Fondest childhood memories growing up in Chicago revolve around the proximity of both sets of grandparents—my mom’s parents lived right next door in (at the time) a rather pastoral setting west of Chicago; my dad’s parents were close by in another suburb. So, as kids, we spent a great deal of time with both, as well as with a bunch of cousins.
My grandmothers introduced me to baseball rivalries very early in life. In Chicago you are either a Cubs fan or a Sox fan. Rarely both. My “Next-Door Grandma” was a diehard White Sox fan; my “Nearby Grandma” was a rabid Cubs fan. They just ignored that “other team” and concentrated on much more important rivalries—like the St. Louis Cardinals, the Milwaukee Braves, and Minnesota Twins. Both had siblings in those rival cities and enjoyed their own type of courteous banter, not to be confused with trash talking. Sadly, both grandfathers had died before I was eight, so I never had much sports interaction with them, except to answer the same question each year: “Who’s going to win the pennant?” (“The Cubs of course.”)
By kindergarten, I was a “maybe next year” Cubs fan. Saw my first ballgame at Wrigley Field and faithfully watched day games broadcast on WGN-TV. Back in the day, Wrigley Field had no lights. Games started under the sun, and ended before it grew dark—whether or not the game was complete. That was really fun during doubleheaders or extra inning games. As the shadows crept across the field, players knew their time was limited. During those long summer vacations, watching the day games on a small black & white TV preceded our daily pick-up neighborhood ball game.
From my grandmothers I learned these Life Lessons:
- Don’t be a “fair-weather fan.” If you are a fan, stick with your team, through bad times, as well as good.
- Do not show disrespect for your team by engaging in trash talk or—heaven forbid—booing your own team’s players.
- As long as there still is one out left in the bottom of the ninth, there’s still a chance to win—or lose; therefore, never, and I mean NEVER leave a game before the very last out.
- If your team is going to lose by one run, it might as well lose by ten and “get it out of their system.” Besides, in a one-run loss, there are too many “what-ifs” attached to the losing team. If only this…. What if… You get the idea. Everyone has bad days. Move on.
As a Cub fan, of course I was welcome at both grandmothers’ homes. My Next-Door Grandmother watched Cubs games with me. When the Sox played the Dodgers in the 1959 World Series—their first since the 1919 Black Sox Scandal—White Sox and Cub fans united in pride for the hometown team. Unfortunately, true to Chicago’s bleak post-season history, the Sox lost in six games.
As my grandmothers became seniors, staying at home more often, baseball became more of a constant in their lives. By then, we had moved to Atlanta as had the Milwaukee Braves, so the Braves gained almost equal time on their TVs, thanks to Ted Turner’s Superstation that made the Braves America’s Team. Nearly blinded by glaucoma and cataracts and homebound, my Nearby Grandmother faithfully listened to every Cubs game into her 90’s. Can still picture her in her chair, radio nearby, keenly following each play (and no, she never did soften in her dislike of the Cardinals!).
My Next-Door Grandmother was not homebound, but one of her favorite recreational activities was keeping up with every White Sox, Cubs, Braves, and Milwaukee Brewers game—by then, she had moved to Wisconsin. Remember one midsummer visit. She was watching one game on the TV, listening to two other games on transistor radios—and she knew exactly what was happening in each game.
Another Life Lesson: Sports give the homebound a link to the outside world. For those seniors no longer able to get around, get out, or communicate as easily as before, sports not only provide entertainment, but also evoke happy memories. Whether baseball, football, golf, basketball, soccer, hockey, tennis or NASCAR, sports remain a constant in life.
My parents kindled a love of hockey—first as a Black Hawks’ fan, later, through both Atlanta teams; my husband and son introduced NASCAR—adopted in self preservation—and my younger son taught everything I ever needed to know about basketball as we watched him excel on the court from fourth grade through high school.
And that Cubs fan transplanted to the South? As Kenny Rogers would say, “You have to know when to hold them; know when to fold them.” After seven years’ valiant struggle to follow the Cubs long-distance, I knew it was time to adopt the new hometown team. Somehow, I’m sure both grandmothers smiled in response to the conversion from Cubs-to-Braves fan—and cheered the Atlanta Braves through their lean years on through 1991’s worst-to-first season—and subsequent years in post season play. Did it matter how many World Series the Braves won? One final Life Lesson: “the regular season is great, but every game played post-season is gravy.”