Baseball StadiumTitle: Cubbies, Seventeen, and the Proximity to Great Things
Author: Tricia Fox
Category: Nonfiction

We were never actually baseball fans, my friend Karla and I.

More so, we were fans of the tight, white, stretchy athletic pants and endless stream of solid looking crotches jostling for position on a fresh, salad green field. The balls lofted into mid-air by a strong-armed bat were nothing compared to Ryne Sandberg’s ass as he bent over to tie a wayward shoelace, or Raphael Palmeiro’s dark, Latin-lover stares towards the big-busted, big-haired female groupies hanging out over the dugout, begging for an autograph, if not something more. But we were in high school then, and the boys we were used to seeing on a day-to-day basis paled like a British man in comparison to the tall, well-coiffed, hairy-chested American specimens in front of us. The muscles, the testosterone, the beer (without being carded)…it was a seventeen year-olds dream come true. And, it was one of my proudest moments and fondest memories, that brave Friday afternoon when we took a chance and skipped school to bask in the spring of our lives and the sunshine of Wrigley Field.

Contrary to what this story might allude to, Karla was a good girl from a nice Tupperware family with a plump, happy farm-girl mother and a newspaper reading dad. My father, on the other hand, read Playboy, had affairs with his secretaries, and hunted animals like Tennessee Boars. I was a good girl too, just with a more colorful home life. Still, despite our polar opposite upbringings, we were kindred spirits and the best of friends, each with a bit of a wild streak and a love for breaking the rules and escaping our angst-ridden teenage selves whenever possible. Also, our proximity to the great city of Chicago meant that we were both self described Chicago Cubs fans. Thus, for all intents and purposes, it meant we were ignorant of the need to win, ignorant of real success, and considering our ages, ignorant of real life and its dangers, too.

At the time of our great Chicago escape, our blossoming, yet bosom-less bodies were pumped full of hormones the way ballplayers now pump themselves full of steroids. We hadn’t experienced sex, love, babies, divorce, or cancer yet. There was no awareness of a world beyond where our cars would take us or what we saw on the local news, which did not consist of much. In other words, life was still na├»ve and young.

It was the mid eighties, the last semester of our senior year, when we stole away from small town Indiana for our road trip to Wrigley field. Downtown Chicago was a temptingly quick two hour drive on a sunny day, windows rolled down, Bon Jovi playing on the stereo, singing in a lusty voice about people giving love a bad name or being wanted dead or alive.

Being alive, though, was echoed perfectly as we found our seats above the Cubbies dugout on a deliciously wicked spring day. For less than twenty bucks, we gawked as golden boy Sandberg tossed warm-up balls to Lothario Palmeiro. Cute beer boys poured cans of gold into plastic cups, all while flashing perfect suburban tans and teeth. In fact, we were surrounded by men — all different shapes and sizes and all high on anticipation, Old Milwaukee, and balls…lots of balls. For a seventeen-year-old girl, this was testosterone paradise found; the pure bliss of a glimpse into adulthood, men, and the chance to be someone different than who we were.

We settled our narrow backsides into the fold-down seats and waited. It was as if time stood still, or at least took a 15 minute break, while we watched the players perform their duties: 1st base, outfield, pitcher. The symphony of movement when a ball was launched by a stout player was intensified by the backdrop of the stillness of the city behind them. Everything seemed to be bubbly and filled with action like the beer in our cups, rushing to our heads, dizzying our sense of self and future. We had left the young, inexperienced Indiana teenagers behind. We were transformed by our surroundings into something worldly, exciting, beautiful and exotic. Indiana and her cornfields melted away. There were possibilities, cities like the one before us that we hadn’t seen. We could see the world as if we were looking across Lake Michigan to another continent, another country.

There was no algebra, no chemistry, no literature. We didn’t talk about our college applications, or the two different schools we would be attending. We didn’t complain about teachers, or gossip about friends back home. Instead, we let the baseball do the talking. Nine innings of a conversation on perpetual movement, running towards something you desperately need, being a winner or a loser, and no matter what, finding home. The message sang to me years later, thinking back to that day.

Each ball is a moment. Every pitch a future, and every swing an opportunity.

Life is that way, even now twenty years later. Back then, we knew our time would come, that we would be thrown fast balls, curves, and drives to the head. We knew some swings would make contact with a crack that would sing to the heavens, like when we both couldn’t find jobs post-college and instead took a year traveling Europe together. We knew some would come up empty and brokenhearted, like when I was diagnosed with cancer, lost my breasts, and then my husband.

I didn’t know that many years later, after the divorce and cancer, I would sit in the crowds of Wrigley Field with my son and daughters, watching their eyes grow wide at the size of the stadium, the loudness of the cheering fans, and it would be a part of my healing. Neither of us knew the extent of what was coming our way, or how each of us on our own path would lose each other, one to Hawaii and one to Illinois. Still friends in spirit, but worlds apart.

But who would want to know that? Where would be the joy in knowing the exact outcome of a game even before it’s played?

The joy, we knew, on that clear day, was in the chance, the stealing of a moment and making it ours, making our at-bat all our own.

Tricia Fox lives in Peoria, IL and teaches English at Illinois Central College. She also works as director of The Academic Support Center at Methodist College of Nursing. She received her M.A. in creative writing from Bradley University and is currently at work on her first novel. She also still a firm believer in the Cubs winning a World Series in her lifetime.