As we approach the end of 2016, it has been quite the year. In Phoenix, AZ a record was set for the most consecutive days over 110 degrees; ouch, that’s hot! A music icon, Prince was laid to rest. A prominent businessman, known by one name helped to turn the political landscape of the United States into reality TV. The Cleveland Cavaliers won an NBA Championship for the first time. And then, there were those Chicago Cubbies who, for the first time in over a century, won the World Series.
I have a love/hate relationship with the Chicago Cubs; many fans from the Chicago area feel the same way, I’m sure. I remember being a little tike, around four years old, at my grandfather’s house (trailer). We’d be watching the late-great, Harry Caray call the Cubs games. I can hear his signature call still ringing in my ears today, “Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Ho-lee Cow!” Unfortunately, he wasn’t saying that phrase with a lot of regularity when I was growing up.
I remember several members of the team when I watched the Cubs, Ryne Sandberg, Larry Bowa, Lee Majors…these names are etched into my consciousness forever. Why? My grandfather. I remember my grandfather cussing at the TV often as, the Cubs lost often. But, that was ok, he would still remain a fan. That was the “love part” of my Cubbies relationship.
My grandfather was the reason that I decided to give Little League a try. I grew up in a farm town where everyone knew everyone. And, I “knew” that the guys they had coaching us, were not coaches. I may have been 8 or 9 years old and I’m pretty sure that I knew more about baseball than they did. Their “inexperience” caused us a lot of embarrassment in games. We would lose regularly by scores of 44 – 0, 38 – 0. We got close to a win once. I think the score was 16 – 0.
I was a pitcher and an outfielder. I remember being extremely frustrated with our coaches once. They were giving me some directions that just didn’t make sense. I threw a pitch and it ended up hitting a kid in the back. Then, I threw a pitch high up into the air toward home plate. That pitch landed directly in the middle of home plate and stayed there. I think it was the best play of my Little League career! It literally did not move off of the middle of home plate. It was incredible. Try it, I dare you. You’d never be able to duplicate it!
I digress, back to the Cubs and my grandfather…
I shed many tears as a youngster, watching the Cubs lose over and over again. I was crying in the back of my grandfather’s station wagon over the Cubs. I think we had also lost badly in Little League. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was a little kid. I had no business balling my eyes out with snot and boogers coming out of my nose over a game that, I technically had no stake in. I like smiling. I like laughing. This wasn’t giving me either so, I no longer wanted to play baseball or watch the Cubs. That was the “hate part” of my Cubbies relationship.
My grandfather never stopped being a Cubs fan, though. I swear that he knew Harry Caray, personally. I also swear that he was a masochist because it had to be hard watching the Cubs lose year after year after year. Now, I wished that he had more of those years. My grandfather passed away nearly a decade ago. He was not here to see the “fan” that interfered with “the play” that kept the Cubs out of the World Series a few years ago. The entire city of Chicago roasted that guy and, I’m sure my grandfather would have as well. He was probably rolling around in his grave on that play!
Fast forward to NOW, to 2016. After all of the heartbreak, close calls and ultimate disappointment, the Cubs finally made it to the World Series. Admittedly, I have not watched much baseball since my younger days of heartbreak. But, THIS year I have paid attention to the Cubs all year. There are several reasons for this. One, I happen to know a few pro baseball players and minor league players. My business partner used to play in the minor leagues and he still plays like he’s waiting for another shot. Two and by far, the most important reason is, my son.
My son is FOUR; he loves playing baseball. So, for him, I have begun learning the game again. I have been watching the game, again. It is an absolute delight to watch him field ground balls, square and throw and hit the ball at the age of four; he’s got some natural abilities. Well, when the Cubs made it to the Pennant, we started watching a lot of baseball. He would always ask me, “daddy who are you for, the blue team?” I would say, yes, those are the Cubs and we want them to win.” He would respond, “I want them to win, too.” These little conversations we have, warm my heart.
When the Cubs finally clinched the chance to go to the World Series, it was a magical moment in my house. I applauded, but my son went nuts! He acted as if he had just played in the game; it was a joy to see.
My entire family watched all of the World Series games. It got a little tense when the Cubs went down 3 games to 1. All of those old feelings of hurt and disappointment came flooding back. The words, “Here we go again,” crept up into my consciousness. However, I can honestly say that I felt that the Cubs would still win the series. Why? I got a word, from my grandfather.
Watching the Cubs’ games like this took me back to my times with my grandfather. Those moments always made me smile. We had lots of fun together. Even when we were watching the games, we were pitching pennies into the tin can in front of each other. These are still some of the fondest memories of my life. And, there was also my son.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to game 7. I started to feel as if my grandfather was in my living room watching the games with me. He was sitting in his chair, I in mine and my son was standing up, cheering. Game 7 was a great game.
It was back and forth. The Cubs got out to the early lead, the Indians rallied back and then the Cubs went ahead 6 – 3. They bring in their ACE, Chapman to close the game in the 8th. Now, you’d be thinking that this is it! They’re going to do it! But, then Chapman has been pitching for the last 3 games, his pitch count is high and it’s raining. Talk about extra drama! Chapman tweaks his knee and then gives up a home run that ties the game. My son started instructing the Cubs players on how to hit like they could hear him, lol! He was saying things like, “No, you don’t stand like that!” “Look at me, fix your feet!” “Swing like this!” “That’s it, woo-hoo!” Those are some of his famous quotes of the night.
When the Cubs got that final out, my son cheered like he was in the game. He was clapping and jumping around. I was delighted at the sight. Then, I looked around for my grandfather. I was hoping to catch a smile. But, I no longer saw him. I did, however, feel a very warm presence in the room. “This one’s for you, daddy” is what I said as I could feel his presence all around.
My grandfather has been gone for a long time. I love and miss him very much. But, he is never far from memory. And, you recall that son of mine that I’ve been writing about, right? Well, he’s named after my granddad. And, with all of the screaming, clapping and celebrating he was doing, I think he felt the presence, too.
Larry Tank Jones is an actor, producer, philanthropist, and motivational speaker that loves to push himself and others to be the best they can be.
He has acted in dozens of movies, the most notable being “Three Kings,” and has appeared in several television shows, including NCIS, CSI: Miami, Breaking Bad and more. He has a leading role in the historical film, Union Bound, which is set to be released in April.
Tank Jones is also a producer, he is currently producing the series Fire and Ice, and is the co-producer of the very successful Latin Comedy Jam comedy tour.
In addition to his film career, Tank is a motivational speaker who has traveled the country speaking on behalf of his nonprofit organization, Choices Empowerment. Choices Empowerment was founded in 2003 to promote diversity and to help encourage elementary, middle and high school students to have a positive outlook toward themselves and their goals.