A fan’s message on being ‘assured of things hoped for and convinced of things unseen’
By Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey
As a kid growing up in Chicago in the late 1960s, I had two big problems. I knew nothing about sports and I had no brothers.
My folks were highly educated, my mom a lawyer and my dad a Navy veteran with a master’s degree in speech. Both graduated from Marquette University, where the Jesuits had done their due diligence. My dad grew up on the shores of Lake Superior in Ashland, Wis., where anyone not from there was from “down below.” My mom hailed from Colorado Springs, but found the three Bs of beer, Braves, and boys in the dairy-land state.
My mom and dad watched about an hour of television a year and saw a movie maybe every three years or so. I watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon’s surface on a 13-inch black and white TV in 1969. It wasn’t until I was in the fifth grade when dad bought a 15-inch color set because the other one quit working. But it was never tuned to sports. My sister and I watched only cartoons, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and as we got a little older we watched Creature Features, which was a show that came on after the news at 10:30 p.m. with B-grade monster movies. Sleepovers always were more interesting when you had the living daylights scared out of you watching Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi, and other talented actors who had my number.
At some point, you have to make a decision as a kid in Chicago. You had no choice in football, but in baseball you had two options. In most instances, the South-Siders went with the Sox and the North-Siders always found their team in the Cubs. I grew up on the poor side of the street of Longwood Drive at the extreme end of Chicago’s South Side. And yes, we capitalize South Side; it’s a real place, although you can’t mail a letter there.
At the tender age of seven I was asked who I was pulling for in the cross-town rivalry. I had always liked the red and blue colors of the Cubs logo, and who didn’t like a cute bear? I said the Cubs and within seconds I was on the ground with three kids on top of me explaining with their fists how strongly they felt about the White Sox.
Even after that experience, saying I liked the Cubs got such a rise out of people that I always preferred the Cubs. Besides, I had already suffered for my team so I wasn’t going to change anything after that. I would visit friends’ houses on weekends and find everyone mesmerized by the boys of summer playing on WGN-TV, Channel 9. I had no opinion to offer, no strong feelings about the manager, or thoughts to offer about who the closer should be that day. I just always liked the Cubs – maybe for all the wrong reasons. As I grew older I began to understand more about baseball but never watched or attended games with my dad. My mom often would sneak a few friends and me out of school on opening day to see the White Sox, but other than that I was a fan alone.
Later in life I became a sports photographer and began shooting on a regular basis for newspapers and eventually for Sports Illustrated. As a sophomore in college, I got to shoot just about every home game of the Milwaukee Brewers for the Associated Press, but after leaving Milwaukee I never again lived in a town that had Major League Baseball.
The fact the Cubs would never win it all never bothered me. I had been a fan for so long that I didn’t care, and I always found a sort of sweet comfort in rooting for the losing team, or at least the one that didn’t always win. Scanning the sports pages others left behind in airports, I always checked on the Cubs to see how they were doing.
Bishop Richard Stika is a big fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. He asked me right after he was installed as bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville who I liked for the World Series that year. I responded then in 2009 as I always did, “I like the Cubs and hope they win it all this season.” After that, every time he saw me he would dig on me about being a Cubs fan. He even suggested that his team might be a better choice to root for.
And then a couple years ago when the Cards began to slip and the Cubs improved, the blindfolded Lady Justice must have peeked out the side of her eye cover to see the great injustice done to the Cubs. We have been the butt of jokes for more than a century, considered hopeless. People even felt sorry for us. Imagine!
That brings me to the 2016 World Series, or to be more specific, Game 7, which has to have been one of the greatest games in the history of baseball. All of our collective tension, lack of satisfaction, the hopes and dreams of fans long dead — it all came to a boil that night and then exploded in Cleveland. The Cubbies’ joy spread everywhere, washing over everything and everyone. To say the game was exciting is to reduce it to nothing. So much was riding on that one home run.
I had the distinct pleasure of typing these words in the city of my birth, “Chi-Town,” and on the South Side, no less. But I was born on the North Side of Chicago from a lakefront address, compliments of the U.S. Navy. I was not only born to be a Cubs fan but born in the Cubs’ den.
Catholicism in the city of Chicago is like wallpaper. It’s all over your house and impossible to get away from. Even for those who are not Catholic, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day together with gusto. The city and the Church are in many ways synonymous and impossible to separate. It would be like trying to take pizza and red-hots out of the town: impossible.
Here in Chicago, as in the Church, we love our dead. There have been thousands of Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail messages from sons and daughters writing to deceased moms, dads, and grandparents. The messages are poignant, beautiful, and very touching to read. The Cubs’ win proves that victory is always sweeter to those who find the patience to wait, and wait, and wait, but never lose hope.
There is a greater message afoot in the joyful blue streets of Chicago. It’s a message about being “assured of things hoped for and convinced of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). It’s a message to all of us about faith and how it needs to be the bedrock on which we build our lives. That small voice is in each of us. May we garner the strength to lift that whisper and amplify it throughout our lives so it can become like the anthem being sung here in the Windy City.
And so heaven leaned down and kissed the boys in blue and their legion of fans, and awakened the dead to rejoice once more. Hooray! The goat is dead!
Mixing Christian faith with silly wives’ tales you say? This is baseball we are talking about, where a healthy faith is always checked by the careful observance of sensible superstition. I believe! ■
Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey serves St. Albert the Great Parish in Knoxville.