In the April edition of Vine Line, we debuted a back-page column called “The 10th Inning with….” which offers fan perspectives from the outside looking in. The fans are mainly celebrities or prominent personalities around Chicago giving their impressions on all things Cubs.
We’ve received a nice amount of positive feedback on the column and hopefully it will appear every other month, alternating with “Stretching Out with…”
Popular WXRT Radio on-air personality Lin Brehmer was nice enough to volunteer his services as our inaugural columnist. He has been a die-hard Cubs fan since 1984, when he moved to Chicago. Here is his story:
Cubs fans come from every corner. They grow up at the corner of Southport Avenue and Irving Park Road, and come back to discover a post office where their houses used to be. They grow up on the farms of Iowa, where the crackle of a transistor radio transports them to another world. My collision course was nothing short of providential.
Raised in a region where the pinstripes were of a different color, four brothers from Oak Park, Ill., introduced me to the lineup of Kessinger, Beckert, Williams, Santo, Banks, Hundley, Altman and Phillips. We roamed the asphalt schoolyards of New York looking for a game. Playing stickball, Joel, Adam, Benji, D.K. and I would take turns being the Chicago Cubs or the New York Yankees.
In 1970, we started the Cleo James fan club for the unheralded and unloved Cubs outfielder. This past October, 38 years later, Benji sent me an official looking document that reads:
“For Lin Brehmer: Founding Member and President-for-Life of THE CLEO JAMES FAN CLUB. In honor of, and appreciation for, Mr. Cleo James, Outfielder, Chicago Cubs (1970-1971).”
And then there’s an anonymous quotation: “He won some, he lost some, but he suited up for them all.” In the middle of the document in a protective plastic sleeve is a baseball card of good old number 24. On the back of the baseball card we learn that Cleo’s hobby was table tennis.
I first arrived in Chicago in 1984 on the promise of World Series tickets.
Perhaps, I was naive.
1984. The year of nicknames. Sarge. Ryno. Penguin. The baseball world was giddy with talk of the Cubs that summer. It was the season that Whitey Herzog, the eminence grise of the Cardinals, called Ryne Sandberg the greatest player he’d ever seen.
My job interview was grueling. I spent the summer eating stuffed pizza and watching the Cubs. By September, I was hunting for a place to live. Tooling around the North Side in a borrowed Mazda, I drove to the corner of Clark and Addison and stopped.
I am not a casual baseball fan. As a skinny pre-teen, I was a fire-balling southpaw for such teams as Lazar’s Kosher Meats, Gerard Towers, and the star-crossed Michael C. Fina Jewelers.
In 1971 and 1972, I was the MVP of my high school baseball team. When Rotisserie Baseball was invented at the start of the ’80s, I immediately took my team, Brehmer’s Bombers, to the cellar. I’ve coached youth baseball for six years.
So that first view of Wrigley Field might as well have been accompanied by a cinematic choir of angels or by the sonorous voice of James Earl Jones summoning me, “Lin Brehmer, this is your destiny.”
The Cubs did not go to the World Series in 1984. I know because I watched Game 5 against the Padres in my landlord’s apartment right beneath my own on the 3700 block of N. Wayne Avenue.
And a strange fever grew.
Living four blocks from Wrigley Field, I spent the next few baseball seasons in the right-centerfield bleachers with Marty, Mars, Wendy, Norm and Sara.
My apartment window had a sign in the window that read “No Lights In Wrigley Field,” and as soon as lights were installed, we protested by buying a night game/weekend season ticket package. Aisle 239. Row 4.
‘ve been to 28 out of the last 29 Opening Days. My mental scrapbook holds many images: Mark Grace’s torrid postseason run in ’89. Gaetti’s home run in the ’98 one-game wild-card playoff. The nine-run comeback against the Rockies in the summer of ’08.
And my favorite moment of all: Andre Dawson’s final home game in ’87. That was the year that Dawson offered the Cubs a blank check for his salary and won the MVP for a last-place club.
All season long the bleachers would pay tribute to Dawson’s unrelenting commitment by bowing to him as he jogged out to rightfield. Andre Dawson was cut from different marble than most media-savvy ball players of the modern era. He was as stoic a presence as I have ever seen in a major-league outfield.
On that last day, Dawson hit his 49th home run. When he trotted out to his place, he faced the bleachers for the first time, raised his arms in the air and bowed repeatedly to the fans. The gesture was so out of character that it spoke to the man’s caliber.
I have watched the Cubs now through my son’s eyes. He went to 15 games before he was 1 year old. As a toddler, he ran up the ramps and then down the ramps. He watched the “El” from the rightfield corner. And one afternoon I looked to my left to see him with a pencil in his hand, peanut shells scattered on an open scorebook, writing 6-4-3 DP. A Cubs fan born and bred. A kid gathering stories to pass on to another generation. A young man who will understand there is no winning without losing.
Robert Browning, who knew nothing of baseball but much of human nature, once wrote, “That heaven should exceed a man’s grasp or what’s a heaven for.”
Every year, I take a magic marker and draw an X through the month of October. That’s because I plan on being at Wrigley Field through the end of that month.
Lin Brehmer has been the morning disc jockey at 93XRT since 1991. He first came to the station in 1984 so he could go to the World Series at Wrigley Field.
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