Here’s a preview of my next e-book on amazon.com. Look for it soon.
It’s a once in a lifetime trip. Me and Tommy T, my best friend from the neighborhood. Eight ballparks in ten days, all leading to this steaming July afternoon in the bleachers at Wrigley Field. We had talked about doing this for years, but something always kept getting in the way. Girls, jobs, marriages, kids. And in Tommy’s case, add another round of the ladies, marriage and more ladies. Then last fall I had a heart attack during a pickup basketball game. I was only thirty-nine. Doctor told me I was lucky. Most people who have their first heart attack at my age usually don’t survive, he said. It kind of put things in perspective, you know?
So here I am less than a year later. My best friend is at my side; I’ve got a tall, cold brew in one hand, a Chicago-style dog in the other. I’ll watch what I eat when I get home. For now, the friendly confines of Wrigley Field cannot be any more friendlier. How did that commercial go? Oh yeah, Life doesn’t get much better than this. I know what they mean.
We took turns behind the wheel of our rental car, a 2008 silver Ford Fusion that didn’t suck, and made decent enough time. Tommy T drove straight through to Pittsburgh, our first stop on our stadium tour, just so he could say he did it. I offered to take over for him when we crossed into Pennsylvania, but Tommy can be a stubborn SOB. We arrived in Pittsburgh in a little less than seven hours, in plenty of time for the Pirates game that night, but I took over the bulk of the driving after that. Tommy’s stubborn, but he’s not crazy.
The next morning it was on to Cleveland, followed in quick succession by Detroit, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Milwaukee. The weatherman smiled on us along the way, but no more than the baseball gods did when the schedule came out in November. It allowed us to catch the White Sox on the Sunday before they left on a long road trip and the Cubs on Tuesday, their first game of a short home-stand. The Chicago doubleheader. Baseball bliss.
“Okay, life on the line,” Tommy says to me in the middle of the fifth inning, continuing our lifelong obsession: “If you have to win one baseball game, who’s pitching for you?”
Here’s how the game goes. We each pick a lineup of baseball stars, either living or dead. One for each position plus a starting pitcher and a reliever. If you want, you can substitute another starter instead of a reliever. That’s a concession I won about three baseball seasons ago. Forget about the designated hitter, though. No way, no how. Our lineups may be pure fantasy, but we do have our standards.
The argument always starts the same way: Either one of us says to the other, “Okay, life on the line. If you have to win one baseball game …”
“Gun to my head I’m going with Koufax as my starter,” I say. “In the unlikely situation that Sandy can’t finish the job, I’ll take Walter Johnson as my second pitcher.”
“The Big Train’s no Mariano,” says Tommy, a notorious Rivera fan. He routinely fills his lineup with present and former Yankee greats and leaves me pretty much the pick of everyone else. So while I’ve usually got to argue my way past guys like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle, not to mention Rivera, Jeter and A-Rod, I like my chances with Mays, Aaron, Cobb and the rest. It makes for great conversation, something that football and the other sports can’t duplicate.
The history of baseball is etched in our souls. We live it. We breathe it. And there’s always another game coming up. I just wish it wasn’t so damn hot today.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“I don’t want you catching heat stroke. Maybe we should find some shade.”
“No, I’m okay. Serious.” I’m not okay, though. Tommy can always tell.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” he says before leaving. “Can I get you anything? Another beer?”
“I’m good,” I say. But I’m not.
Ten minutes later Tommy is back with Cubs hats that he bought at the souvenir stand. One for each of us. We’re not exactly “hat guys,” but hey, it’s 105 in the shade today.
“Thanks,” I say before putting my cap on. It’s the last thing I remember until I wake up in a dream. It’s got to be a dream. There’s a guy I don’t know crouching over me, and I feel cold steel against my temple.
“Gun to your head,” the stranger says, pointing a Smith & Wesson .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol at a spot above my right ear.