The first time I ever saw a satellite dish up close was when I paid one of my regular visits to the home of my cousin’s grandparents on a sweltering hot summer’s day in Phoenix, Arizona, in the early 1980s.
I must’ve been eight or nine, and my cousin Mike and me had stopped in for lemonade after riding our bikes around the block for hours, dismounting only to collect oranges from trees and play a game of catch in one of the baseball diamonds of the nearby Madison middle school (this was a daily routine throughout the summer months.)
Frank was retired by this point, and the Chicago native loved nothing better than to relax in his living room whilst watching the Chicago Cubs play the latest in their 162-game season on Chicago’s WGN channel.
The dish carried WGN and that little piece of the northside all of the 1,700 plus miles into his air-conditioned home in the Valley of the Sun that he, and so many other Midwesterners, had made their home since the 1950s.
Phoenix was a new city by American standards, and one consequence of the city’s youthful status was that professional sporting teams were located elsewhere, save for the basketball team then playing at The Mad House on McDowell, the Phoenix Suns.
Baseball’s Diamondbacks would not be established and begin playing major league baseball in Phoenix until 1998, so fans of America’s National pastime supported teams from outside of the state. My family’s Chicago roots meant that I was a loyal supporter of the Cubs from birth, though most of my friends were fans of the successful and local (by US standards) Los Angeles Dodgers, then experiencing Fernandomania.
I’ve been thinking about those bygone days recently as I have eagerly watched the progress of the Cubs throughout the summer and deep into the unchartered territory of late autumn baseball.
In a few hours time, Game 7 of the 2016 World Series will begin in the north-eastern Ohio city of Cleveland, a city only recently coming to terms with sporting triumphs– thanks to one Lebron James- after enduring a title drought spanning all three major US sports going back generations.
The opposition for the home side Cleveland Indians will be my own beloved Chicago Cubs.
In American sports, the Cubs are a team with an unenviable reputation for sporting failure like no other. The famed outfit from the north side of Chicago has the longest title drought of any professional American sporting team by some distance, with the Cubbies last claiming the World Series title in 1908.
Their celebrated failure tag, coupled with a well earned reputation for valuing tradition, has meant that the Cubs have picked up many fans throughout the generations, as well as being a favourite among Hollywood script writers (see Ferris Beuller’s Day Off and Rookie of the Year.)
The iconic Wrigley Field ball park competes only with Fenway Park for the title of baseball’s most venerated ball park, with its ivy walls, old-style manual scoreboard, daily rendition of Take me out to the ballpark in the middle of the Seventh and history of being the last team to abandon day games for those under floodlights.
I used to catch quite a few games courtesy of Frank’s old satellite dish back in the 1980s, but technology has moved on. Nowadays, the MLB.com app brings live coverage of all 162 games to my phone and iPad, and with it countless days and nights of joy as the Cubs journeyed through their most successful season in living memory in 2016, culminating in tonight’s winner takes all encounter.
Following a sporting team can bring with it a wonderful sense of joy, anticipation and elation to counter the low times of failure, frustration and disappointment.
As in so many other aspects of life, sporting highs are only fully appreciated when the lows have been experienced.
When tomorrow comes, I’m hoping to be one happy, bleary-eyed Cubs fan.