Whenever someone asks where I get my love of sports, my answer comes quickly:Â My dad.Â He’s the one who handed me a catcher’s mitt instead of a Barbie doll, who taught me my first words -Â “Go, Cubs!” -Â who got me to count and spell using a scorecard.
My dad took us everywhere with him – Soldier Field, Wrigley, Comiskey, and the teeth-rattling, cacophonous wonder that was Chicago Stadium for both the Blackhawks and the Bulls.
Well, that’s the family lore, anyway.Â And yes, of course, he did do all those things wonderfully.
But behind him, supporting him, and guiding him the whole way, was my mom.
My mom was a genuine force of nature, the original Tiger Mother. Tough, demanding, unyielding, with unseen powers born ofÂ Greek myth.Â That woman could simply, silently, raise an eyebrow and you’dÂ stop dead in your tracks.Â Not just me and my brother, mind you.Â Any kid within 100 yards of her.Â Â I and all others my age would learn to dread the eyebrow and do much to avoid it.
Even worse, she knew everything before you even did it, which often made life difficult.Â She’d somehow divine you were in the act of just thinking about doing something, use that eyebrow, and next thing you know, you were spilling your guts about a plan to TP the Malosoff house on Halloween.
(I swear, if they had just sent my mom to Gitmo, those guys would have confessed to everything, their last words being, “Stop eyebrow!Â Please stop eyebrow!”)
But, damn, she was funny and witty and drop-dead beautiful and sexy and silly, too.Â She walked into a room and people just gravitated toward her.Â This is a woman who, four weeks into chemo with a hat covering her bald head, CHARMED A CHICAGO COP OUT OF A SPEEDING TICKET.Â I was there.Â It was not pity.Â She sweet-talked him out ofÂ the ticket.Â Â I was simultaneously impressed and pissed off.Â Her powers often seemed unfair to us mere mortals.
Like I said, a force of nature.Â But not someone I think of when searching for my early love of sports.
Upon reflection, I realize I was wrong about that.Â Â Recalling this story to some friends the other day made that clear.
As a child, all year I was a model, straight-A student until Opening Day.Â Then, overnight, I transformed into a shifty, conniving truant, who would pull most any stunt to get my butt into a Wrigley Field seat whenever the Cubs were at home.
My team made it easy.Â Clean Wrigley Field, get a free bleacher ticket.Â Â For an eleven-year old, that offer was the sports equivalent of crack. My friends and I would excitedly race each other to complete the mile-and-a-half long journey to Addison and Sheffield and, like migrant workers, stand in line waiting to be picked to clean the stadium.
We were favorites.Â We always got picked.
This worked fine on weekends and during the summer but was somewhat difficult to pull off on a school day.
I lived for challenges.
I didn’t cut every day, mind you, just on days when the Cubs were playing a particularly fierce or hated opponent.Â Which, on this day I recall, was -Â cue the bad-guy music – the Cardinals.
(You know in Citizen Kane, how Kane lies on his deathbed muttering “Rose…bud”?Â Well, I am certain my father’s last words will be “Lou….Brock.”Â THAT is how much that deal scarred him.Â THAT is how much he hates the Cardinals.Â Along with his bad knees and crappy eyesight, he has passed this burning hatred down to me.)
I simply had to go to this game.Â No matter that my dad and grandfather were going. I wasn’t worried.Â They had seats in the grandstand. Besides, they were guys.Â They’d never see me.
The problem, of course, was my Vulcan Mind Meld of a mother.
No, this operation required extra planning.Â Instead of walking to my grade school that morning, I asked her to drive me.Â I wanted her to SEEÂ ME go into the school. It worked like a charm.Â Â As I got out or the car, I casually offered that I had to go to my friend Wendy’s to work on my science fair project – would she pick me up and take me?Â (I knew she was busy that afternoon.Â DAMN, I was crafty.)Â Â My mom, of course, told me she couldn’t and that I’d have to walk with Wendy.
“No problem!” I chirped.Â “See you at suppertime.”
The plan was in place.
Then, I had to lie to my teacher.Â No need to explain how.Â This, sadly, was the easiest part of the mission.
So, twenty minutes after I arrived,Â I was sprung from the Goudy Elementary cage, and sprinted over to Sheridan,Â meeting up with several other truants on the way, and trekked to Mecca.Â We, of course, got picked to clean the stands, received our precious tickets and sat in the still-cold early spring sun, watching batting practice, then the Cubs tattooing the Cards.Â It was perfect.
Until the fourth inning.
Out of nowhere, a giant cumulus cloud appeared, and cast a forbidding shadow across the field.Â The barometric pressure dropped like a stone.Â I remember thinking, “I should have brought an umbrella-”
And like that, torrential rains started to fall.Â We’re talking “build the ark and get the animals”Â size rains.Â I was soaked to the bone within 30 seconds.Â People were racing around to takeÂ cover but I was paralyzed.Â This wasn’t part of the plan.Â I was supposed to be indoors at my friend’s house right now.Â How could I possibly have gotten soaking wet?
My life was over.
I knew I had just oneÂ last mile and a half of freedom before my drenched sorry-ass self had to face the dreaded brow, so I took my time leaving the stadium.
My sneakers were so wet they squished as I rounded the ramp to the Waveland exit.Â Â I just couldn’t think of anything to tell her that would make this okay.Â I was so deep into feeling sorry for myself that I barely heard the horn honking from across the street.
I looked over.
It was my mother.Â
Oh.Â My.Â God. This had gone from the best day of my life to the worst in a matter of minutes.
I trudged over to the passenger seat of the car and opened the door:
My mom held a large towel in one hand and a cup of cocoa in the other. “Get in and dry off.Â You must be freezing.”
I said nothing, bracing myself for the second thunderstorm of the day.
But she was quiet as we drove away from Wrigley.
Finally, she spoke.Â “It’s just terrible they had to end the game before it counted.Â The Cubs were playing so well.”
I glanced warily at her.Â Who are you and what have you done with my mother?
“Yeah,” I muttered.
“Well,” she said. “We’ll just have to beat those damned Cards twice as bad the next time, right?”Â She looked over at me and smiled.
“Yeah.” I finally smiled back.Â “We will.”
“Drink that cocoa.Â You’re going to catch pneumonia.”
We never said another word about that day.
Of course, years later, I would discover that my mom didn’t have ESP.Â She had just cancelled her plans and gone to my elementary school to pick me up like I had asked her to.Â So much for theÂ brilliant, devious scheming of an eleven-year-old
But that day was way bigger than I ever gave it credit for.Â I never realized it until now but in that moment, my mom gave me permission to be a girl and still love sports.Â That’s because she loved it.Â Lost in the tales of my dad, this truth finally resonates:Â sitting by my dad’s side at every single game he went to – baseball, football, basketball, hockey – was my mom.
She was a true fan.
My mom died nine years ago almost to the day today.Â One week before she died, she sat with my dad at Wrigley Field.Â Wearing a pink cap.
She loved baseball.Â She loved sports.Â She knew her sports.Â Albeit with less fanfare than my dad, she passed that love on to me.
So happy Mother’s Day, mom.Â Thank you, a few years late, for my love of sports.Â Â Oh yeah, and thanks for not using the eyebrow on me that wet May day at Wrigley.
Lynn is CEO of Aerys Sports and both writes for and edits The Kitchen Sink.