Category: Cleveland, 2016



It’s 10:30 AM on November 2. Carol and I throw the dog into the car and take off for the Seventh Game of the World Series in Cleveland. We have no place to put the dog in Cleveland. Nor do we have tickets to the game, but those are mere details. We know that we need to be there.
This is not our typical trip. Normally, we plan a year or more in advance. And Cleveland is not exactly our usual, exotic destination. Beyond that, driving to Cleveland violates another of our travel rules. We don’t go back to places we’ve already visited, especially recently. And we’d driven the 350 miles to Cleveland just a week earlier, for the second game of the World Series.


So, explaining this trip requires some personal history. No journey exists in a vacuum. Each depends on who we are and, often, on how we became that person. To be sure, there is the physical journey. But, often more important than the physical is the mental and emotional journey.


My earliest recollection as a Cubs fan is April 28, 1951. I was eight years old, and already had been an avid fan for several years. On that Saturday afternoon, walking in East End Park with my father, I stopped to ask a stranger who was listening to the Cubs on the radio what the score was. He told me that Cubs shortstop, Roy Smalley Jr., had just slid into third base, and broken his ankle. Without hesitation, I asked, “Was he safe?”
I remember this incident so clearly, because my father repeated the story to so many other people, for years, apparently finding it very amusing that I would ask whether Smalley was safe. This puzzled me greatly. What other question would a fan ask?


To say that Smalley was a journeyman shortstop would be to malign generations of journeymen. He led the league in errors for three consecutive years, 1947-49 and, in 1950, led the league in strike outs. He was razzed regularly by the fans, who chanted “Miksis to Smalley to Addison Street,” a take off on the famous Cubs double play combination of Tinkers to Evers to Chance. Mike Royko wrote that Smalley was a legend because “he could snatch up ground balls and fling them at the sun.”


Although few people in the stands at Wrigley Field wear Roy Smalley jerseys today, his successor at short is somewhat better and more fondly remembered. Ernie Banks.


So, driving to Cleveland, I wear my (autographed) Ernie Banks jersey and, of course, my Hebrew Cubs hat.

For thirty-three years I have been speaking of the relationship between God and the Cubs on Yom Kippur at my synagogue (actually at my church, since our synagogue is not large enough to host the crowd for the High Holidays). My talks have been collected in three editions of IS GOD A CUBS FAN?, published by the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston. In 1984, I had predicted that the Cubs, up two games to none in a five game series against the San Diego Padres, would prove that God was a Cubs fan by getting to the World Series. Of course, they lost three straight to the Padres.

Not having learned my lesson from the 1984 Padres debacle, I predicted brashly that the Cubs would win the World Series this year. Many thought I was jinxing them. My friend Karen in San Francisco, a rabid Giants fan, was aghast that I would taunt the baseball gods in this way. But I was unmoved. This was the Cubs year, damnit. That was all there was to it.


Even when the Cubs fell behind three games to one against the Indians, I remained confident. I recalled the Cubs having been up three to one against the Marlins in 2003, dropping the fifth in Miami, and losing the last two games at Wrigley. I was at both those Chicago games, and still remember the stunned and numb feeling of walking down Clark Street after the seventh game. If the Cubs could blow a series like that, I reasoned, they could win one, too.


Now, admittedly, I did hedge my bets a bit, by calling on the help of my friend, Neytrul, the Ninth Reincarnation of one of the twenty-five disciples who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 6th century, and quite possibly the only openly reincarnated Cubs fan. You can read the full story of my appeal to Rinpoche, if you like, but it’s too much of a diversion to repeat in full here.

So, driving to Cleveland, I felt that it was my solemn responsibility to assure that although Mr. Cub would never himself make it into a World Series game, at least his jersey would. That seemed only right for one of just ten players in history to win consecutive MVP awards, in 1958 and 1959. Indeed, for many years, the only sensible reasons to go to a Cubs game were Ernie Banks and the beauty of Wrigley Field. And, besides, Ernie had assured me that God was a Cubs fan.

En route to Cleveland, Carol plunges into action to find housing for our labradoodle, Judson, who rests comfortably in the back seat. Judson watches Cubs games with us on TV and is president of the Cubs labradoodle fan club (well, he would be president, if there were such a club). Judson shared my 15 minutes of fame in a recent Wall Street Journal article, because he is in the picture that appears in that article.

What really galls me about that is, though I am the photographer in our family, Carol has taken the photo and gets a photo credit in the Wall Street Journal. Now, really, is that fair? On, Carol finds a woman in Hudson, OH who takes in dogs. We will be spending the night in Hudson, with our friend, Barbara, who is allergic to dogs. Carol arranges with Rover Lady for us to drop off Judson, before the game.


The weather is overcast as we drive, with patches of rain. Road construction ties up traffic periodically, sometimes rather severely, and there are momentary bouts of anxiety as to whether we will make it in time to drop Judson, and get to the game. The roadside service areas we stop at could pass for Cubs fan club meetings. Virtually everyone we encounter there is decked out in Cubs uniforms, sweatshirts and hats, and exchanging high fives with one another.  

At one of the service areas, I go online and purchase Cubs tickets on StubHub. Yes, they are expensive. And, no, you wouldn’t do this every week. But once every 108 years is quite fine. Buying these seats also has the virtue of making any other tickets we purchase (including those we got for Hamilton) seem dirt cheap.


We emerge from the rain and, as darkness falls, we feel our way (by GPS) to Rover Lady’s house, drop Judson in Hudson—my wife, after all, is a poet–and head immediately for Progressive Field. Somewhat surprisingly, the traffic is not terrible and we park in a garage near Quicken Arena (home of the champion Cleveland Cavs), which is located adjacent to the ballpark, for only fifty bucks.


We follow the hordes to the ballpark and, to my relief, the tickets on my iPhone in fact get us into the park. We take an escalator (yes!) to the very highest reaches of the stadium where we find our seats, which are between home and first. I’m sitting beside a big (in size and devotion) Indians fan, and, at first, I think that things may not go well between us. By the second inning, though, we make peace.  


Carol is seated next to a young, 17-year old Cubs fan, who has flown in from LA to see the game. His grandfather, when he was 17, had gone to a Cubs World Series game in Wrigley in 1945, and his father was covering this game for the NY Times.


From our seats high in the stadium, we appear to be viewing the game through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. The players, who in my youth seemed like mythical giants, appear to be Lilliputians. Still, we can see the game well enough, and the atmosphere is completely electric. Though we are in foreign territory, we have brought enough troops with us to hold our own, and to control the scene when the Cubs are doing well.


And, for a long time, we are doing very well, indeed. Our first batter of the game, Dexter Fowler, smashes a home run and, before long, we are out to a 5-1 lead. This could be a laugher. Even when we give up two runs (on a single wild pitch!), things seem in control as we add a run on Grandpa Rossy’s home run the next inning and appear to be coasting to a 6-3 win in the eighth, when disaster strikes, and, suddenly, we find ourselves tied, 6-6. The Cleveland crowd goes nuts, the momentum has swung completely and prospects of yet another huge disappointment for Cubs fans loom large.


This young Cubs team needs a time out. Badly. And, miraculously, they get one when rain delays the game for twenty minutes. The Cubs have an opportunity to unwind and, reportedly on the strength of an emotional speech by Jason Heyward, they regroup and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Think of the irony of Heyward playing that role. Paid a gazillion dollars by the Cubs and underperforming badly all season, Heyward proves his worth in the locker room prior to the last inning of the last game of the season. He becomes the MVP, Most Valuable Prayer.  You can’t make this shit up, because nobody would believe it.


After the final out, Carol gets a big hug from her 17-year-old neighbor and extracts a promise from him to take his own 17-year-old grandson to a Cubs World Series game, some day. We hang around for a joyous celebration with many thousands of Cubs fans in the stadium. The Indians fans are very gracious, shaking our hands and congratulating us. My favorite sign proclaims “Now I Can Die in Peace.”

As we reach our car, it begins to pour. Who knows what would have happened if this had occurred in the ninth inning. Traffic is very heavy around the stadium. We make it to our friend Barbara’s home at 2:30 AM. She has waited up, with special snacks for us, and we talk for almost an hour.


The next morning, we collect Judson from Rover Lady for the drive back. The weather is sunny, the fall colors beautiful and the Cubs fans are still celebrating in the roadside service areas.

As we pull into Chicago, the city gleams, proudly. Two days later, we’ll join five million of our best friends to watch the parade and celebration for our beloved, World Champion Chicago Cubs.

So, in sum, Cleveland is quite a splendid place to visit. Don’t miss the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with or without the “W” flag.

[My friend, Rick, who follows my travel blogs and who saw my Cubs posts on Facebook, suggested that I do a Cleveland travel piece for the blog to build a bridge between my blog followers and Facebook friends. So, if you follow the blog and would like to connect on FB, please “friend me”. And, if you are a FB friend who would like to follow future travel blogs (we have far more exotic trips than Cleveland planned in the coming months), please sign up at the top of this blog page. You can always unsubscribe later, it you want.]

6 comments to Cleveland

  • Rick

    Really cool Arnie. Thanks for doing this.
    My early memories of the Cubs and baseball
    go back to the early 1950’s as well. Our next
    door neighbor, Neil Gazel in Skokie, where we
    lived, was a sports writer for the old Chicago
    Daily News, an evening newspaper. He had 2
    daughters no sons and got a big kick out of taking
    me as a surrogate to games that he covered for
    a living. Those visits were my first introduction
    Wrigley Field. Neil also took me to a White Sox
    game but that is a story for another time.
    I hung out in the press box trying to be on my
    best behavior as instructed by my dad. But there
    was an added treat. We went down to the locker
    room after the game as Neil would interview some
    players. My recollection was these guys were giant
    people. I got a signed baseball of my favorite Cub,
    Hank Sauer. For years I had that ball encased in
    a plastic. But after several moves, it went missing.
    Wrigley Field was a big part of my life. Years later
    I often went to Bears games there and always froze
    my bippy off. These games also served as locations
    for dates with Maggie. The only opening on her
    calendar was Sunday.
    I became a fair weather Cub’s fan until the various
    false alarms came along. This time I felt differently
    as you did. Go Cubs Go⚾️

  • arnie

    I associate the Bears with Wrigley, too, Rick. My dad was from Green Bay and I’d sit in the temporary East stands with him and his two brothers with whom he was in business. I rooted ardently for the Bears, and my dad and uncles, being true Green Bay natives rooted ardently for whomever the Bears were playing. I still can’t get used to the Bears being in Soldier Field.

  • Kay M Osborne

    Thanks, Arnie. Superb writing. Wonderful content. Great photos. K

  • Steve Fiffer

    Wonderful piece, Arnie. Cubs memory: in 1984, the NY Times asked me to cover the Cubs locker room-homecoming after the devastating losses in San Diego. I didn’t want to visit what i assumed would be a morgue, but I never turned down assignments from the paper. Spent an hour there just observing. Never talked to any of the players–I’m sure you can name them all. Just listened and took notes. Here’s a link to the article if anyone cares to read it. Meantime, I think Judson deserves his own Facebook page so that dogs and their owners alike can communicate with him. Dogs, by the way, only had to wait a little more than 15 years for the World Series win.

  • Paul Woo

    Perfect narrative Arnie!

  • arnie

    Really good piece, Steve. Brings back the painful memories of 1984, especially the ground ball that went through Durham’s legs.

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