Some say it was the highest profile story in the history of sports. It’s hard for me to imagine any nook or cranny in the United States where it wasn’t the biggest story of the week. It’s the perfect example of why I’ve been a passionate sports fan my entire life and why I don’t understand how anyone can not have sports in their life, at least a little bit.
I was late to work today because I couldn’t take my eyes off the television coverage of the Chicago Cubs’ parade and celebration of the World Series title they won Wednesday night. If you’re one of those folks who don’t share my passion for sports, there’s a chance you don’t know it was the Cubs’ first World Series title in 108 years, a drought that made the Lovable Losers from the friendly confines of Wrigley Field the sentimental darlings of baseball fans all over the country, if not world. The same fans who no longer have to say, “wait ‘til next year.’’
One of the many tidbits I gleaned from the television coverage of the celebration in Chicago was an anecdote from Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who guided his team to the World Series title in just his second season managing the club. It was revealed that Maddon had so much respect and appreciation for the Cubs and their place in the hearts of their fans that he would approach fans during recent weeks often with the same request. “Everyone has a story,’’ Maddon would say. “Tell me yours.’’
You see, Maddon had come to realize that every Cubs fan had their own story as to why they were a fan of the team. He respected that, even honored it. And, he genuinely wanted to hear every story, often about the long-suffering friend of family member whose passion for the team led Maddon’s storyteller to become the Cubs fan they are today.
Here’s my story.
I was blessed to grow up in a great family. In addition to that, I was also blessed to grow up with two additional families in my hometown who would qualify as my second families. The father/stepfather of one of those families was Robert John Salvesen, an attorney in Skamania County who also filled the role as my Babe Ruth baseball coach.
I knew the Salvesen/Anderson (it was Bob Salvesen’s second marriage) family most of my life, but became very close to the family beginning in my junior high school years. Bob Salvesen and I hit it off from the beginning, largely due to our passion for sports, baseball in particular.
Bob had grown up in Western Springs, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. His favorite days came during the baseball season when his father would have his mother put him on the train for a ride into the city, where his father would meet him and take him to an afternoon Cubs’ game. Bob was a storyteller, and an overwhelming percentage of his stories were about the Cubs.
Of course there were the stories about the 1908 Cubs, the last Cubs’ team to win a World Series. Bob loved to tell us of that team’s legendary double-play combination of Tinker to Evers to Chance. I’m pretty sure Bob wasn’t born yet in 1908, so they were stories that his father had undoubtedly shared with him.
Thanks to Bob’s passion for the Cubs, I jumped off the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds) bandwagon that I had been on in my childhood years and became a Cubs fan. That was almost 40 years ago, so you can’t accuse me of being late to the party.
In my early adulthood, after Skamania County was blessed to have television station WGN added to its cable offerings, helping to further cement the Cubs as my favorite team, I found myself sitting at the Salvesen family dining table with Bob. It was just him and I one afternoon, no one else was home.
Bob was sitting in his customary place at the head of the table, completing the New York Times crossword puzzle, one of his favorite of many daily rituals. Bob was a graduate of Northwestern and the University of Michigan Law School. He also took some classes at Harvard. A professor of his at Northwestern once told him, “Congratulations Bob, you’re leaving here with more useless knowledge than anyone I’ve ever known.’’ As a result, the New York Times crossword rarely offered a test that stumped my friend.
One of the stories Bob shared with me on this day was of one of the last conversations he had with his father. If my memory is correct, his father was in the hospital and it was just the two of them alone. In his failing health, Bob shared with me that his father’s mind was still sharp enough to recite the entire starting lineup of those Chicago World Series champs from 1908. It was a special moment for me and an emotional moment for both of us.
I have long held the Cubs dear to my heart, due in large part to my friend, who unfortunately wasn’t here with us to celebrate the Cubs’ latest World Series title. But, even in his absence, I’ve continued to follow the Cubs, and often think of memories of Bob as I do.
I’ve often said the greatest sports day in my life came in 1992. It was my only visit to the Windy City and I was blessed to take in an afternoon game at Wrigley Field between the Cubs and San Diego Padres on the same day I covered Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Chicago Bulls.
I sat in the right-center field bleachers. I met some great Cubs fans. Both my forearms were burned by the sun. And, as I gazed around that glorious ballpark, several times during the afternoon I thought of my friend sitting just across the way as a little boy with his father.