A Cubs Tradition Across Generations
By Sam Friend
Witnessing the multitudes of people writing the names of their loved ones on the red brick walls of Wrigley Field was one of the most powerful scenes from this last week of Cubs euphoria. America’s national pastime, baseball has remained a cherished tradition in this country, an unbreakable bond across generations. Despite my being raised in New York, my father David passed on his Cubs fandom to me. David brought me to Wrigley many times from the age of 6 onward, and I was truly fortunate to have the opportunity to return to Wrigley for the 2016 World Series. And that scene by the red brick wall stuck with me—As I watched people scrawling the names of their loved ones in chalk, I thought of my early trips to Wrigley with my dad, and of how my grandfather Marty brought David when he was a kid, and of how my namesake and great-grandfather Samuel Friend took Marty to Cubs games during his childhood. I thought of how my twin sister Molly, who passed a year ago this October, couldn’t share this moment with me. And I thought of Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Harry Carey, and all the Cubs legends who bled Cubby blue but were no longer on this earth. On this momentous occasion, after watching the greatest, most unbelievable baseball game of my life, I felt the spirits of those Cubs fans and players whose faith and love for the team could never die. And I thought of how lucky I was to have an opportunity to respect that unbroken tradition and watch Game 7 with my Grandpa Marty.
My great-grandfather Sam, a furniture salesman, started taking Marty to Cubs games in 1935 at the age of 7. On Sunday mornings they would hop on the Devon Avenue street car to see Charlie Root pitch at Wrigley. Marty told me how he would stand on the back of the old cable car for fresh air because he would always get carsick. During the summers, Marty would partake in the oft-remembered routine of that generation of Cubs fans— cleaning up the seats at the end of a game in order to get a free ticket to the game the next day. In those days, a bleacher ticket cost 55 cents and Marty related to me how he would love to watch Gabby Hartnett play, his favorite Cub of all time, along with Cubs greats like Stan Hack and Phil Cavaretta. When Marty was a teenager he worked at a shoe store sewing shoes, and with the money he made from this job he was able to buy a ticket to World Series Game 6 in 1945 against the Detroit Tigers. As Marty tells it, he and a buddy got in line for the tickets at 10 Pm and waited by that same brick wall on Waveland Avenue for 12 hours until the ticket window opened the next morning. At 10 AM he bought his two tickets and sold one of them, while his friend sold both and went home to sleep! Marty himself experienced the after-effects of that long night, falling asleep during the 7th inning of the game because he was so exhausted. He couldn’t have known that the next time he watched the Cubs in the World Series would be 71 years later with his grandson! In the coming decades, Marty (working as an attorney in Chicago) would become a Cubs season ticket holder for over 40 years, and he says he has followed the Cubs every day since his dad got him hooked in 1935.
Marty began taking my father to Cubs games at that same early age, in around 1960. David recalls how he formed an attachment to Ernie Banks almost immediately because they both shared the same birthday, January 31st. By 1969, at age 14, David was in the ranks of the now-famous “Bleacher Bums,” attending one hundred games from 69-71. He would work a high-school night job as a dishwasher, and then in the morning he would head to Wrigley on the Chicago & Northwestern commuter train from Highland Park, followed by the the El to Addison, carrying a corned beef sandwich, a 7-Up, and some Ring-Dings. All summer long he would line up along that same brick wall on Sheffield Avenue, waiting to buy his $1 bleacher ticket with the other die-hard Cubs fans. Led by Ron Grousl, a twenty-something bartender who worked at Murphy’s Bleachers, David relates how they would sit with the “rowdies” in left field, trash-talking the opposing outfielders and hurling back enemy home-run balls. During those summers, David would etch a slash for each game he attended on his yellow “Bleacher Bum” helmet that he had hand-lettered in black paint. David continued to follow the Cubs obsessively from then on— racking up huge Sportsphone bills to get the scores before the days of the internet—and bringing my whole family on periodic trips from New York to Chicago.
When I was growing up, David instilled in me this same love for the Cubs. He even wrote a children’s picture book called “Baseball, Football, Daddy and Me,” about going to games with his father! Maybe reading this book as a child made me so aware of the importance of these sporting traditions. David might have made me the luckiest Cubs fan ever. As an editor for Vanity Fair, in 1998, when I was 10 years old, he brought me for a surprise trip onto the field at Wrigley. There, I got to meet and shake hands with Sammy Sosa on the day that he hit homers #61 and #62 to overtake Babe Ruth and Roger Maris in that year’s great home run race. In 1999, my Dad brought my cousins and I back on the field to meet our favorite player, Mark Grace. In 2003, he brought the family down to Arizona for spring training and we all got a thrill watching Marty throw out the first pitch for his 75th Birthday. And the next year, when we took a trip to the Astrodome and met Dusty Baker at our hotel, he secretly arranged with Dusty for me to be the Cubs batboy for one home game for my 16th birthday. Ill never forget the exhilaration of being on the field, experiencing the surly attitude of the dugout, slapping Todd Hundley five after hitting a homer, having Kerry Wood play a practical joke on me. (In the eighth inning, he brought me into the clubhouse and introduced me to Ryan Dempster as he lay naked on the couch watching Sports Center.)
So needless to say, I am one lucky Cubs fan. But my Dad and I had a real stroke of luck for the 2016 World Series. We flew out to Chicago on Friday morning before Game 3. We were planning on watching the games with Marty at his apartment in the Brookdale Senior Living Center on North Lake Shore Drive, where he commands a view of the Wrigley’s lights from his window. We watched Game 3 with him, which was a rough loss. The next day, while wandering around Wrigley Field in the World Series pandemonium, we ran into the nephew of my Dad’s closest childhood friend, Marc Kravitz, who had passed five years prior and whose loss was very tough for my father. It turns out that Marc’s nephew worked for the MLB Network, and he was able to get us a pair of tickets to Games 4 and 5 at face value! My Dad teared up in joy, feeling the presence of his friend there and knowing that he would be watching from up in heaven along with my sister. I got to go to my first game in the bleachers for Game 4, right under the scoreboard, and despite the loss i was so thrilled about going to a Cubs World Series game that i couldn’t be upset. Game 5 was electric and the crowd was on their feet the whole time. Kris Bryant’s fourth inning home run was the big turning point for the team in this World Series and I’ll never forget the intensity of Aroldis Chapman’s final 8 outs. On Monday morning I returned to New York, hungover and ecstatic. By Tuesday night, I was watching the Cubs offense come alive in Game 6, and by the 7th inning of that game I was using JetBlue points to buy a flight back to Chicago to watch Game 7 with Marty.
I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and watching Game 6 in New York just wasn’t the same because I couldn’t viscerally feel the energy of the whole city, living and breathing and dying with the team. I couldn’t ask for a bigger Cubs blessing than to sit on the La-Z-Boy chair in my Grandpa’s apartment with the soft glow of Wrigley’s lights in the background and watch inning-by-inning the ups and downs of such a gut-wrenching game 7. My Grandpa kept saying “Boy are you nervous,” as I jumped out of my seat for every major lead change and most inning changes. We shared a look of disbelief after Rajai Davis’s eighth-inning home run to send the game into extras, and we screamed in joy when that final out was recorded and the Cubs were crowned World Series champions. We watched fireworks explode over Wrigley after the win and during the rally friday, and after Grandpa Marty went to sleep wednesday night I went out to Wrigleyville to join the jubilant celebration.
In the days after the Cubs won Game 7, I would return to Wrigley’s brick wall often. As I saw the thousands and thousands of fans overcome with emotion, I had a visceral sense of how every fan has their own story and their own memory tied into this great and long-awaited victory. During the rally friday, which I attended alone, I befriended a Cub fan named Rob Mulvenna, who I later hoisted on my shoulders up onto the brick wall so he could find space to write his father Moe’s name, tears streaming down his eyes. Regardless of what your beliefs are, you couldn’t ignore the spiritual significance of this event or the power of this moment. The Cubs, at long last, had reached their promised land after 108 years of wandering in the wilderness, and this baseball Mecca had become a paradise on earth. Maybe the wait made the victory that much sweeter, reflecting a greater-than-human arc of time, echoed in the biblical verses: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain” (Isaiah 40:4). Whatever you believe, perhaps the significance of this Cubs World Series win was the actualization of a faith that was kept by people long gone, who suffered and never saw their dream realized, an unflinchingly hopeful and unbroken tradition, stretching before and after into eternity.
Sam Friend is a composer, singer, and guitarist based in New York and New Orleans. You can find his Cubs story and many others from fans and players in the Chicago Cubs Commemorative Book "A Win for the Ages" at www.ChicagoCubsBook.com