I was a diehard Cubs fan as a six-year-old, and I grew up a little over six miles from Wrigley Field.
I spent 25 years in the Cubs’ front office – and easily attended over 3,000 Cubs games.
I was with the Cubs for postseason appearances in five different seasons – making me a rarity in modern annals.
And my most “Kid in a Candy Store” moment in baseball, of course, took place at … U.S. Cellular Field.
Yep, you read that right. U.S. Cellular Field, home of the dreaded Pale Hose.
That “Kid in a Candy Store” event took place July 15, 2003, as part of the first All-Star Game that “counted” – as it was the first time the Midsummer Classic awarded home-field advantage to the winning league. On that blessed night, I spent the All-Star Game sitting in the first-base dugout.
The backstory: During the crown jewel events (All-Star Game, playoffs, World Series), Major League Baseball’s media relations personnel solicited assistance from club staffers. I had regularly volunteered to assist during the National League Championship Series, but I had never been asked to help during the All-Star Game.
In 2003, with the game in Chicago, I volunteered – and was scheduled to help out. But baseball life as a media relations assistant got in the way.
The day before the game, I never was able to get away from Wrigley Field. The Cubs were close to consummating a trade for an outfielder, and I was stuck at my desk – waiting for the green light that the deal took place. It was a vigil I had been through before; you wait hour after hour for a trade to take place, but at the last minute – nothing.
The non-trade worked out OK. Two weeks later, Jim Hendry was able to trade for an outfielder (Kenny Lofton) and a third baseman (Aramis Ramirez) – which turned out quite nicely.
Anyway … I arrived at U.S. Cellular Field on July 15 not knowing if MLB still had a use for me. Somehow, a volunteer assignment wasn’t filled the day before. Since there was so much lineup movement during the game, FOX wanted to know player changes as early as possible so the TV truck personnel could stay on top of things. I was actually asked if I wanted to sit in the dugout and be the person calling the changes up to the press box.
It was one of those offers that even I couldn’t refuse. Do you want to sit in the dugout for the game? Think about it … I literally was given a Costanza-like job to be the assistant to the bench coach.
So there I was, artfully dodging TV cameras as I shadowed Dusty Baker and Dick Pole around the National League dugout. When a call went to the bullpen to get a pitcher up, I was calling that up to the press box. When the typical All-Star mass substitutions were being puzzled together in the dugout, I was notifying the proper authorities.
In return for the actual seven minutes of work I did all night, I got to be in a dugout for an All-Star Game. When players bounced around in the dugout, there I was – an ear to listen when they wanted to talk. It was like a speed-networking event; when a player sat down next to me and started to talk, I had to be ready to converse like sitting in a dugout was a normal activity for me. Forget the fact that I had already spent many years in the game; I had to refrain from pinching myself when guys like Barry Bonds and Todd Helton and Richie Sexson just sat down next to me and start chatting. It was a neat feeling when former Cubs like Luis Gonzalez and Rondell White were introducing me around to others. And it felt normal when Kerry Wood and Mark Prior were harassing me.
And it seemed so Cubs-like in the bottom of the 8th inning when Eric Gagne, who at that point in time was the preeminent National League closer, gave up a 2-out, 2-run homer to Hank Blalock to give the American League the 7-6 victory.
The 2003 season turned out to be my last year in the media relations office – culminating in being five outs away from not having home-field advantage in the World Series. I never got a chance to be at a Fall Classic game.
Looking back, watching the All-Star Game from the dugout became my personal World Series.