My grandfather was a Cubs fan.
Born in October 1892 in the small village of Methoni, Greece, my grandfather lived in a 12x12 hut with 4 other people until he was a teenager, when he left Greece on a boat for America, never to return.
As an immigrant, he fully embraced his new country and dedicated himself to it. Becoming an American citizen, he joined the United States Army and served in France in World War I as a member of the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion. After the war, he returned to his work as a partner in the Sheridan Restaurant (he was Greek, after all) in Chicago, which was located at 3946 N. Sheridan Rd., about 3 blocks north of the center-field scoreboard of Wrigley Field. The Cubs were an integral part of my grandfather becoming an American. They were his portal into this country’s culture, a way for him to assimilate and share in something with other Americans.
In those days, players were not in the socio-economic realm they are now, and some of the Cubs would come into the restaurant (or, often, the bar area) with some frequency. My grandfather told me a story of how, in 1945, he had tickets to a World Series game, but he gave them to a regular customer at the restaurant who had been lamenting that he didn’t have tickets. Shortly before game time, my grandfather thought to himself, “What have I done? I may not get another chance like this for a long time!” So he walked down to the park, and one of the police officers working the gate also happened to be a regular at the restaurant, and—hearing the story—walked my grandfather into the park so he could watch the game from a standing area.
The restaurant closed in 1969, but my grandfather remained a devoted Cubs fan. My earliest memory of spending time with him with sitting in the back room of his apartment watching the Cubs (probably the summer of 1972; I was 4 years old) on his color TV set. His hearing was starting to fail back then, so he would either crank up the sound, or plug some headphones into the TV so that he could hear the call by Jack Brickhouse. I didn’t understand what I was watching, but I remember the look of the field and the players running around. And I specifically remember the look of Jose Cardenal’s cap perched atop all that hair.
Many a visit with him involved watching the Cubs, and the love of the game and of the Cubs got into my system, too. I watched the games, tracked the statistics, cried over losses, and dreamed of being a player one day, like many kids of my generation.
My grandfather lived to be 101, and thankfully that police officer walked him into that game in 1945, because the Cubs never did make it back to the World Series in his lifetime.
But they’ve made it in mine.
Every time I go to a Cubs game, I pass the site of his restaurant, and I think about him, how hard he worked, and how much he loved his family, this country, and this baseball team.
Irrespective of commercialization, transience, etc., sports can be something special. When performed so well, at the right time and in the right atmosphere, a game can be transcendent and an art form—like music, dance, etc.—and it can resonate with people like other arts, tapping into aspirations, nostalgia, and a longing for community. It can connect us.
I’m grateful for this team and this moment. It’s something special. I think of my grandfather and all the people like him—people who have followed and loved the Cubs, deriving joy and enduring heartache—those still alive and those who aren’t. It is a love that connects us, and it’s a common thread. We can all use a bit more of those things, and they are to be celebrated.