the deeper they hurt us the more deeply we loved them.
There was the splendid season of 1969, before its crushing September collapse, followed by 14 fruitless summers. In 1984, a glorious Cubs team made the playoffs and jumped to a 2-0 lead in their series with the Padres, only to be stomped three straight in San Diego. Then there was Bartman.
The most wrongly convicted man in sports fandom, Steve Bartman did not commit interference in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. The Cubs blew that one themselves, along with Game 7 the next night, to hand the Florida Marlins the pennant.
Over the years there were many days at the park with my dad, sitting almost always in grandstand seats under the pounding afternoon sun. A night game at Wrigley was as inconceivable as a World Series. Occasionally there were box seats. Wherever we sat, he always bought a card and kept score. Dad was an accountant.
At some point, I started providing the tickets. In 1988, the lights came on at Wrigley Field. The first scheduled night game was rained out. I had tickets for the second and brought my brother, my Dad, and my 6-year-old son. At the Cubs first official night game, I officially passed on my inheritance.
The last games I saw with my Dad were in 2004. We sat in front of his TV. Dad wore his Cubs hat, and worked a sandwich with fragile hands. I was back in Charlotte the next week when he died.
Dad wasn’t watching Saturday night when the Cubs won the pennant, but his hat was. Along with countless other sons and fathers I proved Tom Hanks wrong. There is crying in baseball.
Tonight I’ll be in front of the TV with Dad’s hat on again when the Cubs play in their first World Series in 71 years.
Maybe I’ll keep score.
Keith Larson can be heard weekdays 9 a.m. - Noon on WBT AM/FM.