I asked my dad if we could buy a couple of chewing tobacco pouches for Hank Sauer. At first he resisted, saying that we shouldn’t be feeding a man’s bad habits. Eventually he caved in to my request, and we picked up two pouches of Red Devil at the convenience store on Addison across the street from the ballpark.
In the summer of 1953, Hank Sauer was still the big slugger on the Cubs. Ernie Banks didn’t come up until September of that year. Sauer, a tall, wad-chewing gawky guy, played left field and it had become customary to toss pouches of chewing tobacco out to him from the bleachers when he returned to his position after hitting a home run in the preceding inning.
My dad had Fridays off that summer from his job at the post office. Since Wrigley Field didn’t have lights then, the Cubs played only day games at home. Each Friday the Cubs were in town, he took me to the ballgame. We traveled first on the red Roosevelt Road streetcar from our Lawndale two-flat, heading downtown to catch the subway/el train that would take us north to Addison Street and Wrigley Field.
As a seven-year boy, there was nothing better to spend the entire day with my dad. He was extremely knowledgeable about baseball history and experienced much of that history himself. He recalled seeing Ruth and Gehrig play at the first All-Star Game at Comiskey Park in 1933. He also witnessed the verbal abuse hurled at Jackie Robinson by both fans and Cub players in a game at Wrigley Field in 1948. Sadly, it reminded him of similar abuse that he experienced at being one of the first Jewish workers at the Main Post Office in the late 1930s.
The bleacher gates at Wrigley opened about two hours before the game started at about 1:30. But we got in line at 10:30 in the morning, because my dad wanted a bleacher bench in the back row that had a concrete slab to lean his bad back against.
We always enjoyed watching both teams take batting practice sitting on our bench high above the beautiful ivy-covered walls. I even caught a ball hit into the bleachers with my mitt on the fly one game that summer. The Cubs were terrible that year and fans had low expectations of the team. It seemed that shortstop Roy Smalley made at least one error in every game that I saw.
I kept score of each play on my scorecard. My dad taught me all the symbols to place on the card. Before the game I penciled in the lineup that was announced over the public address system by an elderly man named Pat Piper, who sat the entire game on a stool in front of a box seat below the ball net. He always seemed to be walking up to the home plate umpire and replenishing him with baseballs.
After each game, we walked up to Irving Park Road where my dad would get a treatment for his back from a chiropractor. I waited for him patiently, reviewing the marks that I made on the scorecard. When he was finished, we went for dinner at the restaurant by the Irving Park el stop before heading back home, chatting on the train and streetcar for an hour about all the things that we observed together in the bleachers that wonderful day.