The first presidential October surprise and the Cub’s last World Series reside in the somewhat sacred archives of our nation’s institutional memory. This month I was reminded of my place in it all.
One of my first memories is my father teaching me how to oil my baseball glove. We played catch for hours while he talked me through over handed versus underhanded pitches and told me stories of his childhood when he played using sticks as bats and cans as balls with the neighborhood kids. As far as I was concerned we were the only two people in the world. My awareness shifted when he brought me into work. I learned that there were not only different worlds but people who held vastly different world views. Pop worked on Capitol Hill as a lobbyist-not one of thousands, one of only a few hundred. Lobbyist wasn’t the toxic moniker it is perceived to be today, rather a proud label of one who networked out of a sense of service. Like baseball, when the game was over, teams on both sides essentially showered off and went out to celebrate or lick their wounds. My pop and his friends worked as hard as they played. I can still feel the energy around campaigns in our house – electric! Elections were pennants and trophies, colleagues were teammates, term limits the season. It wasn’t idyllic. It actually was standard operating procedure to respect the people who played the game and give gratitude to those who participated in it. The notion that all people could be and should be heard was instilled into me whether we were playing catch or watching the McLaughlin Group – which we did every week.
On my eighteenth birthday we were living in Syracuse. Our life had been upended by my illness, among other things. I was given the opportunity to register to vote in my high school government class. Instead, Pop picked me up from school, drove me down to the board of elections, introduced me to everyone in the office and proceeded to take photos of me as I signed my name to my voter registration. The honor of participating in my future as an engaged citizen mattered. To Pop, this was my chance to say to America, “Put me in, Coach!” His enthusiasm surrounding my role in the political process never wavered, no mattered where I was.
When I moved to Chicago, Pop called me with specific instructions: find out where my alderman was; stop in city hall and introduce myself; give Senator Durbin’s office a call and let him know I was there and be sure to identify my polling place once I’ve registered. It never occurred to him that any of this would be less than the norm or not a top priority of a young 20 something. Pop’s next request, “See if you can rustle up a couple tickets to a Cubs game.” Funny, even though we went to Orioles games’ in Maryland and later lived in NY, the Cubs held magic and mystique for my father. I think it was their history of hope and their evergreen belief in next year next year.
It was a clear Father’s day weekend when he arrived at my apartment north of Wrigleyville. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’d spent my entire paycheck on the tickets for the game. It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford the seats it’s just that with Pop’s cancer I needed to plan for the worst and best case scenario. I needed something that had shelter, something on an aisle, something near the restroom and a something near a ramp with not too many stairs. The walk was too far for him in this condition so we hopped in a cab, sporting our Cubs attire. We took our seats and ordered our hotdogs. I hate hot dogs, but something about a ball park hotdog with my Pop gets me every time. As we sat, my life with my father flashed before my eyes. I could smell the oil of my baseball glove. He was physically weaker and feeble still his passion was on point. Then he did what I guess men of a certain age do, regardless of their whereabouts. He leaned slightly in is seat…and farted. And then pretended like nothing happened. One whole paycheck and a life of memories literally snuffed out. I was mortified, entertained, honored-all part of the total package. We stood for the national anthem, both of us tearing up-not because of the song which Pop always maintained was not written in a key for normal mortals, but because we were both so overwhelmed at our joy of being in this historic place, knowing it could be our last game together. (It wasn’t of course because in my family cancer has become more of a hobby than anything else.) After the first pitch this man, my Pop, next to me was literally back in the game. He called 5 plays in a row before they happened. His sense of who was on the field and what needed to be done was so mesmerizing that a woman behind us leaned over to him and said, “What’s going to happen next?” Pop was in his element strategizing, teaching. He was participant, historian and spectator all in one. He cheered, hollered and gleefully yelled, “Play Ball!” I have absolutely no idea who won that game or what the score was, only the memory of how I felt. I carry that heart swell with me every day, especially off the field and into my life as a member of every community with which I engage. The polarizing election that happens to coincide with the Cubs in the World Series doesn’t change that.
This presidential campaign, one that has basically been a two year long October Surprise, has offered division over hope, moral superiority over unity and elitism over issues that actually affect the day in day out living of many Americans. On top of that, both candidates are campaigning in Iowa, hoping like in Field of Dreams, it may just be their heaven. We have the first seemingly non political candidate and the first woman running for the office of the President and the Cubs are in the world series! But it is not the first time in our nation’s history that one group of people have tried to suppress another or that campaigning has had more crap than clarity. Nor is it the first time in our nation’s history that we have faced legislation or litigation among the sexes or people in power. And it’s not even the first time the Cubs have played in the World Series, though whole societies have risen and fallen and risen again since. Generations have come before us who truly believed they could attain their dreams even if only for a shining moment in history. Generations will follow us in the same way. That is not an excuse to sit on the sidelines today.
I will watch game 5 tonight and I will vote in this next election. Believing I matter does not come at the expense of responsibility or civility. My hope must translate into advocacy and my love of the game must include giving everyone a chance to fly the W.
Pop used to say that he preferred to make the snowballs and let other people throw them. In his memory I ask you to consider your place in history, your role as spectator, fair weather fan or captain; think of what you want to put into your team as part of an electorate base, voter or citizen.