Don't wake me up. I'm dreaming.
I dreamed I went to Wrigley Field on a beautiful, sunny afternoon to see the Cubs play ball. Nothing unusual about that in itself. I've been doing it for almost 50 years.
But never in October. Never for a league championship series game. Never for a 13-0 victory -- or anything like it -- in a game that meant near as much as this one. And never with a credential that would get me into the press box, the dugout or the clubhouse.
Those places were beyond imagining when I was a kid growing up in Chicago Heights, 40 miles south of the Friendly Confines.
Just getting to the games was a challenge and adventure in those days. You'd leave home early on the morning of a Sunday doubleheader, take the bus to the Illinois Central commuter station, take the hour-and-a-quarter ride downtown to Randolph Street, walk west and board the "El," and ride out to Addison Street. From the swaying elevated cars, you would look into the second-floor apartment kitchens and back porches, and down on the street traffic, wondering if there really were tracks and support girders under the train.
Then you would buy a grandstand seat, get a scorecard and settle in with your brown-bag sandwiches for five or six hours of baseball. I don't want to say it was a different era, but the big treat on the return trip was stopping at Wimpy's in the Loop for a hamburger and a milkshake that cost 24 cents.
Those were the teams of Stan Hack, Billy Jurges, Billy Herman and Phil Cavarretta. But my idol was Frank Demaree, the right fielder. In the sandlot games, I always got stuck in right field to hide my fielding deficiencies.
The Cubs were often winners in those days, so it made no great impression on me when they lost the World Series in 1945. The war had just ended, I was 16 that fall and I didn't even try to get a ticket for a game.
But you get a little smarter with old age. With the Cubs giving you one chance every 39 years, neither snow nor rain nor presidential campaign was going to keep me from this game.
It turned out that almost everyone else in the crowd of 36,282 felt the same way today. They came in wheelchairs. They came on crutches. They came from wherever they are living, and they did not count the cost or the inconvenience.
Elliott Hollub flew in this morning from Kansas City, Mo., where he has lived the last 20 years, because "I grew up in the right field bleachers" of Wrigley Field. Immediately after the game, he was flying back to Kansas City to see tonight's opener of the American League championship series. But for Hollub, there is no comparison between the two loyalties. "The Cubs have history," he said.
Hollub thought everybody here today "should be between 40 and 45. If you're over 45, you remember the last Series here. If you're under 40, you haven't suffered enough."
He saw his first Wrigley Field game in 1947, which made him a kid by my standards and by that of many others.
Lester Fischer, sitting in the next section over in the upper deck, will be 80 on Election Day. He came in from Elgin, Ill., as he has done since 1913, three years before the Cubs moved to Wrigley Field. Before then, the Cubs played in a long-demolished park down on Wood Street, he recalled, but the friendly family atmosphere was the same that makes Wrigley Field such a special place for so many.
Every day is family day here. Fischer was sitting with his 21-year-old grandson, Jeff Winick of Des Moines. Dick Peterson, 50, of Elkhart, Ind., was with his 21-year-old son Jim.
"I came to my first game here on Sept. 16, 1945," the father recalled. "We beat the Dodgers."
"I can remember the '69 season," said the son, who was all of 6 when the Cubs folded under the Mets' challenge in the Season of Bitter Memory. "I would listen to the broadcasts with my grandpa. I remember how bad he felt."
Phil Crane, 62, of Winnetka, Ill., was here with his 10-year-old grandson, David Wigoda, who was skipping school for an experience that will last him a lifetime.
"This is a miracle," grandfather Crane declared. That was right at the beginning of the game, when Ernie Banks, whose No. 14 flew on the pennant atop the left field foul pole, stood on the mound to make the ceremonial first pitch.
It was before Bob Dernier hit the second pitch from San Diego's Eric Show into the left field bleachers for the only run the Cubs would need, but blissfully, not the only one they would score.
It was before Rick Sutcliffe shut the powerful Padres down on two hits for seven innings, throwing pitches of such exquisite variety that the college umpire was as baffled as the hitters.
It was before Gary Matthews hit his two home runs, and Sutcliffe hit his towering blast over the right field wall.
It was before three Padres gathered in right field to watch Ryne Sandberg's fly ball drop to the beautiful natural green grass, keeping alive a three-run third inning. It was before Keith Moreland, playing my old position in right field for the same reason that I was hidden there, made a marvelous diving, rolling catch on Carmelo Martinez's sinking liner to strand three disbelieving Padres on base and end their fourth-inning comeback.
"That ended the game," Sutcliffe said later. But happily, we didn't know it, so we watched and nudged each other and cheered as the Cubs took the score from 5-0 to 11-0 to 13-0.
Before the bottom of the fifth, where the Cubs batted 12 men and picked up six runs, we sang verse after verse of "Go, Cubs, Go."
And in the middle of the seventh, after a beautiful 4-6-3 double play had cut off another impudent San Diego attempt to score, we joined Harry Caray in a chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" that must have been heard in San Diego.
And when it ended with a weak pop out to Larry Bowa, we shook hands and said, "See you tomorrow."
Don't wake me up. I'm dreaming.