AT THE OLD BALLGAME – RICH PASCHALL

Harold takes a road trip, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


Friday was “Fun Day,” or at least that is the way Harold saw it.  It was a day given over to sports.  Harold read all the sports he could in the morning paper.  Watched some on television.  He even made time for high school or college games in the area.  In the late spring and early summer, there was minor league baseball to be seen.  Every Friday could have an appropriate sports theme.

On one particularly nice Friday in the baseball season, Harold decided to drive all the way to St. Petersburg to catch a major league baseball game.  It’s not that the Tampa Bay Rays, who did not play in Tampa, were an exciting team, but the visiting team was making a rare appearance.  Actually, it was Harold’s favorite Midwest team.  The Chicago Cubs and the Rays were having an interleague game and Harold thought that was just about the only reason to drive over an hour to get to a baseball game.

The details of this road trip were laid out in Harold’s computer-like mind the night before.  He knew exactly what to take, when to leave and how long to stay at the park.  It would be a treat to see the park, as Harold had absolutely no reason to make the trip before this.  It would be years before the Cubs would come that way again, so they certainly had to be on Harold’s schedule as well as the Rays’.

St. Petersburg, Florida

St. Petersburg, Florida

Neither team was very good that year.  In fact the Cubs were in last place and the Rays were not in the running for anything.  The Chicago organization called it a “rebuilding” year, but most years were rebuilding years for the Cubs. It had been that way since 1908.  Still, Harold had an inexplicable affection for the team, so he decided to take the trip. When the appointed hour came, according to his expert calculations, he was off.

He arrived at the parking facility more or less on time and spied the ticket office right away.  There were not a lot of cars as the team needed a winning season to fill the lot, so Harold got a spot close to the ticket windows.  He put up the sun shield in the front window and then added another for the back. It didn’t matter. The car would be hot when he returned, sun shield or not.  With plenty of time before game time, Harold took a leisurely stroll to purchase his tickets.  He only had to wait behind one person when he heard someone call out.

“Harold?  Harold, is that you?”  It was George, a former colleague from work and his wife Martha.  Whenever he heard their names together it reminded him of a movie or show, but he could not remember which one.

George, like many Cub fans, would travel almost anywhere to see the boys in blue play.  Older Cub fans with time on their hands frequently made vacation plans to include a Cubs’ road game.

“Hello, George, Martha,” Harold said, not at all certain he was glad to see them.  “What brings you down here this time of year?  People normally visit in the winter.”  At that, it was Harold’s turn at the ticket window.

Ballgame seating

Ballgame seating

“I need just one ticket,” Harold declared.  “I don’t want one of those 281 dollar tickets.  I think a 66 dollar ticket is quite enough.”  Actually Harold thought that was too much but he figured it would be a rare treat.  When he collected his ticket, Harold turned around and said to the couple, “Well, it was nice to see you again.”

But when George got to the window, he had other ideas.  He said to the person selling tickets, “Can you get us two tickets right next to that last guy?”

“Sure,” she replied and sold him the next two seats.  Harold would be on the aisle and the couple from the north would be right next to him.

“Hey Harold, wait up,” George shouted and the couple hurried along to catch up with the master planner.  The problem is, George and Martha were not in the plan.  They all went into the park together and Harold and George had to stand around for fifteen minutes while Martha went to the women’s washroom.

When they got to their seats, the National Anthem was being played.  George decided to sit next to Harold for half the game in order to tell him everything that happened since Harold had retired.  Martha took the second half to update George on local gossip, most of it having to do with people Harold could not remember — or possibly never knew.

Harold’s seat on the aisle did not prove to be so ideal, since vendors and fans frequently went by, obstructing his view.  Beer vendors were particularly annoying because when they stopped in front of Harold, they were usually there for too long.

The game moved along slowly. The Cubs fell behind early due to errors and poor relief pitching.  It did not look major league.  At precisely three hours after the start of the game,  the alarm on Harold’s watch went off. He announced to the now somewhat tipsy couple, it was time to go.

“Go?” George shouted in horror.  “It is only the bottom of the eighth.  The Cubs could have a rally.  See, I have my rally cap.”  At that George took off his cap, turned it inside out, and put it back on his head.

“But I have somewhere to go … and the game has run long.”

Martha protested, “You’re retired.  Where do you have to go?  Sit down and watch the Cubs come back.”  The couple put up such a fuss that Harold sat back down just to put an end to the scene.  Rays fans around them were shouting at them to sit down.  It was embarrassing to the usually quiet Midwesterner. The Cubs went three up, three down in the ninth, as might be expected from such a team.  The threesome filed out with all the others.  When Harold got to his hot car, the traffic was building. The trip through the lot and onto the roadway was slow and painful to Harold.  The Cubs had played as expected, but the day had not gone as planned by Harold, master planner of retirement time.

RELATED:  The “Harold stories” in order: “Soup and Sandwich,” “The Case With The Missing Egg,” “Come Monday, It Will Be Alright,” “A Tuesday Mystery,” “A Tuesday Fantasy With Harold,” “A Wild West Wednesday,” “A Library Lesson,” “Harold and the Tiny Wizard  Click on any title to jump to that story.

BECAUSE I CAN – RICH PASCHALL

Wayne Messmer Sings, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Cubs Win

If you are from the Chicagoland area, or follow the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, you may know his name and his face.  You certainly know his voice.  As far as we are concerned here, he is the best National Anthem singer in the country.  There is no fooling around when Wayne sings.  He delivers the anthem as it was written.  There are no variations to the melody or guitar solos.  He delivers it each time in a rich baritone voice, full of passion and conviction. We consider it a privilege to follow along.  There will be no runs for beer or hot dogs when Wayne grabs the mic and takes to the field.

Wayne Messmer is a multi-talented guy.  His Facebook page introduces him as “Certified Speaking Professional, Singer, Storyteller, Live Entertainer. Chicago guy!”  In addition to singing for the Cubs, Wayne is Executive Vice President and national anthem singer for the AHL hockey team, Chicago Wolves.  He has a Sunday night Jazz and Blues radio program.  He gives live performances around the area.  While doing local theater many years ago he met his wife Kathleen, also a talented singer. They have performed together over the years at stadiums and clubs.

In 1991 Wayne’s dynamic performance of the Anthem at the NHL All-Star game in Chicago was carried around the nation and across Armed Forces networks.  It is still talked about for reasons that will be obvious here.  In the final year at the old Chicago Stadium, 1994, Wayne Messmer, age 43, was a beloved local celebrity.  It all nearly came to an end following a Blackhawk’s home game in April of that year.

Late at night following the game, Wayne left a restaurant and made it to his car in the old Stadium neighborhood.  When he got in his car there was a banging on the window.  Then a shot was fired at point-blank range.  It went through the driver side window, then through Wayne’s throat and lodged in muscle tissue.  Wayne drove off and back to the restaurant where he was found and taken to a local hospital.  Reportedly, one of Kathleen’s first concerns when she reached the hospital was whether Wayne would be able to speak and sing.

A few days later at the Chicago Stadium no substitute would do for the anthems at a Blackhawk’s playoff game.  Wayne appeared on tape.  There was no mistaking the sentiment of the crowd.  It would be the final anthem in that building.

It was a 15-year-old boy who shot Wayne in the failed robbery attempt.  The boy had a 9-mm hand gun.  He was with a 16-year-old accomplice.  It was a tip from another teen that led the police to the suspect.  Once caught, the shooter confessed to the crime.  Messmer underwent a 10 hour operation and was in serious condition after the shooting.  Chicago Wolves spokesperson, Susan Prather, said doctors did not want to speculate on the outcome. “They have no way of telling how this will affect his voice.”  The Messmers were cautioned that it might be a year and a half before they would know how his voice would sound.

The road to recovery was filled with doubt.  Would Wayne sing again? Would he be able to even speak well?  It is impossible to imagine what goes through the mind of someone who makes his living with his voice.  He was determined to succeed.  A quick return would take a miracle.  Wayne tells the story in this brief interview:

A miracle and some luck were on Wayne’s side as he returned to his passion.  He sang at a Blackhawks game six months after he was shot.  He has now sung for 33 consecutive Chicago Cubs home openers.  Sometimes he will take harmony as his wife sings the melody for the anthem, but mostly it is Wayne at the microphone at Wrigley Field when the organ starts to play.

Although I was never in a production with Wayne, we both did shows at Theater on the Lake and I have seen Wayne perform.  We have a number of mutual friends, not just on Facebook, as a result of community theater.  I have met Wayne a few times and can say he is as nice as he seems.  It is always a delight when a good person is a success.

If you asked Wayne now why he continues to sing, he will say “because I can.”  For this veteran performer and Chicago guy with a miracle comeback on his résumé, nothing could be greater than to sing the national anthem at a World Series for the Chicago Cubs.  Yes, he has that miracle on his résumé too.

FLY THE W

A Chicago Tradition, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


If you watched the National League baseball playoff games, or the World Series, you may have noticed many Chicago Cubs fans with white flags.  No, they were not trying to signal surrender.  The flags have a large blue “W” in the center, signifying a Win for our local heroes.  With a little clever marketing and the help of social media, #FlytheW  began to appear everywhere.  Cubs fans were buying up these flags for their houses, their cars and to take to the ballpark.  While it was only a minor thing in recent years, it has exploded into a giant marketing gimmick this year.

By JayCoop - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

By JayCoop – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

It is not something new to the guys who run the old mechanical scoreboard in center field.  Yes, the big metal board is still out there and an iconic part of the ballpark.  No modern digital board can replace it, although we have added those during the recent outfield renovation.

Soon after the old scoreboard was finished in 1937, the team adopted the practice of flying a flag after the game to signal whether the team won or not.  A blue flag with a white “L” would signify a loss.  There were important reasons for these flags.

Before the era of hand held devices with sports apps, before even the transistor radio, a main way for fans to learn the outcome of the game, was to look up at the scoreboard.  If you did not catch the game on the radio or find the score in the afternoon papers, the Daily News or the Chicago American, you could see the result flying from above Wrigley Field.  Before television, and before the internet, you might want to know what color flag was raised after the game of the day (no night games for us until 1988).

I am not sure exactly when I was lucky enough to own a transistor radio, but before that it could be hard for us to run down the result of the game.  We lived close enough to the park to ride our bikes to the field to see the flags.  People going home on the Howard-Englewood “L” train (now the Red Line) could look west from the Addison stop to see if the team had a victory.  It was important way to spread the news to the North Siders.Cubs L flag

For most years of my young life we were more likely to find the “L” flying over the park.  Whether we were in the park or just hanging around outside, it was a rare day when we saw the white flag go up.  With every blue flag came the belief that tomorrow, or at least next year, we would begin to see the “W” more often.

Via Ron Cogswell

Via Ron Cogswell

If the need to signal the neighborhood with the outcome of the game has long passed, the tradition of flying the flag remains.  When the game is over, all the little pennants with the National League team names on them are taken down and the “L” or the “W” rises.  On double header days, you might find both flying at the end of the games.  Double headers, of course, are now a rare occasion.

This year we have been treated to many Wins in the “Friendly Confines,” as former MVP Ernie Banks used to call the park.  Local flag makers had trouble keeping up with the surprising demand for W flags big and small.  We have taken a long standing practice at the park and turned it a national phenomenon for our national pastime.

Cubs Win

Cubs Win, Cubs Win, Cubs Win.  Holy Cow!

Longtime Chicago broadcaster Harry Caray (11 years with the White Sox, 16 years with the Cubs), hoped to see that “W” over a World Series.  He did not live to see it, but he promised us it would happen.  He died at the age of 83 or around that (another story) and saw many flags fly over the park, but not the most important one.  A statue of Caray is now outside the park.

Some years, he was much more popular than the “loveable losers” the Cubs had on the field.  It seemed unfair he missed out, so a long time sponsor arranged for the flag and Harry to make to Cleveland for the final call.  You can fly the “W” now, Harry.  We finally made it.

JOY IN WRIGLEYVILLE – RICH PASCHALL

Mudville, too – Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day;
the score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
a sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

mighty-casey-us-stamp

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
they thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that –
they’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

Credit: Wikimedia commons

Credit: Wikimedia commons

Perhaps you are familiar with the famous baseball poem by Ernest Thayer. It was first published in 1888.  For Chicago Cubs fans it seemed almost that long since their last World Series Championship.  The Cubs won in 1907 and 1908.  Fans had been waiting ever since for the North Siders to win again.


But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
and the former was a lulu and the latter was a fake,
so upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
for there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.


No matter how good the team or even how big a lead the Cubs may have had during a regular season, they always seemed to strike out when they were needed the most.  I recalled vividly the crushed hopes of Cub fans in 1969 when the Cubs had such a big lead on September 2, no one thought they could possibly miss.  Then they lost 17 of 25 games and the hated New York Mets went on a winning streak to steal away the pennant.  Like this year’s Cubs’ team, the 1969 players just seemed too good to lose.


But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
and Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
and when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
there was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
it rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
it knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
for Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.


The last time the Cubs made it to the World Series was 1945.  Their team, just as all the others in major league baseball, had many replacement players.  Most of the young and able-bodied men of the country were fighting in World War II.  It was at game 4 in Wrigley Field that the now infamous “curse” was placed on the team by tavern owner Billy Sianis.  It seems Billy bought two box seat tickets to the game, one for himself and one for his goat.  The goat was let in, but after a rain fell on the crowd, the goat did not smell too good.  Cubs owner and chewing gum magnate, P K Wrigley, had Sianis and his goat removed from Wrigley Field.  On the way out, Sianis put a curse on the team which became a legendary story all around town.


There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
there was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
no stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.


As the years wore on and some very good teams failed to bring any glory to town, local fans began to blame the Cub’s bad luck on Billy Goat.  Over the years, the Cubs even let the Sianis family bring a goat to Wrigley Field to help lift the curse, but it never worked.  The Cubs found ways to lose.


And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
and Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped–
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
and it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.


The Cubs held a record of futility no other team could claim.  When they last won the World Series, they were not even in Wrigley Field yet.  The ballpark opened in 1914.  Pictures of Chicago in 1908 show horse drawn carts on the streets.  Now we go to the games by bus and by “L” train.  Those who live on the north side of Chicago know not to drive to the park.

1908 Giants vs. Cubs

1908 Giants vs. Cubs


With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
he stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
he signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
but Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said: “Strike two.”

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
but one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
and they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.


The second oldest baseball park in existence (Marilyn and Garry will tell you which one is older) had never been home to a World Series champion.  With a team that looked better than the Hall of Fame rich 1969 edition, this seemed to be the year the Cubs would bring home the trophy.

With the Cubs down 3 games to one in the Series, it looked bad, but our heroes battled back.  Then in the 9th inning of game 7, the team lost its lead and the rains came. But that story did not end there. 

If you don’t know the end of the poem, you can click the link that follows. Our story ended differently, this time.  I am sure you heard about it. 

Yes, there is joy in Wrigleyville. Mighty Casey hit that ball and knocked it right out of the park.


Read the entire poem here: Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888, Ernest Thayer, The Daily Examiner, June 3, 1888. Or, here, where it is dedicated to Garry, a lifelong fan of America’s Pastime: FOR GARRY ON THE OCCASION OF HIS BIRTHDAY … CASEY AT THE BAT.

THE EIGHTH GAME – THE 2016 WORLD SERIES ON A PARALLEL EARTH

FOR FANS OF AMERICA’S PASTIME:

It’s the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series. The pitchers on both teams are done in. No rest for the weary because the game is tied. Exactly as the inning ends, it starts to rain. Heavy downpour. Buckets and sheets of rain.

world-series-2016The deciders call a rain delay — and everyone holds their breath.

I’m actually watching this in real time as two underdog teams play one of the best games I’ve ever seen, in or out of the World Series. Everything has happened, pretty much.

The rain delay is supposed to be ended in 8 minutes and I have every confidence this is exactly what will happen. It’s the Cubs and Cleveland in the ultimate duel to the death. They said John Lester was crying coming out of the dugout as the rain delay was ending.


But in another reality — a parallel universe the same as ours, but — not exactly. Because in that universe, the rain doesn’t end. They can’t restart the game, thus leaving it tied at 6-6 … and neither team has it in them to play another game. Maybe they can play some more the following day. Call it extra inning or innings following a 24-hour rain delay. How does that work out?

And what if, in yet another dimension, a tornado struck. Destroyed the stadium. Both teams barely escape with their lives. They can’t restart the game … so … they put it into the books as a tie. With an asterisk. They give two sets of World Series rings and each team gets a trophy. There’s a first time for everything, right?

Somewhere else, a darker ending. The powers-that-be deny both teams a win and instead, schedule a runoff game as soon as they can. Both teams blame dark curses and malign fate.

What do you think happens in that alternate Earth. Which team — either, neither or both — wins the World Series?

cubs-win

This is earth. Our earth. On this world and in this dimension, the Cubs have won the World Series for the first time after a 108-year drought.

Congratulations Chicago! As Red Sox fans, we know how it feels … and isn’t it fine?

LET’S PLAY TWO: REMEMBERING ERNIE BANKS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was “off the grid” the last couple of days fighting a nasty cold that won’t say uncle. So I missed the news. Very sad news if you’re a baseball fan from the days when the grass was really green and there were only 16 teams in the Major Leagues.

Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub aka Mr. Baseball, the REAL Mr. Baseball, passed away.

banks-vintage

Banks was 83. To his final days, he was an ambassador for baseball wherever he went. “Let’s play two,” was Ernie’s famous life long catch phrase. He meant it. He played baseball when a doubleheader was a normal, regularly scheduled event in “the bigs.”

Ernie Banks wore uniform number 14. He was the face of the Chicago Cubs for 19 years. But he was that rare star who was appreciated WHEREVER he played. Banks was a lanky, power hitting shortstop decades before Cal Ripken was credited for redefining that position. As an avid Brooklyn Dodgers’ fan, I appreciated the Cubs’ “gold-dust twins”. Ernie Banks at shortstop and Gene Baker at second base.

Most eyes were on Jackie Robinson in the early 50’s as baseball continued to grapple with integration. Quietly, with minimal fanfare, Ernie Banks was also leading the way while enduring racial epithets in many cities. He smiled while Jackie often raged. Some in the Civil Rights movement suggested Banks was an “Uncle Tom” because he wasn’t more outspoken. But there was nothing timid about Mr. Banks.

“I let my bat, glove and resolve do the talking,” Ernie Banks told me in a 1962 interview. We talked in the visitor’s dugout of the old Polo Grounds, the initial home of the fledgling New York Mets baseball team. Banks’ eyes scanned the ancient ball park, remembering his early days along with that of Robinson, young Willie Mays and others who broke baseball’s color line.

Ernie Banks told me the racial strife and discord took a back seat to his love for baseball and the opportunity to play in the major leagues. He smiled when reminded of the joke that he loved baseball so much that he would play for food and board. The smile rendered that joke obsolete for me.

Ernie Banks compiled 512 home runs in an era when pitchers were dominant. He was an 11 time all-star, inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility and presented with the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2013.

Banks Ernie Plaque 142_NBL_0I still remember Banks’ sparkling eyes as we sat in the Polo Grounds dugout and chatted about baseball and all the legends who’d played there for generations. I recall smiling to myself, thinking I was sitting next to a legend.

It’s nice to remember Mr. Baseball in this off-season when most of the chatter is about mega salaries and long-term contracts. It’s also appropriate as the Chicago Cubs seem to be on the verge of being relevant again. Cubbies — really ALL baseball fans — should celebrate the legacy of Ernie Banks. He shined during many frustrating seasons at Wrigley Field.

Let’s play two!

Ernie-Banks-medal-Obama

AT THE OLD BALLGAME – RICH PASCHALL

Harold takes a road trip, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Friday was “Fun Day,” or at least that is the way Harold saw it.  It was a day given over to sports.  Harold read all the sports he could in the morning paper.  Watched some on television.  He even made time for high school or college games in the area.  In the late spring and early summer, there was minor league baseball to be seen.  Every Friday could have an appropriate sports theme.

On one particularly nice Friday in the baseball season, Harold decided to drive all the way to St. Petersburg to catch a major league baseball game.  It’s not that the Tampa Bay Rays, who did not play in Tampa, were an exciting team, but the visiting team was making a rare appearance.  Actually, it was Harold’s favorite Midwest team.  The Chicago Cubs and the Rays were having an interleague game and Harold thought that was just about the only reason to drive over an hour to get to a baseball game.

The details of this road trip were laid out in Harold’s computer-like mind the night before.  He knew exactly what to take, when to leave and how long to stay at the park.  It would be a treat to see the park, as Harold had absolutely no reason to make the trip before this.  It would be years before the Cubs would come that way again, so they certainly had to be on Harold’s schedule as well as the Rays’.

St. Petersburg, Florida

St. Petersburg, Florida

Neither team was very good.  In fact the Cubs were in last place and the Rays were not in the running for anything.  The Chicago organization called it a “rebuilding” year, but most years were rebuilding years for the Cubs.

It had been that way since 1908.  Still, Harold had an unexplainable affection for the team so he decided to take the trip. When the appointed hour came, according to his expert calculations, he was off.

He arrived at the parking facility more or less on time and spied the ticket office right away.  There were not a lot of cars as the team needed a winning season to fill the lot, so Harold got a spot close to the ticket windows.  He put up the sunshield in the front window and then added another for the back.

It didn’t matter. The car would be hot when he returned, sunshield or not.  With plenty of time before game time, Harold took a leisurely stroll to purchase his tickets.  He only had to wait behind one person when he heard someone call out.

“Harold?  Harold, is that you?”  It was George, a former colleague from work and his wife Martha.  Whenever he heard their names together it reminded his of a movie or show, but he could not remember which one.

It was not important to him.  George, like many Cub fans, would travel almost anywhere to see the boys in blue play.  Older Cub fans with time on their hands frequently made vacation plans to include a Cubs’ road game.

“Hello, George, Martha,” Harold said, not at all certain he was glad to see them.  “What brings you down here this time of year?  People normally visit in the winter.”  At that, it was Harold’s turn at the ticket window.

Ballgame seating

Ballgame seating

“I need just one ticket,” Harold declared.  “I don’t want one of those 281 dollar tickets.  I think a 66 dollar ticket is quite enough.”  Actually Harold thought that was too much but he figured it would be a rare treat.  When he collected his ticket, Harold turned around and said to the couple, “Well, it was nice to see you again.”

But when George got to the window, he had other ideas.  He said to the person selling tickets, “Can you get us two tickets right next to that last guy?”

“Sure,” she replied and sold him the next two seats.  Harold would be on the aisle and the couple from the north would be right next to him.

“Hey Harold, wait up,” George shouted and the couple hurried along to catch up with the master planner.  The problem is, George and Martha were not in the plan.  They all went into the park together and Harold and George had to stand around for fifteen minutes while Martha went to the women’s washroom.

When they got to their seats, the National Anthem was being played.  George decided to sit next to Harold for half the game in order to tell him everything that happened since Harold had retired.  Martha took the second half to update George on local gossip, most of it having to do with people Harold could not remember — or possibly never knew.

Harold’s seat on the aisle did not prove to be so ideal, since vendors and fans frequently went by, obstructing his view.  Beer vendors were particularly annoying because when they stopped in front of Harold, they were usually there for too long.

The game moved along slowly. The Cubs fell behind early due to errors and poor relief pitching.  It did not look major league.  At precisely three hours after the start of the game,  the alarm on Harold’s watch went off. He announced to the now somewhat tipsy couple, it was time to go.

“Go?” George shouted in horror.  “It is only the bottom of the eighth.  The Cubs could have a rally.  See, I have my rally cap.”  At that George took off his cap, turned it inside out, and put it back on his head.

“But I have somewhere to go … and the game has run long.”

Martha protested, “You’re retired.  Where do you have to go?  Sit down and watch the Cubs come back.”  The couple put up such a fuss that Harold sat back down just to put an end to the scene.  Rays fans around them were shouting at them to sit down.  It was embarrassing to the usually quiet Midwesterner.

The Cubs went three up, three down in the ninth, as might be expected from such a team.  The threesome filed out with all the others.  When Harold got to his hot car, the traffic was building. The trip through the lot and onto the roadway was slow and painful to Harold.  The Cubs had played as expected, but the day had not gone as Harold had planned it. Harold, master planner of retirement time, had been defeated again.