There’s a certain amount of growing up expected from you by 16. You should be able to keep your emotions in check. You should be able to sit still. You should have some idea of what the world is like, what can or cannot happen. What you can and cannot get. That there are some things you can never have.
Sometimes, life intentionally walks you. Not trying to be tricky with a curveball or a changeup, it’s just a gimme: take your base, go have fun. It doesn’t make sense why it happens, but when it does, you just have to be there to jog to first and forget those expectations. Let down your guard, because everything is possible.
Last Sunday was one of those days.
Last Sunday, I got to be the batboy for my Chicago Cubs.
When I woke up, I had no idea that every 8-year-old fantasy I ever had would come true. When I got to Sloan Park in Mesa, AZ with my dad and his dad, I thought we were just going to watch our Cubbies play the Reds—all three generations of us.
My dad and grandpa are from Chicago. One of my grandparents’ oldest friends is Carol Haddon, the longest holding active season-ticket owner in Cubs’ history. Carol knows everyone on the Cubs: players, coaches, staff. She told us to get to the park early; we could tailgate with her.
There she was, eating a hamburger, in a Cubs Hawaiian Shirt, waiting to give us hugs.
She turned to me. “You’re going to be a great batboy.”
“At 12:15, go to the clubhouse and find Otis. He’s the clubhouse manager. He’s friends with me. Tell him you’re there to be the batboy.”
“You’re going to be a great batboy.”
So, at 12:15, I went to the clubhouse waiting for the TV crew to jump out and scream: “YOU JUST GOT PUNKED!”
Instead, out came Otis, middle-aged, covered head-to-toe in Cubs gear. He beelined towards me.
“You’re the batboy?”
As fathers and sons waited outside the clubhouse to catch a glimpse of the players when they walked out and maybe get an autograph, I was led through the doors and into the very place I’ve fantasized of going to my entire life. The Chicago Cubs’ locker room sprawled in front of me.
You might say 16 is a little old to be a batboy, but at that moment, I was an 8-year-old kid again, gazing at the lockers, the bats, the pictures on the wall. Everything had the Cubs’ trademark ‘C’ on it.
“Hey!” Otis said. “Come on back.”
He took me to the laundry room, where he was working, to explain my duties for the day.
“Have you ever been a batboy before?”
“Okay, well, it’s really pretty easy. The primary thing you’ll be doing is…”
Jon Lester walked through the room. I stopped listening.
“Hey buddy,” he said, patting me on the back.
I tried to say ‘hi.’ A garble of gibberish came out instead.
Lester left, and Otis finished his instructions. I missed them all. Jon Lester just patted me on the back! “Before we go, do you have anything to get signed?”
I armed myself with a ball and a pen. Five minutes later, I was back in that locker room, long and narrow and everything I ever dreamed it would be: Cubbie blue and clothes thrown everywhere with the blue-pinstriped home uniforms in front of each player.
Baez, Rizzo, Bryant—all the names I sketch in to imaginary lineups when I’m supposed to be taking history notes were there, in front of me, and when I went to ask them to sign my ball, they talked to me, asked me how I was doing and answered my questions.
I went up to Cuban right fielder Jorge Soler: “Jorge, I was in Cuba a few months ago. Whenever I wore a Cubs’ shirt, everybody would come up to me and say that they loved you and were pulling for you. I just wanted you to know.”
“Thank you,” he said. “That means so much.”
I went up to Cubs hitting assistant Manny Ramirez: “Manny, I was at your first game at Dodger Stadium. Thanks for those years. That was a ton of fun.”
“A ton of fun,” Manny said. “I’m glad you liked it.”
Former pitcher Ryan Dempster came through, dressed ready for a round of golf, complete with the flat cap. “Did you come here straight from the golf course?” I asked.
“Are you kidding? I’m not getting up early for a game of golf. I’m going golfing right now. I just came here for some free sunglasses.”
Living in Los Angeles, I’m used to seeing celebrities. But these weren’t just celebrities. They weren’t just heroes either. These were long-lost brothers. I live with them every summer, analyzing their every move. There’s a connection to your favorite baseball players unlike any other connection a kid can have, a mixture of awe, faith and pride.
When the game started, I did my job, just as I was supposed to do, grabbing bats, giving the umpire new balls, putting out tools to warm-up batters, but that wasn’t what this day was all about. I was in the Cubs’ dugout, hearing every word my brothers said, even saying stuff back while trying to block the smell of pine tar out of my mind.
This fraternity I’d seen from afar was letting me in. Now, with awe, faith and pride, there was unity: I was one of them. When Chris Denorfia hit a home run, I retrieved his bat and got back just ahead of him on his victory lap, and everyone gave me a high five too, like somehow I helped the team score. Like my years of watching and obsessing were finally being rewarded. Like all my day dreams were actually coming true.
The Cubs won, and we high-fived again. I ran up the stairs and out the dugout one last time. I didn’t have a job to do anymore; I could enjoy this. Take a mental note, I told myself, because this just doesn’t happen.
So I admired the green seats, the high fiving players, the trashed dugout, the perfect field, my dirtied hands, the scoreboard that read 2-1. As I watched in a daze, my eyes focused on my dad and grandpa, close enough to see, too far to talk. Nobody tried to say anything. We just smiled as wide as the Arizona desert.
Seven hours later, we got back to LA, dropped off my grandpa at his house and went home.
“Thanks for the amazing weekend, Dad.”
“It really was amazing,” he responded.
I turned away and walked down the hall to my Cub blue bedroom, crawling under my Cubs comforter with a signed Ernie Banks jersey framed above my head. I flicked off my light and dreamed of hitting a home run onto Waveland Ave.
And for the second time that day, I was a kid again.