Chicago, Ill., May 11, 2018 / 14:59 pm
Last week I offered to spend an afternoon carrying things for my aunt, who wanted to go to an airplane hanger-sized thrift store and see how much of it would fit in her car.
While standing around between aisles, I noticed the store sold 1980s and ’90s baseball cards- batches of 100 were sold for a dollar. I lost my childhood collection in a transatlantic move, so I bought the store out on a whim, instinctively reciting the short litany of players I had grown up watching: Sandberg, Maddux, Dawson. I wondered if there might be some childhood gold to be panned from the slurry.
Living for much of my life in the United Kingdom, some parts of my character have been indelibly formed by British people and traditions. The best humor will always be, to me, self-deprecating. All humor should be spelled “humour.” At 11pm sharp on Saturday nights I crave, at a biological level, lamb rohgan ghosht.
But, even after more than two decades living away from my hometown, I find that some American things were imprinted on my heart too early to be changed. One of those is baseball, by which I mean the Chicago Cubs.
Many people follow a sport. Some follow a team to the point of calling its members their “family” or calling a stadium their “cathedral.” I’m not like that. But, for me, baseball is inextricably intertwined with both family and religion.
Although I am right-handed, I swing a bat like a southpaw. This is a legacy from my left-handed father, who taught me how to swing on the front lawn of our family home in north Chicago. In Little League, other coaches and dads would sometimes comment on my swing. I learned the proper response from my dad too - batting lefty made me a step and a half closer to first base.
Despite my best efforts to unlearn my lefty swing for other sports, I can’t do it for baseball, not even a little. Neither can I unlearn an abiding loathing for the New York Mets, who never did a thing to me but who broke my dad’s heart in the summer of ’69 with their blasphemous “miracle”.
My grandfather, himself a lifelong Cubs fan despite his own father having pitched for the White Sox, would watch games with me in his living room, and very occasionally at Wrigley Field. I learned the players’ names from him. I watched players like Rick Sutcliffe, Mark Grace, and Joe Girardi, whose drafting by the Rockies taught me to hate expansion teams on sight. But there were three names I heard over and over again: Sandberg, Maddux, Dawson.