It’s been a busy month. And since my “not so little anymore” daughter turned 12 on Saturday, the beau and I opted for a delayed Valentines celebration on Sunday evening. With as crazy as our schedules have been lately, low key was the name of the game.
B showed up at my house and I had dinner ready to go. We ate brisket and potatoes, and a yummy (but very rich) chocolate peanut butter cheesecake that I made. As soon as we sat down, the old movie The Natural came on. I laughed because we had seen a preview for it on the Sundance channel last weekend, so I made a point to set the DVR the other night. And what do you know, it was on again. So we watched.
B said it was like seeing it for the first time since it had been so long. I agreed.
But there are certain lines that stood out in both of our minds. “Wonderboy…” and “Knock the cover off the ball!”
And there is this exchange between Roy and Iris…
Iris: You know, I believe we have two lives.
Roy: How? What do you mean?
Iris: The life we learn with and the life we live after that. With or without the records, they’ll remember you. Think of all those young boys you’ve influenced.
There is a reason this is one of the best baseball movies ever written. Don’t we all have childhood heros? Young boys, and girls, are influenced by sports heroes. I know that growing up in my family, baseball heroes were among the very best.
A couple weeks ago, baseball lost one of it’s own true heroes. A legend. A true class act. On a Friday night in January, I received a text from my cousin Ben to let me know that Ernie Banks had gone to the Friendly Confines in the sky. I still get a lump in my throat thinking about it.
The texts began going back and forth between my brother, my mom, my uncle and my cousins. My dad’s hero, his favorite player ever, who had become lovingly embedded in our hearts and memories from the stories we had heard growing up and going to Cubs games, had joined my dad on the other side of eternity. I told my family, I’m sure my dad lead the standing ovation at Ernie’s arrival.
We laughed about the time we had been to the Cubs convention and Ernie popped over to say a random hello to us. He was carrying a rubber chicken. I still have no idea why. But the memory makes me smile.
My brother and I lamented the fact that we never got a letter to Ernie, even though we had the perfect opportunity. It’s a letter I wrote a couple years ago, with the prompting of my cousin Chuck, to let Ernie in on a little Jacobs family secret. One that Ernie had everything to do with. I had tried mailing the letter to Mr. Banks, but it arrived back at my house marked “Return to Sender”. Only a few weeks afterward, my brother was on set shooting a commercial and sent me a text saying something like, “You’re never going to guess who I’m working with today?” He was with Ernie’s son. We had a connection to get Ernie the letter, to tell him how he impacted the unfolding of a story that meant so much to us.
Unfortunately, Ernie never got the letter. But I have no doubt that he knows the story now. And I’m sure we are not the only family that has been so touched by the life of this legend. So if you will indulge me in paying tribute, here is that letter to Mr. Cub…
Dear Mr. Banks,
It is my sincere hope that telling this story doesn’t get me in trouble with the powers that be at Wrigley, but there is a story that I truly believe you need to hear.
My dad was born and raised a Cubs fan. And in turn, he passed that on to all 3 of his children. You were always his favorite Cub. We made a point to get to Chicago for at least one game every year. I know I am one of many, many thousands to say that I have so many great childhood memories there.
In June of 2001, I gave my dad the last present I would ever have the privilege of giving him. It was the book Banks to Sandberg to Grace. I gave that book to him on Father’s Day and that night he called me and said, “I need to read you something…” He proceeded to read the last couple paragraphs of the section that was written by you. I still remember the way his voice broke with emotion as he read the last sentence…”So that’s what I want for me. My ashes spread at Wrigley with the wind blowing out.”
At the time he read that, I thought, wow, it’s so cool that my dad loves his present so much. It was only 6 months later that those words gained a totally new meaning. On December 2, 2001 I got the 2 am phone call that no daughter wants. My dad had a very sudden heart attack and was gone. A couple days later, as the shock subsided and the grief set it, the sound of his voice reading your words echoed in my head. I said, “Oh my gosh! He didn’t even know he was doing it, but Dad told me what he wanted.”
The past 10 ½ years have been full of challenges. Life is a rollercoaster and sometimes, you just have to hang on and get through the ride. But sometimes, things come together in a way you would have never expected. In the summer of 2010, we revisited the idea of trying to put some of dad’s ashes in the ivy. We decided that we would pick a game in the 2011 season. But shortly after that, my brother’s wife was suddenly taken from us and our plans got sidelined for a while. When the schedule came out for the 2012 season, we decided it was time. The Red Sox would be at Wrigley on Father’s Day. We couldn’t imagine a more perfect scenario. So, on June 17, 2012, we took a very small box of my dad’s ashes into the bleachers with us. We had all agreed ahead of time that we should be somewhere near right-center. We got inside the friendly confines a little later than we planned, so I wasn’t surprised to see the bleachers already starting to fill up. But as I looked around, the only 4 open seats in the front row of the bleachers were exactly in right-center. It was like they had been saved just for us.
It was a hot June afternoon that faded into a perfect evening for baseball. We took in batting practice, watched the sun set into the rooftops of Wrigleyville, ate Chicago style dogs, listened to the bleacher bums heckle the Red Sox players in the outfield and shared a camaraderie with the fans around us. Wayne Messmer and his wife sang the National Anthem, which was so appropriate, because my dad always loved it when Wayne sang. He would tell us, “Sometimes his wife sings with him.”
We laughed and enjoyed the game, most importantly we enjoyed the atmosphere that Wrigley provides. It’s amazing that no matter what your circumstances are in life, it is impossible to be at Wrigley and not be happy. Every once in a while, we would glance around, catch each other’s eye and cast a knowing smile. Just before the 7th inning, I pulled out my dad’s copy of the book Banks to Sandberg to Grace and turned to page 48. My mom, brother, new sister in law and I hunched together as I read the words that my dad had read to me on Father’s Day exactly 11 years before. Your words. After the third out in the top of the 7th, everyone rose for the best part of the Wrigley experience. We put our arms around each other and sang the words, “Take me out to the ballgame…” As the song ended, my mom handed me the little box. I opened it and very discreetly leaned forward to add the contents to the ivy on the outfield wall. If anyone noticed, they didn’t say anything. There were tears, of course, but there were smiles too. We watched the rest of the game, hopeful that our beloved Cubbies would make a comeback in the late innings. The win flag didn’t fly over Wrigley that night, but to the Jacobs family, there was something just as special that happened. We found a sense of peace, knowing that Al Jacobs was where he wanted to be.
Mr. Banks, thank you for speaking those words that my dad read to me in June of 2001. Thank you for role you played in my dad’s childhood. Thank you for being Mr. Cub. Thank you for the happy memories you have provided for so many fans over the years.