Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Baseball's All-Star Game

I have been a Cubs fan my whole life. I don't even remember a time when I didn't know how to keep score at a game or how to intelligently talk baseball-ese (at least enough to initially impress a guy). I'm sure I'm a Cubs fan because my dad is a Cubs fan. I'm just not really sure why he's a Cubs fan. His dad, my grandfather, was a diehard White Sox fan and so were all of my dad's brothers.

My relationship with my paternal grandparents was always complicated. But there were two topics that always brought my grandfather and me together: politics and baseball. Despite our team loyalty differences, we could watch baseball together or talk about it for hours. Close to 30 years ago, Grandpa and I started an annual bet on the All-Star Game because this was the closest our teams ever got to playing each other, except for the Crosstown Classic (WAHOO! The Cubs won the Crosstown Classic this year 5-1!!!!!). Every year in mid-July, Grandpa and I placed a bet - him for the American League (where the White Sox play) and me for National League (with my beloved Cubbies). The bet was small. In fact, it started out at a $0.25. Yep, we bet a whole quarter. And the loser would drop a quarter in the mail the next day.

Even though it was an annual bet, it had to be solidified with the day-of-game phone call. And in order to be valid, the call had to be made prior to the first pitch. It was all very official.

For a string of years in the '80s, I won every year. And I got cocky. So we raised the stakes. About 1984 or 1985, the wager went up to $1.00. The National League continued to win. It got so bad that one year, I invoiced Grandpa (typed and everything!) and let him know that he could send his payment to the National Association for Retired Cubs Players (an organization I made up). He laughed and returned the $1.00 in my postage paid and addressed envelope, but insisted on sending cash. He simply couldn't bring himself to write a check to any organization that had "Cubs" in the title.

As I got older and Grandpa got sick, he wouldn't remember to make the call, so it became my responsibility. The All-Star Game in 1990 was especially memorable. That was the summer I worked at Watervale. I forgot to make the call early in the day, as was my practice, and in the middle of trying to get dinner served to almost 200 people, I stopped to call him on the kitchen phone before that first pitch, just so the bet would be official. This bet was our thing and nothing could derail it. Not even something as inconvenient as me working in a very busy resort kitchen during dinner. The American League won. At Wrigley Field. In Chicago. That's sacred National League ground. And Grandpa never let me forget it. He gloated about it until the day he died.

Even after I graduated from college and moved to DC, we still made the bet. And it continued to be $1.00. When I lost, I always tried to make a big deal of sending him my dollar and making it special. The photo below is of the $1.00 I lost to Grandpa in 1993. The American League had won for 6 years in a row. At that point, he was living in a nursing home and completely incapacitated due to having had both legs amputated. Grandpa died 18 months later in January 1995 (after not paying up for my 1994 win), but that note with the $1.00 taped to it was hanging on his wall over his bed when he passed away. Just days after his death, Grandma mailed it to me with a note telling me how much he loved our bet and how important it was to him.

Twelve years after Grandpa's death, the bet continues. But now it's with my dad. I still take the National League and my dad is a good enough sport to step in and take the American League (as much as it pains him) for Grandpa. After 20+ years of betting $1.00, yesterday, Dad and I raised the stakes. Now, we are betting a beer at one of our favorite dive bars in Michigan.

Grandpa's a pretty happy White Sox fan today. The American League won last night for the 9th time in the last 10 years (the 10th year - 2002 - ended in a tie). He's celebrating with Shoeless Joe and all the other White Sox legends. And despite missing him more every year during the All-Star Break, I'm happy to buy my dad a beer in Grandpa's honor.

Mark my words, though. 2008 is the National League's year. The All-Star Game will be deep in the soul of the American League - Yankee Stadium. And the overall series is tied - 30 wins for the National League and 30 wins for the American League. Like Cubs fans have grown accustomed to saying, "wait til next year."

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