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Friday, July 29

Stalking the Ryno

What do you do with an elephant with three balls?

A: Walk him and pitch to the rhino

All right, for some reason that joke seemed a lot funnier when Ryno was holding down second base for us.

It's actually very out of character for me to do something like drive to Cooperstown. If you grew up in the city, near everything, it probably was no big deal to walk, bus, or drive to major occurrences all the time. Being damn rural all my life, it was always real easy to just sit there and watch things happen on the teevee and say "well, if something like this ever happens again, I'm THERE!" Well, for me, the next time is here.

Ryne Sandberg made his debut with the Cubs the year I graduated from high school. My very early years were the "1969 Cubs" gang, my formative years coincided with some truly horrible "Steve Ontiveros/Bill Bonham" ball, capped off with the 1981 team, which thank God for the strike, they were the worst team I have EVER seen. The 2003 Tigers woulda swept them in a seven-game series.

Then came Dallas Green and his influx of Phillies castoffs and free agents, and for the first time since Billy Williams got traded, there was REAL hope. I was there for the Ryno game, and although I did say that my best game ever was later on that year during a sweep of the Mutts, that is because I literally had to be led to the car and driven home after the Ryno game, and not just because of the King of Beers. Nobody in my memory wearing a Cub uniform EVER got in the Cardinals' face and beat them like that!

I left there thinking that Ryno MIGHT just be a gift from God.

The Cubs then won the East that year, and if you don't get it by now, they hadn't won ANYTHING of any import since 1945. My MOM was born in 1945. The Cubs had actually won their division. I grew up thinking that it was impossible, that there was some sort of pact that would not allow the Cubs to win anything. They won, and Ryno was voted the MVP.

I was then convinced that Ryno WAS God.

He could have then taken the money and coasted for the rest of his life, and I still would have loved him. But he continued to hit for average AND power, and although he didn't get to as many balls as other second basemen, and he never did learn how to adjust to the good breaking ball, he became the best second baseman in his era, and how many times do the Cubs have the Best of Something?

He was handsome, he had the hot, slutty wife, he never got arrested for beating her, or for snorting coke, or for drunkedly running his Mercedes into a guardrail, or for any of the other fun activities the Modern Athlete holds so dear. Every day, he came into my living room in vivid 25" Zenith color on Channel 9, and every day, he came to play.

He is my favorite athlete, and it's the least I can do to go see him get inducted into the Hall. He HAD to be something special to break into the East Coast Baseball Memories Association that they have there in Cooperstown.

I'll bring a camera, and I'll tell you all about it on Tuesday or Wednesday, and I'll try to pay attention when I do things or drink things, in an attempt to make my account as interesting as it can be. Yeah, I know that's hard.

I'll be wearing my Maddux away gamer, in case I get on teevee myself, stalking the Ryno.