As the Major League Baseball season winds down, we’re going to have a treat: a four-game series in St. Louis between the Cardinals and the division-leading and World Champion Chicago Cubs.
My friends know that I don’t hate the Cubs like a lot of St. Louisans. Heck, I consider Chicago my second city, and when there’s no Cardinals interest involved, I’ll generally root for the Chicago nine. On the other hand, if there IS a Cardinals interest involved, I’m definitely all red.
My wife, Jean, was born and raised in Chicago, and even living in Baseball Heaven now for 30-plus years hasn’t shaken her affection for the Cubs. So it makes for some interesting times when the Cardinals and Cubs are playing each other, like this week.
More and more, as we’ve gotten older (and as the Cubs have finally started to play respectable baseball), we’ve gone to as many Cubs-Cardinals games as we can, Jean clad in blue, me in red. There have been some interesting games over the years.
I can still remember the first game we saw together, at Wrigley Field in 1982, our senior year in college. (We both went to North Central College in Naperville, Ill., which is where we met and how this crazy thing started in the first place.) We were there when Ryne Sandberg got his first major-league hit, which, if I remember correctly, was a triple. Dude went on to become a Hall of Famer, so that’s kind of cool.
Three other games of note from the last three-plus decades:
1) In August 1985, we had great seats for a game with our friends Terri and Mike. That was in the heyday of “Whiteyball,” when the Cardinals were manufacturing runs with their speed on the bases. In the first inning, they managed to get Vince Coleman and Willie McGee on base. I don’t remember how this happened, but they started a double steal and after a series of misplays and rundowns and overthrows, McGee was standing on third base and Coleman had scored—they were each awarded two stolen bases on the play.
(Oh, hey, I just found a YouTube video of the play. Enjoy.)
Despite that great start, though, it was the Cubs who ended up scoring a lot of runs, and they went into the ninth inning with a big lead. The Cardinals came back to tie it in the top of the ninth, though, and the game went to extra innings. It went to the 14th—Harry Caray, whose broadcast booth was right above our seats, sang Take Me Out To The Ballgame for a second time—before the Cubs finally won it. I’ve seen a lot of great baseball games over the years, but that one ranks as my favorite. The picture above, probably my favorite of Jean and me, was taken that day.
2) A couple of years ago, Jean and I had my company’s seats for a May Cards-Cubs game, seventh row in the left-center-field bleachers. True to form, it was a wild game; the Cubs scored five runs in the top of the first, but the Cardinals roared back and tied it up in the bottom of the inning, helped by a grand slam by Mark Reynolds.
Also true to form, there were a LOT of Cubs fans there, including a gaggle of guys sporting white and blue jerseys about four rows behind us. The beer was flowing back there, and as the game progressed they got louder and louder. In particular, they were shouting to Chris Coghlan, the Cub’s left fielder that night. They made him the target of their cheering, trying to get his attention at every opportunity.
Every time the organist would try to get some chant started, they would appropriate it and insert Coghlan’s name: “Here we go, Coghlan, here we go!”
The malt beverages kept flowing behind us, and the chants became more numerous, more creative and more loud. All of it, now, was focused on Coghlan, who occasionally responded with a smile or a tip of his cap.
At one half-inning break the “Kiss Cam” came on the big video board to our left (unfortunately, the camera didn’t find us that night). After watching the action, I turned back toward the field, in the corner of my eye I saw that there was a baseball arcing toward us from the field. I was holding something with my right hand, but I reached out my left hand in front of Jean as if I were wearing a baseball glove, and snagged the ball just before it would have hit her. I wasn’t wearing a glove, and it smarted for a while, but I managed to hang onto the ball. I looked back toward the field; the ball had apparently come from Coghlan’s hand; he was trying to throw it to the guys behind us, but (being a pre-2016 Cub), his aim was off.
Now, I became the target of the chants from behind.
“Give it to HER! Give it to HER! Give it to HER!” And so, without further delay, I handed the ball to my blue-clad partner.
An inning or so later, Coghlan tried again to throw a ball to the group behind us, and this time he hit the mark, much to their delight.
The Cardinals ended up winning that night; but it was back-and-forth the whole way through, a classic Cardinals-Cubs game.
3) In 2016, the tide turned. The Cubs suddenly got good, and the season series between the teams was heavily skewed toward Cubs victories. Jean and I went to six games that year, thanks in part to a “Cubs Pack” promotion the Cardinals offered; a package of tickets for five games for a slightly reduced price.
Late in the season, when the Cubs had all but wrapped up the division, we went to a game in which Kyle Hendricks was the starting pitcher for the Cubs. The fact that I don’t remember who started for the Cardinals that night says a lot about the game; whoever it was was dismissed fairly quickly as the Cubs built a comfortable early lead. That happened all too often last year.
Anyway, around the fourth or fifth inning, we realized that the Cardinals hadn’t yet gotten any hits; and the one baserunner they’d gotten, via a walk, was quickly erased in a double play. So Hendricks had a no-hitter going. So what was actually a snoozer of a game was actually becoming quite dramatic. The tension built, batter after batter, as Hendricks kept mowing them down.
By the ninth inning, every pitch was more and more intense. Neither Jean nor I had ever seen a no-hitter—I guess relatively few people have—so this was a pretty big deal, even though it was the good guys who were being blanked.
They got to the bottom of the ninth. Jeremy Hazelbaker, a Cardinals rookie who’d had a pretty good season but was nevertheless the No. 8 hitter in the lineup that night, was first up, and he broke up both the no-hitter and the shutout with a long home run to right field. The stadium erupted and the fireworks went off. Emotions were high: everyone was sorry to see the no-hitter go away, but it was a huge relief—well, for many of us in the stadium, anyway—that the Cardinals weren’t the victims of a no-no, by a Cubs pitcher no less.
Jean was, well, let’s say “unhappy.” That might be something of an understatement. She was also inconsolable. She didn’t even cheer up when I said “At least we got to see fireworks.”
In the end, though, her team had won—and, as you may remember, they went on to win the World Series that year, ending a 108-year drought.
As the teams prepare for their final head-to-head series this season, the standings look pretty much like they did a year ago. The Cubs are on the verge of claiming the NL Central again, while the Cardinals are grasping for a wild-card slot. We’ve gone to quite a few games this year, but, so far, they’ve been relatively sedate. Well, there was that one when Stephen Piscotty got hit three times by a baseball during a trip around the bases. Otherwise, though, it’s been a season series mostly dominated by the Cubs—particularly the games I’ve been to. I seem to be particularly bad luck for the Cardinals this year; if they’d won just half of the games I’ve seen, they would definitely be in contention for the division title right now.
As it is, though, the Cardinals have a long way to go to make it to that wild-card position. Here’s hoping they make it in, and this week won’t be the last Cardinals-Cubs games of the 2017 season.