What would you do if you were driving down the street and saw your face plastered on a newspaper box? Not plastered in a “Have you seen me?” sort of way – but on the front cover of a newspaper.
I can tell you what I did. I barely missed hitting a fire hydrant.
The date was October 3, 2003. For those of you who know me – just a few days before – my girls were born.
Life was moving at a lightning-quick pace for me. While both girls were fine despite being hatched a little early, they weren’t getting out of the hospital until they put on a few more ounces. I had a few extra days to fully soak things in.
Danielle and Nicole were born on September 30 – a Tuesday morning which also happened to be the first day of the Cubs’ 2003 National League Division Series against Atlanta. The next afternoon, I received a phone call from a writer with the RedEye, a Chicago Tribune publication aimed at an age group younger than I was then – and closer to the age my daughters are now. The writer had received a tip from a member of the Tribune’s sports department about my new fatherhood, as she was doing a story about people lives that were put on hold due to the Cubs’ somewhat unexpected trip to the playoffs.
As this reporter wrote in RedEye, “Some Cubs fans checking their calendars found weddings, anniversaries, vacations and other major life events on the same day as playoff games, causing swearing, rescheduling and scrambling to come up with ways to keep tabs on the games.”
And, of course, she had come across a certain Cubs media relations staffer who became a dad on the first day of the postseason.
Getting me to agree to talk about the babies was easy. Getting me to convince my wife that a photographer wanted to take a family portrait at the hospital was … well … not so easy.
In a moment of sedation, she said OK.
The next afternoon, a RedEye photographer joined Michelle, Danielle, Nicole and yours truly for a nice little photo shoot at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. To tell the truth, Michelle was going through multiple post-delivery issues – and was seeing stars on her own. The flash from the circa 2003 camera just added to her joy. The reality, though, was that the photographer was able to take some great shots. Nothing wrong with being faux famous and having paparazzi snapping away.
While the photographer was working the room, I received a phone call on my trusty flip phone. I don’t recall what the specific conversation was about, but I do remember who called. Cubs beat writer Carrie Muskat was on the line, and I walked around the room talking to her with the phone against my ear and little 4-pound Nicole fitting on my arm between the palm of my hand and my elbow.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the photographer had captured the moment.
I didn’t officially work during the Division Series, spending most of the week at the hospital with Michelle and my daughters.
However, after the photo shoot, I went home for the night to get some clothes and prep the house for the arrival of the girls.
The next morning (Friday, October 3), I decided to stop at the ballpark on the way to the hospital.
I can’t speak for 2017, but back in 2003, RedEye honor boxes could be found in the Wrigleyville neighborhood.
So there I was, driving past Irving Park Road as I headed southeast on Clark Street – and there I literally was. In living color. Out of the corner of my eye … at a street corner newspaper box … from top-to-bottom … I saw Chuck Wasserstrom holding a baby.
And like one of those commercials featuring Mayhem, I veered sharply – and just missed hitting a fire hydrant. Obviously, I knew that I was appearing in the newspaper. Being selected for the cover, though, was very much a surprise.
After my heart rate returned to an acceptable level, I did my civic duty – blowing through a bunch of quarters. Cover models like me need the newspapers for our portfolios.
I don’t know if I helped or hurt RedEye sales that day. But on my way to bringing Michelle the paper, I fondly recall being stopped at the hospital reception desk with a “Hey, didn’t I just see you on the cover of the newspaper?”