True confession: I may live in San Francisco Giants country, but I’m a Cubs baseball loyalist. I can’t help it. I grew up that way in Suburban Chicago.
So as the Cubs brought home their World Series victory in 108 years last fall, I immediately began plotting out a slothful weekend in Arizona for a Cactus League victory lap with a handful of my old Wrigley Field bleacher buddies – Manny, Moe and Jack – to gloat celebrate in the desert sunshine.
For 15 years, Cactus League baseball was a staple of most springs for me and various permutations of friends, many of them dating to high school. We’d line up a trio of games across a weekend, mix in a round of golf or two and make new friends in the hot tub at our favorite Best Western. We’d end most days in Tempe or Scottsdale, prowling for good food, a baseball celebrity sighting and maybe a “guy” movie. (Think “Happy Gilmore.”)
One spring the wife of a Spring Training novice who had joined our band of merrymakers called Dawn to speculate on the kind of trouble me we might find in the desert heat. Dawn laughed. “You don’t know Dan and his friends.” What did Dawn know? In high school, a big night out for me and the boys was Strat-O-Matic baseball in someone’s basement. #Nerd
A move, demands of a new job and some lean years for the Cubs combined to put a halt to my trips for the past decade. But now that I’m slacking here on the Coastside and the Cubs are winners, I decided it was time to pack up my Joe Maddon home jersey, “World Champions” cap and coveted Blu-ray World Series discs and the unbiquitous Coastside cool for a few days of desert heat with the guys. #stillanerd
- While waiting out a flight delay at SFO, I had an opportunity to chat up a Giants owner. He was sporting a gaudy, diamond-encrusted 2014 World Championship ring. “I like your ring,” I noted casually. “Me, too,” he replied. We talked about prospects for our respective teams in 2017, the viability of Las Vegas as a professional sports town, and the lamentable selling of America’s Pastime.
- Jack was a late-comer to the party, so he had purchased two seats for each game near me, Manny and Moe in hopes of swapping for neighboring seats so we could cheer, boo and raise a hullabaloo as a quartet. Just two innings after negotiating the swap ahead of Game 1, the woman sitting in Jack’s original seat along the left-field wall snagged a foul ball. She was nice enough to take our picture with it, but she kept the ball. #fair
- We always seem to make new “friends” in Phoenix. Over the years we’ve stalked and chatted up myriad announcers and former players – among them Harry Caray, Ron Santo, Minnie Minoso, Andy McPhail and a very reluctant Bob Uecker. (Sorry we snuck up the back stairs to your booth at Maryvale, Bob.) This time it was Moe who made a connection – with a third-base umpire. A first! “Nice play,” Moe declared loudly, binoculars in hand as the ump correctly signaled a very obvious foul ball. The critique earned Moe a thumbs up from the grinning Blue, who shared his own wry observation: “Figures it’d be the guy with the binoculars.”
The games were amusing; the beer was cold and the meals were tasty; and I even got to chat briefly with Cubs Hall-of-Famer Fergie Jenkins as he signed his biography for me. (We reminisced briefly about his off-season barnstorming back in the day with a basketball team made up of teammates who took on high school faculty for charity dollars.)
But the biggest highlight didn’t involve sports celebrities, championships or the latest game day apparel. As always, the best part was reconnecting and having fun with old friends.
Love you guys! See you for Spring Training 2018 in Mesa!