We were not big Indians fans -- Cleveland was twice as far away as Detroit -- although Dad did try to take me to a game in the summer of 1969 with the tickets I won in the radio contest. We got halfway there when a hose broke in the engine of Dad's car and we had to pull over. By the time the car was fixed, the game was nearly over in Cleveland, so we turned around and headed home. I was so disappointed that day, but Dad grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in the eye and promised me we would try again, and we did, later in the season. My free tickets were good only for the game we missed, so Dad bought us two more to watch the Indians play the Chicago White Sox. As we sat among rows and rows of empty seats in Cleveland's seventy-six-thousand-seat Municipal Stadium, a picture of which should have been placed next to the word cavernous in the dictionary, Dad smiled and put his arm around my shoulders. "You deserve to be here. You got that question right. We're here because of you." I beamed.
Usually, we went up to Detroit when the White Sox were in town. My father and mother were born on the South Side of Chicago and didn't move to Toledo until a few months before I was born. During one twi-night doubleheader in 1971, Dad bought each of us a White Sox batting helmet at the concession stand. For this one night, we cheered against the Tigers and for Dad's South Side Sox. The Tigers fans behind us in our upper-deck seats got a kick out of the gaggle of kids sitting in front of them -- Kate, Jim, and me, as well as the three Hansens, whose mother was from Chicago -- each wearing a hard, plastic Chicago helmet. Every time Detroit scored, a woman rapped each of us on the top of our helmets and teased us about being from Chicago.
"Should we tell her we're from Toledo, Dad?" I asked softly. "No," Dad replied mischievously, in an exaggerated whisper. "Let's keep her guessing."
There was nothing wrong with making people think you were from Chicago, Dad told me later. Dad liked the White Sox, but he actually lived and died with the Cubbies, as he called them. It wasn't easy to cheer for the Chicago Cubs, Dad told me in 1969. He said the same thing in 1979, 1989, and 1999. But the Cubs were his favorites, and had been since his childhood. Although he was a Southsider, he actually grew up cheering for the North Side Cubs because his father never forgave Shoeless Joe Jackson and the White Sox for throwing the 1919 World Series.
Dad's favorite player was the Cubs' Ernie Banks, whose career was winding down in 1969. Dad always said Banks was the greatest ballplayer never to make it to the World Series. He told me how smoothly and fluidly Banks played the game, and when I finally got the chance to see the Cubs on one of those Saturday TV games in 1969, I realized what Dad loved about Banks, how he held the bat so effortlessly, moving his fingers over it as if he were holding a flute. "Let's play two," Ernie loved to say, and Dad enjoyed quoting him, sometimes bellowing out the words as he drove a car full of children to another game. Dad loved the man's spirit. "Now, that," Dad would say, "is a ballplayer."