Que Sarah, Sarah

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Take Me Out To The Ballgame


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

In 1908, songwriter and vaudeville performer Jack Norworth was riding a subway train in New York when he spotted a sign that read simply: “Baseball Today — Polo Grounds.”

Inspired by the ad, he penned the lyrics to one of the most beloved songs in US history: “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”

Americans rushed out to buy the record and the sheet music and made the song the most popular tune of 1908.

On October 14 that year, as people all over the country tapped their toes and sang along to the catchy chorus of baseball’s new anthem, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Detroit Tigers to win their second consecutive World Series. They haven’t won it since.

A mere 68 years later, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” became a national phenomenon again. In 1971, Chicago White Sox announcer Harry Caray began singing the tune to himself during every 7th inning stretch. On Opening Day 1976, Sox owner Bill Veeck, who had seen fans sing along over the years, snuck a microphone into the booth, allowing the whole crowd to hear Caray’s serenade. From that day forth, Caray led the fans at every home game in a rousing sing-a-long of the classic.

When he left the Sox to take on his iconic role as Chicago Cubs announcer, he brought the song with him and made it an institution, forever associated with Wrigley Field and the Cubs.

This season, to mark the 100-year anniversary of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” Major League Baseball will honor the song with a book, commemorative stamps and a contest awarding one fan the chance to sing the 7th inning stretch at this year’s All-Star Game. At last, 100 years after the song’s inception, 100 years after the Cubs’ last World Series win and 10 years after Harry Caray’s passing, the time seems more right than ever for the Cubs to finally win it all again.

The “Lovable Loser” tag given to the Cubs and their faithful says it all. Never has a team been so beloved in its futility. Never has a group of fans been so bonded together in defeat, rather than victory. When other ball clubs hit the skids they often find themselves short on fans and long on boos.

Not so for the Cubbies. The “Hundred Years of Tears” campaign has seen more than its fair share of bad luck and just plain bad baseball, but Cubs fans aren’t going anywhere. In fact, their numbers are growing.

Each year, win or lose, The Friendly Confines are packed with people looking to get a taste of what can only be described as the purest, most true baseball experience on this Earth. Out West, 1,800 miles away, the story at Hohokam Park in Mesa, Arizona is the same. Cubs fans from all over the country flock to the sunny Southwest, breaking attendance records as they get an early look at their team during Spring Training.

I was one of the many who traveled to Mesa this spring. I spent my days with 12,800-something fans just trying to soak up every swing, every catch and every pitch of this historic year.

Thursday, March 13, I joined a group of 20-somethings from Elmwood Park, Illinois as they sang “Go Cubs Go” in the parking lot before the game, lofting beanbags at a painted Cubs Cornhole board with “Packers Suck” etched on the back. I met a Mesa native who’d come to Spring Training every year as a kid, and who could point out where his father still worked, two blocks away at the local middle school.

I chatted up two college sweethearts from Crystal Lake, Illinois who were spending everyday of their Spring Break on a blanket on the left field berm. Later, I looked on as a young father rolled grounders to his little boy, who was more interested in becoming the next Joe Tinker than the game going on behind him.

As I sat at that game, surrounded by different generations of Cubs fans, all connected by a love that transcends sports, I just felt right. These thousands of people, from all over the world, shared my desire to spend hours with strangers, watching games that have no bearing on their team’s record or standings.

For some, three hours at a meaningless baseball game played by a team that hasn’t won it all in a century sounds downright mind-numbing. However, the guy next to me had it just right when he looked over, sun beating down on his face, perfectly broken-in mitt in his lap, and said: “I could do this everyday for the rest of my life.”

That afternoon, as we all stood to sing the 7th inning stretch, I felt a shared pride in more than just a baseball team, but also in a loyalty and a faith that is unmatched in professional sports.

We weren’t just going through the motions. When a Cubs fan sings “root, root, root for the Cubbies, if they don’t win it’s a shame,” it’s sung with an insistence and a passion that reflects years of unrelenting hope.

A century after those lyrics were first penned, this Chicago fan hopes fate will once again pair the most beloved song in baseball with the sport’s most beloved team. When it happens, I know somewhere Harry will be singing along.


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