Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com
Threads of Optimism
by Derek Smart
I have a confession to make. Despite being an obviously obsessed fan of the Chicago Cubs, I've never owned a Cubs jersey. I have multiple hats (although, I only ever wear my original, twenty-year old cap anymore), but somehow I've never been able to justify the expense of a big 'ol striped shirt.
That doesn't mean I haven't given it thought. There have been times I've nearly pulled the trigger, only to back away at the last moment for any number of reasons, not the least of which was an inability to decide whose number should be on it.
A friend and I have a running joke that if we ever bought a jersey we'd get one with someone wonderfully obscure emblazoned on the back - "Now playing left field, number 29, Doug Dascenzo!" - but when push comes to shove, that's an awfully pricey joke. I suppose one could get a blank one, but if I'm going to make that kind of commitment, financial and otherwise, it needs to be for a player I really care about.
Sometime during the 2003 playoffs I realized that, for me, that player had become Kerry Wood, and I made a promise to myself that if I ever took the plunge on a shiny uni, that it would have that '34' sewed to its back. Now all that was left was for me to make a purchase.
Fast forward to last week. I have some Pappy Day cash burning a hole in my pocket, and no idea what to do with it. There isn't much that I want beyond, say, total financial independence, and sadly, what I had wasn't going to get that done by a longshot. But, I realized, what it would do is get me most of the way to that bit of fan paraphernalia I was so sorely lacking - the elusive jersey.
Like every time before I started to balk, but this moment was different. I was determined to get it done, and when I finally ran across an online merchant who was having a pathetically humorous "DL Sale," I knew my moment was nigh.
I ordered my Kerry Wood jersey, and hoped against hope that it would arrive in time for his return to the team. It's one of those things where I can convince myself that certain events are not merely disconnected occurrences in a wide and complex universe, but rather indicators of a larger plan. Signs. Omens.
By the time I had finished placing the order I was certain that the day of the shirt's arrival would determine Wood's fate for the remainder of the season: arrive before his start, and all would be roses and gold. Show up after the fact, and nothing could salvage his year, if not his career. I am nothing, if not dramatic.
I received an email from the merchant on Monday evening that the billing information had been given to the shipping company, and that's where the status remained throughout Tuesday. I know this because I checked at least every ten minutes. By the end of the work day I knew here was no way it could get to me in time. I was despondent.
But things are not always as they seem, and when I got home Tuesday night, I found a small box awaiting me, begging to be opened. Inside was a lovely, weighty, white jersey with blue stripes, and two big Cub patches - one on the left breast, and one on the left sleeve - and on the back were the clean, blue numbers three and four. No name, just the number, all alone and gorgeous in their simplicity.
The jersey had come, and in plenty of time. I wore it all Tuesday night while watching Carlos Zambrano pitch his gem, bouncing around my living room like a five year-old on Christmas morning who's eaten a pound of sugar for breakfast. I'm not ashamed to say I was giddy.
I couldn't wear it yesterday while Kerry pitched - I think I would have gotten some stares at the office - but I knew I didn't need to. Its timely arrival was symbol enough for me, and plenty for the universe as well.
Mr. Wood more than got the job done yesterday, and while he didn't get the win himself, the team did, and his performance was not only a huge part of the victory, it seems, at least in the optimistic light of morning, to be symbolic of a new direction for the club.
I don't know if the team has truly turned a corner. So much can happen over three months, it's impossible to say. But for now, my jersey and I feel good about things. We hope you do to.