Chicago Cubs Sounds of Summer...and Fall

The Chicago Cubs games were the sounds of my summers growing up.  I’ve been a Cubs fan my whole life.  In reality, I don’t think there was much of a choice being born into the Ryan Family.

You were born, you were baptized and you were dressed in a blue pinstriped “onesie”!

Growing up in the ’70’s and early ’80’s the Cubs games had a different feel and a different sound.  There were no night games, there were not 100 channels on the TV and there were no instant text updates from smartphone sports apps.

You had to watch or listen to the game to know what happened.  If you didn’t catch the game that afternoon, you had to find the results from someone, wait for the nightly news or wait for the newspaper, which wasn’t out until the entire next day, hard to believe in today’s instant world.

There were only 6 channels to choose from in the Chicagoland area back then.  We had channels 2, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 32, and well, maybe a 7th, as that weird channel 44 would sometimes work.

The Cubs games were on WGN channel 9.  In our house, when the game was on the TV, my dad would turn the TV volume down and put the radio on to listen to the radio announcers.  There were many years he preferred the radio announcers over the TV announcers.

When you listened to the game on the radio, it was on AM and the radio used was usually a tiny bit better than a transistor type.  AM radio always seemed to have that background high pitched tone, subtle but always audible. That tone didn’t necessarily interrupt listening to the game – it was just always there, throughout the whole broadcast.

My memory of listening to the games is of all the background noise.  The radio had a crackling sound to accompany the high pitch background tone of the AM frequency.  The announcers called the game and gave stats, from what I assume was their memory and notes that they had kept from year to year.  There were no computers throwing out stats to them, no crawlers at the bottom of the TV screens.  So, I remember there was more quiet, just background noise, between pitches and innings.  More sounds of the game.

As I would be running through the house on those summer days, slamming the screen door on my way in or out, I would stop to get an update on the game.  I would hear the crowd cheering, the organ playing and the call of the vendors.  Additionally, the singing of the National Anthem, Take Me Out to the Ball Game – once Harry arrived  and then eventually Go Cubs Go!

When we were at a game live at Wrigley, I loved the sounds of the vendors yelling out what they had for sale and then mimicking, “Hey! Beer here!” after they called it out.  When Hey, Hey, Holy Makerel would play you knew you were at Wrigley!

I remember learning how to keep a score card.  There were no smartphones for social media updates, no selfies taken then, no large screen video boards showing us replays or funny car races between innings.  So, keeping score was part of the entertainment of the afternoon.

My dad would attempt to teach me how to keep score.  He would try to explain, as I questioned, “Why is K a strike?”, “Why would the shortstop be 6 and not 5, seriously who messed that up?” or “Why can’t I just use words?”

I’m sure it made him crazy, as the questions were the same year to year.  However, he didn’t let on if it did bother him.  He continued to drink his beer and eat peanuts, and I would take the peanut shells and lick off the salt between my many questions.

When the game was over we wouldn’t move out with the rest of the crowd.  We would wait…and wait.  When we asked, “Are we leaving yet?”, the response was always the same, “Nope, we aren’t going anywhere fast, let the crowd leave.”  And, we would sit back down, while taking in the sights and the sounds of Wrigley Field emptying.  Eventually an usher would politely tell us it was time to go.

After the game, we loaded in the station wagon and I would sit in the back “jump seat” with the large back window rolled all the way down.  As, we would head down Lake Shore Drive the AM radio would inevitably be turned on. That familiar high pitch tone would reappear and I’m certain I threw a silent eye roll.

The radio was turned up loud, because all the windows were rolled down.  To avoid the oncoming pain of the AM radio rehashing the game that I just saw, and remember that I just kept awesome score and stats on, I would hang my head out the back window.  My hair would blow in the wind all the way down I-55 to Joliet.  The wind helped to deafen the game analysis.  And, don’t worry it was totally safe to hang my head out the window, because remember, it was 1970 something and that was just how we rolled.

As a pre-teen, my friends and I would use the players names as code words for boys we liked.  We would ask each other questions like, “Do you think Dave Kingman will be at the beach today?” Our parents likely thought we were nuts, but then again we were probably in the back of the station wagon and no one heard us, except the oncoming semi truck. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure now why we even needed code names.

As an adult on trips to Vegas, my Uncle Mick would hand me money and ask me to place a bet, it was always the same.  He would say, “Put it all on the Cubs to win the World Series!”  It was always early in the season and there was nothing to indicate from the previous year that this was a reasonable request.  I would question, “What? Are you sure?” and he would reassure me to place the bet.

My dad and his brother Mick were two of the biggest Cubs fans.  The thing is, they really were true baseball fans, who happened to love the Cubs.  They loved Ernie Banks and Ron Santo.  They loved the Cubs if they were winning or losing, they loved to watch and listen to the sounds of the game.

I wish they were both here now to experience the excitement in Chicago.  Although, I do believe that we have a couple of angels in the outfield navigating this year with Joe Maddon.

Recently, I heard an interview with my new favorite player, Jake Arrieta.  Jake said that Cubs fans deserve this year and that we’ve been waiting a long time for a World Series.

While this is true, there has been waiting, and we all have high hopes for this October.  I want Jake and the Cubs to know it’s been a great year to watch and listen to the sounds of this summer and this fall.  We thank you for that.  We all hope to see games in Wrigley late into October and see the Ivy turn to Fall colors.

Sadly, I wish that I had placed a bet in Vegas for Uncle Mick at the beginning of this year!  He would have been so happy to finally win that bet!

Go Cubs Go! #flytheW

Dad & Uncle Mick

Dad & Uncle Mick

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