Our youngest son, Will, turns 14 on a cold Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, and his birthday provides one of those father-son moments I cherish.
The game gives us a touch of excitement, but nothing special. The Cubs surrender runs late to fall behind 4-0 and then stage a furious 9th-inning rally with the winning run on base, only to fall heartbreaking short when a Texas Rangers outfield makes a great diving catch to ensure a 4-2 loss.
Contact information ( * required )
Will has seen all varieties of Cubs losses, including other birthday-present defeats. What makes this game special is the stuff that happens when nothing is going on.
On the drive to Wrigley, Will buries his head in a Nook, playing a video game with the sound off so as not to disturb me. Between computers, TVs, game devices, phones and tablets, teenage boys spend a lot of time staring at screens when they could be chatting it up with their dads.
During the game, in a Wrigley Field without an attention-sucking Jumbotron video screen, we talk.
"Really? Star Wars?" Will says as Starlin Castro strides to the plate in the first inning and Wrigley Field organist Gary Pressy salutes the Cubs all-star by playing the theme from "Star Wars."
I think that song is a fine choice by the underrated Pressy, who spent the bulk of his career in the shadow of wonderful White Sox organist Nancy Faust. This leads to a discussion with Will about what songs fit what ballplayers and about the value of ballpark organists instead of prerecorded tunes.
We talk about melodies to welcome Texas batter Elvis Andrus, such as "Don't Be Cruel" and "Love Me Tender" that Pressy pounds out on his Lowery organ tucked in the corner of the press box. I like it when a ball rolls down the first-base line, barely misses being a fair ball and Pressy responds by playing the 1970 classic "One Toke Over the Line" by one-hit wonders Brewer & Shipley.
Faust, who retired from the Sox but still can be hired away from her home in Mundelein to play for special events, is remembered forever as the organist whose inspired live rendition of "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" is so much more rousing than the song recorded by Steam.
The stories Will and I tell about music, baseball, Faust, organs, Cubs and Sox get interrupted by the action of the field.
"That's a hit?" Will asks incredulously after Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo's line drive ricochets off the glove of the Ranger's first baseman. The small TV near our upper-deck seat shows a replay, but Will and I still debate about whether it should have been ruled an error, or if Will could have made the catch.
"You know, Will, next year there probably will be a giant video screen in the left-field bleachers that will show replays," I say, explaining one of the major additions in the $500 million renovation plan.
"I think it will look ugly," Will responds. "I don't want a video screen."
Despite the cold, I get a warm feeling. When a dad and a teenage boy find something on which they agree and about which they are passionate, it creates a nice bond.
We talk about baseball, Jackie Robinson, the number 42, that time Will got a baseball Mariano Rivera used while warming up in the Wrigley bullpen, school, home, details of his birth, the guys lounging in the men's room where it is as toasty as a sauna, and all sorts of things between innings and during lulls in the action.
If Wrigley erects a 6,000-square-foot video screen, we probably will spend that time engrossed in watching the blooper highlights playing in high-definition as canned music assaults our senses. We'll watch M&M races instead of laughing about the surprise birthday gift that awaits him at home -- a baseball signed by Tony Campana, the speedy diminutive Cub who was one of Will's favorites last year but was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks and is now hitting a meek .130 with the Reno Aces in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
The NFL is great on giant video screens. NBA games are perfect for people who need to be entertained constantly. But baseball is a pastime. It has a leisurely pace that encourages human interaction. While baseball seems determined to market itself as 5-hour Energy, the game really is a good, strong cup of coffee that needs to be savored, not consumed.
Most Cubs fans want (or at least understand the need for) a giant video screen. Trying to mediate all the bad such a thing will bring to Wrigley, I tell Will that a screen also will display items of interest, such as the fact that pitcher Shawn Camp has a 15.43 ERA, that Alfonso Soriano hit 46 homers and stole 41 bases the year before the Cubs snagged him, or that Castro was born in Monte Cristy, Dominican Republic.
"Dad, this is baseball," Will explains to me. "I don't need to read anything."
Especially if it is splayed across a giant video screen when a dad and son are trying to share a nice moment.