I knew I would be toasting Harry Caray at 5:30 PM (AZ time) yesterday as part of the 18th Annual Worldwide Toast to Harry Caray. What I didn’t realize ahead of time is that I would be doing it with Peter and Britt from Sweden. Peter is a huge Cubs fan, and his longtime girlfriend Britt was along for the ride. Peter is not an American living in Sweden, he’s a born and raised Swede, which makes his Cubs fandom all the more extraordinary. More about that later.
It’s been an interesting and unique start to spring training with Manager Joe Maddon working on building team chemistry and camaraderie as much as other fundamental baseball skills. Recently at Sloan Park we’ve seen dancing Cubs (actual players, not animals), dancing clowns, Maddon decked out in 1970’s tie-dyed hippy garb and driving an old-school Scooby-Doo type of van, relay throwing races, and a team golf outing. During batting practice speakers blast music throughout the Sloan complex…and seeing Kyle Schwarber play the air-guitar-bat to Guns N’ Roses Welcome To The Jungle seems normal. We are, however, about to get a little more serious this week when Cactus League games begin. The Cubs open tomorrow at Maryvale against Milwaukee, and then the spring home opener at Sloan Park on Friday against the Angels.
Yesterday morning started as usual for me this time of year. I was at Sloan filming and taking photos of the Cubs and, as practice was winding down, I noticed three guys in deep conversation. The three happen to be a Who’s Who of the Cubs blogosphere. If you are a die-hard Cubs fan, their names are probably familiar to you–John Arguello of CubsDen, Neil Finnell of Chicago Cubs Online, and Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue. I’ve gotten to know each founder personally over the years since fan websites and blogs have become popular. Which brings me to the point–they were all three physically here in Mesa giving first hand accounts of what they see at Sloan Park.
Times have certainly changed in the coverage of the Cubs in the last dozen years or so with the voracious internet influx and various types of social media. I think it’s a good thing as it gives fans differing viewpoints and options to follow the team. The most important part of this phenomenon is that, like me, all three of these guys started their website/blogs because they loved the Chicago Cubs! They don’t do it because it’s their job to write about the team, they do it for the love of the Cubs and the game. The whole fan website/blog world has also brought Cubs fans together. Which brings me back to Peter and Britt from Sweden. The blogosphere is directly responsible for me toasting Harry Caray with Peter and Britt last night. Peter contacted me through my Boys of Spring website years ago and we’ve kept in contact ever since. And this spring, Peter and Britt finally made the spring training journey to Arizona.
The natural question to ask Peter from Sweden was…how did you become a Cubs fan? The natural answer…he said he watched “About Last Night” the 1986 film starring Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, and Jim Belushi. Peter readily admitted it’s no great movie, but there is a scene where two of the stars go to watch a Cubs game from a rooftop across the street. Peter was taken by the beauty of Wrigley Field and Chicago and started his quest to become a Cubs fan at that moment. He’s since been to many games at Wrigley and watches all the games online in Sweden. After an extensive conversation, I can assure you, Peter is no fair-weather fan. He knows baseball. He’s also had Cubs tattoos emblazoned on his right arm…and a Harry Caray tat on his left shoulder. Dedication, my friends, dedication!
So, last night we toasted to Harry Caray with Peter and Britt here in Mesa and with all those in Chicago and all over the world. Harry would have been 102 years old yesterday, and it seems strange to me that Harry has been gone for 18 years now. For thirteen springs I was lucky enough to sit in the seat right next to Harry at Old Hohokam Park. I calculated that I likely passed my public address mic to Harry about 100 times to sing the 7th inning stretch. Back then, Harry was at most spring games, even when he wasn’t announcing. He enjoyed sitting in the stands drinking a beer and watching a game, but he always came up to the press box to sing Take Me Out To The Ball Game.
As some of you know, I have that microphone from Old Hohokam that Harry sang on. Recently I was lucky enough to have it autographed by Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. I told Ryno that it was the mic I first announced his name on in the spring of 1984. He seemed more than a little surprised when I told him that I still do the PA announcing for the Cubs spring training games. Ryno said, he’d never put his autograph on a mic before and asked if I wanted him to write 1984 on it. I did…and he did. I wish I would have been smart enough to get Harry’s autograph on the mic. However, I’m sure Harry would be pleased that Ryno’s signature adorns it…just as I’m sure Harry is up there smiling at what kind of team the Cubs have put together this year. And when the Cubs soon win it all, I’ll picture Harry belting out a stellar fantastic version of Take Me Out To The Ball Game. How about them Cubbies!!