Baseball is just a game. One reason we enjoy it is because it slows life down and allows us to have fun in a world full of stress and bad news. Watching young children play baseball reminds us of how, at its most basic elements, it’s a game of simplicity and innocence.
Yet we often get reminders of how the game at the Major League level has evolved into a big business over the years. Player salaries have flown through the roof. So have ticket prices. And players are almost impossible to meet, even for a brief autograph. I saw another example of this when I went to see the Cubs’ 2016 World Series Championship trophy in South Bend, Indiana last Thursday night.
I’d been looking forward to this for a long time; indeed, it’s been nearly six months since the Cubs won the World Series, not to mention the many years we had to wait to see them win it. Due to other obligations, I was unable to see the trophy when it stopped just a few miles from my home in St. Joseph, Michigan back in February. Therefore, I bought a ticket to the April 20 South Bend Cubs (Single-A minor league affiliate) game as soon as they went on sale in early March, in order to finally get a glimpse of the trophy and hopefully get my picture with it.
For weeks I was excited for the game. But about a week before the game, the South Bend Cubs announced that the trophy would only be on display for two hours and that not everyone who had a ticket would get to see it. Figuring there would be thousands of people there, I was discouraged, worried that I had bought a ticket and would drive nearly an hour to the game only to walk away disappointed.
I decided to get to the stadium as early as I could and arrived at about 4:30 p.m., half an hour before the gates opened. There were already several dozen people outside waiting to get in. When the gates opened, there was a mad rush to the Performance Center behind the right field wall, where the public would be able to see the trophy between 6:00 and 8:00. The back of the line was probably a few hundred feet from the entrance, along the first base side of the concourse, and for an hour I stood there watching the replay of Game 7 of the World Series on the giant scoreboard while hoping there would be time for me to see the trophy.
Thankfully, the line moved quickly starting at 6:00, and by about 6:15 I got to within sight distance of the trophy. By 6:30, I was near the front of the line. I took several pictures with my phone, trying to enjoy what I knew would be a fleeting moment, before suddenly it was my turn to stand next to the trophy. I got my picture taken, and just like that I was ushered out the door, instructed I would get to see my picture online in a few days. A once-in-a-lifetime experience lasted but a brief moment, and then it was over.
When I walked out of the Performance Center and headed toward my seat, I looked around the stadium and saw that the line to see the trophy wrapped all the way around the concourse, ending near the foul pole in left field. And the line stayed that long until nearly 8:00, when the team had to start turning people away. I felt bad for all those who didn’t get to see it, especially those who bought a ticket specifically for that reason. The South Bend Cubs had no control over the situation, but it would have been nice to know before tickets went on sale that there may not be enough time for everyone with a ticket to see the trophy. A lot of fans were upset about this afterwards.
I’ve been thinking about all the fans like myself who have invested so much time and emotional energy into the Cubs over the years and how it seems ironic that they only got to spend a few brief moments with their championship trophy – if they got to see it at all. As a lifelong, diehard fan who stood with the team through many lean years, it’s hard not to feel like I deserve more. But given that thousands – no, millions – of fans can make the same claim, I understand that’s not realistic and am grateful for the opportunity I had.
Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.