(Transcript of For the Birds program originally aired on KUMD on October 16, 2003, after the tragic end of the playoffs when the Marlins beat the Cubs)
I was in Alaska a couple of years ago, during a time when a species of salmon was spawning, and got to see a few bears standing at the water's edge, easily scooping up the hapless fish and gobbling them down. It's an interesting thing to watch, not as sad as I'd expected because these fish are spent, about to die of natural causes anyway, many of their fellow salmon already floating belly up. Bears have been eating fish year after year for millions of years. On the night of October 14, in the eighth inning, and then again the following night, the fish took their revenge, as nine Marlins mercilessly gobbled up nine Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
My fondest memories of childhood are of snuggling on my grandpa's lap as he told me stories about two things: birds and the Chicago Cubs. My grandpa was twelve the last time the Cubs won the World Series, and I was born six years after their last time appearing in the series. My grandpa had faith in the young Ernie Banks, hired by the Cubs when I was one year old, and every time Number 14 came up to the bat, I'd share my grandpa's hopefulness and excitement. In 1971, when I was nineteen, Ernie retired as a player. That came two years after the heartbreaking season of 1969 and one year after my grandpa died, and I was heartbroken all over again.
There is no place on this planet so evocative to me as Wrigley Field. I once saw a Peregrine Falcon flying over the outfield, and it was in the bleachers that the boy I loved with all my heart, who later became my husband, first told me he loved me. My dad, a Chicago firefighter, worked at the fire station on Waveland Avenue, just a foul ball away from home plate. He died of a heart attack in that fire hall, in the shadow of Wrigley Field.*
It was in my Grandpa's memory, not mine or my dad's, that it was possible for the Cubs to win the Series. But my Grandpa's hope was transferred to my soul as I sat on his lap, his warm cheek next to mine as he explained how a player could hit foul ball after foul ball, staying at bat forever, or at least until someone had to go to the bathroom. He explained how an inning or a game could last forever, giving me my first real understanding of the concept of infinity. If year after year after year the Cubs never won the pennant, my faith and hope and love for the team never faltered--after all, this was the team that my Grandpa had had faith and hope and love in.
Mars came very close to earth this year--as close as it's been in 73,000 years, sitting out there like a big red baseball ready to be plucked out of the sky and pitched by the Cubs in the World Series. It apparently didn't come quite close enough, and won't be this close again until the year 2287, when it will actually approach even closer to earth. So those of us who can wait another 284 years may be in for a treat, or maybe an even more dramatic heartbreak. The closest Mars will ever approach will be in 2729. Will that be close enough? I like to imagine that Mars will be glowing on the horizon as the last Peregrine Falcons of the day fly over Wrigley Field on their way to their evening roosts. I'll be watching from overhead, sitting on a big cumulus cloud over the bleachers with my grandpa, enjoying infinity as we watch the Cubs finally win it all.
* After she read this essay in 2003, one of my sisters told me that my dad had actually been at a different firehall the last few years of his life. But I'd gone for 23 years thinking of him every time I saw Wrigley Field that it's hard to suddenly NOT think that was where he was when he died.