Wrigley Field was a like second home to me when I was a boy. I grew up in Deerfield, Illinois. I had no brothers or sisters it was just me and my cat Eloise. My father was passionate about baseball especially about the Chicago Cubs. So when I was born my father apparently took me to my first ballgame when I was two weeks old.
The years went by as they do and countless ballgames later mostly happy ones, until my relationship with the Cubs soured. I realized at the age of eight that the Cubs would never win a World Series. I remember the exact date when my baseball loyalties changed. It was on Sunday May 28th 1972. That was the day, although I did not know it at the time, that the Watergate burglars succeeded in their attempt to break into the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. That is how the world remembers that day. I remember that day for completely different reasons.
My father took me to see the Chicago Cubs against the Montreal Expos at Wrigley Field. It was also the day that I felt like a fraud. I watched the Expos fans dressed in Blue, White and Red cheering on their team and I realized that I did not want to be seated with my father. I wanted to be cheering for Montreal. It was the strangest thing. The Montreal Expos won that day 7-5 much to my father’s disgust.
On the walk back to the car I told my father that I no longer wanted to follow the Cubs, they were losers. I wanted to follow the Montreal Expos instead. His spine stiffened and he pretended not to hear me.
The next time the Cubs played at Wrigley Field when my father tried to put my Cubs cap on me I would not let him. I screamed and kicked and yelled that I did not want to go to any more stupid Cubs games. My father had a trip-wire temper and anything could set him off. My mother was a highly-strung emotional woman and she yelled at me to just do what I was told. I had made up my mind though and I was standing firm. My father cursing my insolence started to take off his belt. This always happened when my mother or I dared to question his authority. It usually ended when he reached for his belt, but at other times it was too late and you would catch a beating.
I knew what was coming but I would not relent. He took off his belt and was about to hit me when I ran out of the house. My mother yelled and screamed for me to stay as my father ran after me. I was a faster runner than he was even at eight and I hid around the block for what seemed like hours, ignoring the calls of my mother who was in tears.
I did all of this because of a baseball team. I stayed hidden until I got hungry and eventually I came home and faced the consequences. I did not get hit with the belt. I just had my face slapped hard. My mother later told me she had talked some “sense” into my father and that’s why I got off so lightly and now everything was back to normal. Although it never was.
I remember him trying to explain to me why the Expos were no good.
“You’re an American,” he would say “And you live in Chicago, so that means you’re a Cubs fan.”
My father for some reason had a thing against Canada and Canadians in general, a malady to which I never found out why and what was worse than a Canadian in my fathers mind?
A French Canadian.
As the years passed my devotion to the Expos never diminished it just grew. When I was old enough to drive, a few times I actually made the fifteen-hour journey to Montreal. I would leave Chicago at 9pm after my parents went to sleep and got into my dark blue Chevrolet and drove the 800 plus miles to Montreal all the way through to Olympic Stadium. I felt like Jack Kerouac. I used to sit by myself in the bleachers and watch the Montreal Expos play. It felt good to be anonymous within a crowd of like-minded souls. I felt like an orphan, and I was okay with that. I used to walk around Downtown and Old Montreal and just be dazzled by the architecture, the language and the beautiful women that seemed to be everywhere. I vowed when I was old enough to move out of home I would live here.
Not long after, my father fell ill, and after a long and protracted struggle, he died. Prior to his death, the Cubs had a chance to make it to the World Series. I visited him in the hospice where he was staying (he’d had a few strokes and had dementia so he was uncommunicative). I had organized a television set to be brought into his room. It was Game Five in the championship series against the San Diego Padres and I was sure that this was the last time that the Chicago Cubs could make it to the World Series while my father was alive. I brought along two Cubs caps. I wore one and he wore the other one with the help of the nurse who propped him up in his bed. I sat with him and held his hand and watched the game. I prayed that the Cubs would win the game for him, although they lost and I burst into tears. I was in tears because I was sorry that he was dying and I was in tears because I was sorry that I missed out on all those days with him at the ballpark that now, I could never get back.
My father died and his funeral was on my birthday. Every year I am reminded of what a terrible son I must have been and that individualism is not without consequence. I am not naive enough to believe that my father is looking down from a cloud in heaven but I guess it would mean a lot to him if the Chicago Cubs won a World Series, and for all the generations past for that matter, that carried their love of the Cubs like a indefinable weight on their shoulders.
I made good on my promise to my younger self and limited my applications to college to schools in Montreal. It was against my mother’s wishes, that having lost my father she wanted me to be closer to home. I was accepted to the writing program at the Unversite de Montreal. I was thrilled.
The Expos were now Les Expos to me. I met my wife in a writing class my sophomore year, she was French Canadian and a baseball fan. I could not believe my luck – we quickly married and had a boy a little while later. I kept on supporting Le Expos until they got moved by the bureaucrats at the Major League Baseball headquarters to Washington D.C and became The Nationals. I was heartbroken, they had never won a World Series and they never would. They did come close to a winning season in 1994. They were leading the American League Division and it looked like our year and then the player strike happened and the post-season was lost. I swore off baseball then. Although for some reason I kept an eye out on the Cubs, watching them from afar and then slowly by degrees, before I really knew what was happening I found myself caring if the Cubs won or lost. That was when I knew I had become one of God’s children.
A Chicago Cubs fan.
When my son was old enough I showed him pictures of my father and I told him all about the Cubs. He asked me what his grandfather was like – I told him he was a fine man. What else was I supposed to say? That he was a hothead and used to beat me? I hope my son supports the Cubs – I really do – although it’s his choice. I understand if he doesn’t he does not need the emotional baggage that comes along with being a Cubs fan.
I hope I live to see the Cubs win a world series. Although, I must admit it keeps getting harder with each passing year. I’m glad for my wife and my son, it makes it easier to deal with the Cubs inevitable failure year after year. I try not to make the Cubs failures my failures although it’s hard sometimes.
My mother is still alive and well and still lives in Deerfield. We see each other every six months or so and we speak all the time on the phone. She gets confused sometimes when my son speaks to her in French, but apart from that I think it’s the best we’ve ever gotten along and it’s usually these times when I let my guard down that she reminds me that the next time I am in Deerfield I need to visit my father’s grave.
Apart from his funeral I have never visited him and never will. It’s just too painful. I guess I’ve been cast in the role as his only insolent son, and that’s the only role I know how to play.
About the author:
Mike Lafontaine has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing which he doesn’t use. He likes winter when it snows and he likes bees and dogs. His stories have appeared in Word Riot, DOGZPLOT, Mad Swirl and others.