Sidelines: An extraordinary experience at the ball park

I’m not the kind of guy this usually happens to.

I went to the Chicago Cubs baseball game Saturday on a park district bus trip. I went to create the cover story in today’s paper, but also to enjoy the game. Like my companions on the trip, I settled into the upper deck far down the right field line, five rows above the aisle.

Out of nowhere, a woman came up to me in the bottom of the sixth inning and offered me and the two ladies sitting next to me, Bernice Bradley and Debbie Compton, her tickets. They were in the owner’s box in the second row behind home plate.

I have absolutely no idea who she was or why she and her husband chose us out of the 41,927 fans jammed into the park that day. Bernice wondered if they chose us because she and her daughter were wearing Cub jerseys and chanting “go Cubs go” among a sea of Cardinal fans, but who knows?

When something like this happens, all you can do is accept it, be grateful, and maybe one day do something similar for someone else.

It’s a whole different ball game that close to the field. From our original seats, you had to watch the fielders react to tell where the ball had been hit. Sitting behind home plate, you can actually see the spin of the pitch heading towards the batter, and almost feel the whack of the bat. When someone blocks your view, it’s the umpire or the ball girl, not a beer vendor or a restless teenager who can’t stay in her seat

Seeing the game at ground level, you almost feel like you’re a part of it. The players don’t come off as these statuesque, mythological figures who seem to do everything so gracefully. Up close, they are just regular men who look tired at the end of a long, three-hour game in the summer sun. You can also see the frustration on their faces when they miss a ball they think they should have hit, and the childish glee when they knock one out of the park.

Some, like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, are actually bigger in real life than they appear on TV.

Speaking of TV, you’re aware the camera may be on you at any time, so you don’t want to scratch or do anything embarrassing. For a brief moment, I realized how tough it must be for celebrities to always have to be on guard. Although no one saw me, apparently someone who knows Bernice and Debbie spotted them.

Another thing is, in that neighborhood, you don’t know who’s sitting around you. The guy in the front row in the blue shirt, could he be a top-notch lawyer or businessman? And the pretty girl in the black top next to him, was she a model or an actress? Were they someone famous or important, someone you should recognize, or just someone like us who got a lucky break? Every chance I got, I discreetly glanced around, wondering if I was going to see Bill Murray or Jim Belushi or some other famous, high-profile Cubs fan. (I didn’t.)

At one point, I accidentally brushed against the hair of the young woman sitting in front of me. I apologized quickly, but wondered if she was going to have me arrested or thrown out of the park. (She didn’t.)

I also kept expecting an usher to come up at any moment, telling me the fun was over and I had to move back to my real seat, especially when I reached for the 68-cent Milky Way I had snuck into the park. Fortunately, that didn’t happen either.

As I told my companions as I got off the bus, it was an unexpected experience I’ll never forget. At $368.60 a ticket, I’m pretty sure it’s one I’ll never have again.

A lot of park districts don’t sponsor bus trips anymore because they lose money. Some, like Genoa and DeKalb, co-sponsor trips to save on costs. I hope they never stop the trips altogether. Even if you don’t get to sit in the second row, they’re always a great experience.

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