Growing up, I never missed an All-Star Game.
The annual July affair was a must-see TV event for me – and the games were typically exciting to watch, waiting for my favorite Cubs to get into the game. And when a Cub did something special – like Bill Madlock recording the game-winning hit in 1975 – it was a magical moment for me. I’m sure it was magical for Madlock, too.
Once I joined the Cubs – first as an intern, then in a full-time role – that love for the All-Star Game intensified. In the pre-internet days, there was the excitement of getting to announce it to the world that a Cub had been selected. There were game notes to be looked up and media guide information to be gleaned. While the game didn’t “count” officially, it was more than just an exhibition contest to me.
But all of that All-Star love came to a one-night stop when I got “the call” in 1995.
To make a short story long …
Back in the day, I was a Pearl Jam fan well before pretty much anyone I knew. I heard the band’s first album on a Montreal alternative college music station during a 1991 road trip – and I was hooked. The band’s popularity grew and grew, as did my affinity for their work.
One of my media relations counterparts – the legendary Jim Trdinich of the Pittsburgh Pirates – had a similar attraction for Pearl Jam. But in the category of “Six Degrees of Separation,” he was one step closer.
Jimmy T., as he’s known in baseball circles, had hit it off with George Webb – a lifelong Pirates fan who has the music version of the dream job I had with the Cubs. George is a jack-of-all-trades, under-the-radar member of Pearl Jam, serving as an equipment manager and taking care of the guitars and amps. George performs a multitude of behind-the-scenes roles for the band, and has gone out of his way to take care of me over the years.
In late June during the 1995 season, the Pirates were in Chicago – and the subject of Pearl Jam came up in a conversation with me and Jimmy T. While I knew Pearl Jam was going to be playing at Soldier Field in a few weeks, it never dawned on me to actually go see them. They were playing the same night as the All-Star Game, for crying out loud. Did I mention that the All-Star Game was “must see” for me?
A couple days after the Cubs/Pirates series was over, I received a phone call from Mr. Trdinich. He told me that I was going to the Pearl Jam concert. He told me that George Webb would be giving me a call to let me know where to pick up the tickets. He told me I’d survive if I missed one All-Star Game.
And then the call came.
George introduced himself to me, told me he was leaving me two tickets and two backstage passes, and that I should come early to say hello to him. He also told me that Eddie Vedder was a huge Cubs fan – which I had known – and that Eddie wanted to meet me.
I played along. While I didn’t want to doubt George’s sincerity, I really didn’t think the lead vocalist for one of the biggest rock bands on the planet wanted to meet Chuck Wasserstrom.
So on Tuesday night, July 11, instead of watching the National League and American League face off in Arlington, TX, I headed off to Soldier Field with one of my Pearl Jam-loving Cubs co-workers, Jay Rand. We picked up the tickets and backstage passes without a problem, walked to the stage area without a problem, told security we were there to see George – and were escorted directly to him without a hitch. This was Pearl Jam. Nothing was going wrong.
George brought us to the stage to give us a tour of his area. He assured me that Mr. Vedder wanted to meet me – but, since Chicago was his hometown, Eddie had a lot of family members to tend to. He’d try to come over.
I could have been disappointed, but I really wasn’t. Seriously, did I really think he wanted to meet me?
And whatever disappointment I could have had would have been eliminated when George asked the ultimate question … Did we want to hang near him for the concert?
I could have been watching the All-Star Game on TV in my Evanston apartment. Instead, I watched Pearl Jam play just inches out of the crowd’s view. Eddie Vedder was closer to me than the mound is to the plate.
It … was … awesome. Pearl Jam played for a solid three hours. It was electric. A sold-out Soldier Field rocked. I felt like such a groupie, and I didn’t care.
I will never see a better show. It’s a similar feeling to watching the 4th of July in fireworks in Boston … along the Charles River … with the Boston Pops playing in the background. Once you’ve seen that, every other fireworks display pales in comparison.
At the end of the evening, George had the audacity to apologize that Eddie hadn’t come over to say Hi. He said Eddie would be giving me a call. I was on such a high from the show that I actually believed him.
I’ll tell you all about that the next time I write. Suffice it to say, there’s material for another story.