Updated: Oct 4, 2019
It was 1989 and my first Cubs game. In fact, it was my first trip to Candlestick Park--my uncle had taken me on dozens of adventures to the Oakland Coliseum (no local I know calls it anything but that to this day) to sit down the right field line and watch the A's. Some of my earliest baseball memories are of watching Dave Kingman blast tape measure shots into the bleachers, back before they starting blocking off most of the seats in the outfield, eating Coliseum dogs and those chocolate malts that come with a wooden "spoon" and cheering for the scrappy Carney Lansford. I never thought much about their rivals across the Bay until my newly beloved Cubs were coming for a visit and I needed to see them play.
At the time, my parents owned a drywall business and often did work for one of the prominent builders in our area. One of the owners was a Giants season ticket holder and got wind of my newfound love for the Cubs and NL baseball in general. He liked my family and generously offered his tickets to my mom and me for one of the games during the Cubs series. I had already infected my mom with my Cubs love and she was in the process of defecting with me from the A's fan base, so she gratefully accepted the tickets and we were set.
On that overcast July afternoon, we found ourselves sitting twelve rows back from the Cubs bullpen. We had no idea the seats were on the visitors' side, and we were beside ourselves as we watched the players trot back and forth from the outfield to the dugout. "Mom! There's Ryno!" I remember elbowing her in the ribs and yelling at one point. Like a lot of teenage girls in the Cubs fold, I was also fostering a scorching crush on Mark Grace, so I was on the lookout for my golden-haired hero and tried to catch a glimpse of him whenever I could, mostly watching him take grounders on the other side of the diamond. Despite having been to so many games in the past, this one just felt different. The Cubs were my team, and I felt like I was home.
Then I saw him out of the corner of my eye, sashaying toward the dugout like the rock star he was. You could see the black frames of his glasses and his white hair contrasting with the pumpkin orange seats surrounding the ballpark, and I let out a little squeal as I grabbed my mom's hand and dragged her down by the wall. Somehow, the great Harry Caray spotted us--I suppose the spectacle of a teenage girl and her mother decked out in Cubs gear at a Giants game was a more novel occurrence in those days than it would be now. Magically, he changed course and headed straight for us, looked us in the eyes and, with a twinkle and a grin, bellowed, "Hello ladies! How ya doin'?"
I was speechless for a second. Harry was talking to me. THE Harry Caray. Finally I mustered up the breath to respond and muttered something about being OK, and it being my first Cubs game. There was small talk--he asked us where we were from, how we became fans, how long we had loved his team--and then I asked him to sign the only thing I had available.
Holy cow is right! Some things are just priceless...
It was maybe five minutes of Harry's time that day, but he made a teenage girl's summer and gave her a memory she'd keep forever. Looking back on it now, I barely remember the game--it's practically a footnote to the moment I got to chat with our beloved Harry. We even spoke to a little-known and not yet highly regarded rookie pitcher a few minutes later named Greg Maddux who started the game that day, but Harry? Harry was the star. If only he could've been here for the 2016 Cubs season, but I like to think he was sitting somewhere munching on a green apple, grinning that big grin and wiping away tears with the rest of us.
Um. The game was pretty great, tho. (Courtesy of Baseball Almanac.)