Monday, September 30, 2013

Foul Weather Fans, or Why I Missed Zisk in Chicago By R. Lincoln Harris

I recently got my hands on a copy of Fan Interference, and having not been aware of Zisk before, I have to say I’m enjoying it a great deal. I’ve loved baseball ever since I was a kid in the 1970s, and I write about baseball quite a bit online. A lot of the baseball writing that I see, though, is either analysis of current players for their fantasy value, or stories based on sabermetric mumbo jumbo. What makes Zisk so great, at least to me, is that there isn’t any of that on their pages. They write the kind of stories that I like to write, and the type of stories that I want to read, too.

I had planned to make it to Quimby’s bookstore in Chicago on July 19th, in order to meet the creative forces behind the magazine. On the night before the event, though, opportunity knocked in the form of an old friend from grammar school. He had an extra ticket on the field for the Pearl Jam concert in Wrigley Field, and wanted to know if I could make it. Since Pearl Jam played on the same stage that the Grateful Dead used for their last concert in 1995, it’s quite appropriate to think of this as a miracle.

I send my humble apologies to the good people at Zisk, as well as to Quimby’s in Chicago, for missing out on their event on July 19th. And to make up for it, I humbly offer the following report on a competing event just a few miles to the north.

Pearl Jam playing at Wrigley Field was a homecoming for Eddie Vedder. Although he played there last summer for Bruce Springsteen’s two shows, this time it was his stage, with his band. While the band may play other shows at Wrigley in the future, the first one will always stand out from the others.

All of us who were on the field, or in the grandstand, or just hanging out along Sheffield and Waveland Avenues, were there for an event. We wanted something to validate the months of waiting for the date to arrive, and for standing in long lines at the merchandise tents in summer’s oppressive heat. It would be something special, all right, but exactly how would it all turn out? Nobody knew for certain.

The rains came about six or seven songs into the show. Like the characters in Bull Durham said, “Some days you win, some days you lose, and some days it rains.”  Other acts playing outdoors in Chicago left their stages (like Phish at Northerly Island and Bjork at the Pitchfork Music Festival) and did not come back.  But this band—playing in this venue—was not to be denied. The fans wanted something special, and the band was intent on delivering it to them.

We took cover when the rains were announced from the stage. The first storm to come through was a whopper, and the interior concourses at Wrigley Field became a hot, crowded mess. But the beer kept on flowing, and everyone made the best of it.

A second storm was also coming through, on the heels of the first one. The decision was made to let people leave and come back, which doesn’t happen when ball games are going on. Around that same time, the band tweeted out their intention to come back and deliver a full show once the rains were gone. In other words, the show wasn’t over yet.

The rains finally passed through, and the band returned to the stage at a few minutes before midnight. Eddie Vedder—the man of the hour, as far as everyone was concerned—welcomed us back by strapping on an acoustic guitar and invoking the name of Ernie Banks. Thus began the payoff we had been waiting for.

Ernie Banks’ catchphrase, the one that’s carved into the base of his statue along Clark Street outside the ticket windows, is “Let’s play two.” Eddie Vedder twisted that phrase a little bit, and turned it into “Let’s play until two.” Nobody in the park minded that at all, and Alderman Tunney was nowhere to be found. In Wrigley Field, at least, the show went on.

From the first notes that were played on Eddie’s guitar, it was clear what the song coming out of the rain delay would be. The band had hours to plan out the rest of the show, but the emotional home run was coming at us right away.

You can’t relate to “Go All the Way” unless you’re a Cubs fan. If the origins of the song were a mystery before, Vedder—wearing a Cubs jersey with #1 in honor of Jose Cardenal—set the record straight. It turns out that he wrote the song at the request of Ernie Banks, who wanted a song that reflected the experience of being a Cubs fan. The task seemed overwhelming at first, but he agreed to do it because, in his words, “When Ernie Banks tells you to do something, you do it.”

As the song began, with Eddie Vedder singing the song that he wrote as a gift to Ernie Banks, a montage of video highlights played on the screen: Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Rick Sutcliffe, Ron Santo clicking his heels together and a time capsule of what the Cubs mean to those who call themselves fans.

I had spent a good part of the rain delay speaking with my friend, who grew up where I did in Springfield, Illinois. It’s much closer—both physically and culturally—to St. Louis than it is to Chicago. Had I remained in Springfield’s cultural fold, as he did, we could have passed the rain delay remembering Cardinal baseball glories of years gone by. Instead, I tried my best to relate to him as he told me about how spoiled he has been as a Cardinals fan.

But being a Cubs fan isn’t really about winning championships. Cardinals fans will shake their heads in disbelief, and White Sox fans will pull out their old 2005 World Series sweatshirts for the umpteenth time, but none of that really bothers me. As much as I’d love to see a winner someday, forsaking the game itself is not an option, nor is transferring my loyalties to some other team—from Chicago or someplace else—simply because they win more than the Cubs do.

Cubs fans are an intensely devoted bunch. We have to be, in order to keep coming back to the ballpark year after year after year. It gets very hard sometimes, watching all the other teams in MLB do the things that my own team hasn’t done, at least not in my lifetime.  But you soldier on, and keep repeating the cycle for as long as you’re allowed to do it. Once you’re locked in as a Cubs fan, there isn’t any going back. It’s as if the Rubicon itself flows along Clark, Addison, Sheffield and Waveland.

When Eddie Vedder brought Ernie Banks onto the stage, and a few more rounds of the chorus were sung, it was a moment unlike anything else I’ve experienced as a Cubs fan. I needed a full week to wrap my mind around it, and put it into words that I hope will do it justice.

When it comes to success on the field, Cubs fans are easily the most deprived in all of baseball. But when it comes to love, both for the game itself and the team that we follow, Cubs fans have it in spades. The truth is, I was the one who felt spoiled in that moment with Eddie Vedder and Ernie Banks. As much as I’d love to see a winner on the field, I don’t feel the need to have one.  Just being able to understand what Eddie Vedder means is enough, at least for this Cubs fan.

R. Lincoln Harris has been a Cubs fan since the mid-1970s. He writes the Addison Street Blues column at, as well as his personal blog at

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