It must have been the seventh-inning stretch when the El stopped at the Addison station. The boys and I were finishing a Saturday-afternoon excursion in our new city and did not yet understand the secure place the Cubs hold in the hearts of Chicagoans.
As the train doors opened, cheers from the Wrigley Field bleachers floated over the platform. The game was not over, and the small group of self-assured gentlemen who boarded had obviously left early. Their Ralph Lauren Polo shirts and Gucci-loafers-without-socks told me they'd get off at Wilmette to pick up their Lexuses and drive home to Highland Park.
Eager to hear about the game, my 12-year-old asked them how the Cubs were doing. They were losing, as usual. But as the men smiled together, they exuded a tenderness about the players and a satisfaction in the day's outing.
Why hadn't they they stayed to cheer on the team, I asked. Didn't the Cubs need their support?
The leader winked at my naivet. "I don't need the Cubs to make my success for me," he said. There was no jaded sarcasm in his eyes, only the generosity of affection. Somehow you felt that he, like most Cub fans, had brought his gratitude for life to the game.
This is is a city, after all, where Wrigley Field has been filled for many successive seasons, even though the Cubs haven't had even a playoff chance since 1989.
Last Monday my son and I agonized through three hours of TV to see if the Cubs could beat the Giants into the playoffs. I tried to stay up for those last two innings, but we both had to learn in the morning's paper that the Cubs were triumphantly headed to Atlanta.
I confess it was a relief. I'm laughing at myself for writing this, though. Why is a family that otherwise is disengaged from sports making such an effort?
It has been said that sports have little or no impact on real life, but Chicago makes me question that. Whether people's lives need more success is not the issue. Yes, there's the inspiration of seeing people breaking through limitations, but we get plenty of that in daily life.
What sports do in Chicago is give the North Shore and the western suburbs and the South Side a way to play together - to lift our eyebrows, jump out of our seats, and yell - even if it's only to get our families to come and see the replay.
Do we need that for civilization to go forward? Shouldn't we be finding joy in the deeper things of life, things with less emotion and more intellect?
But in the meantime, for those of us who still need perspective as we pursue those deeper things, it's helpful to live in a city that loves its baseball team.
And Atlanta? Win or lose, nothing's going to spoil this game.