World Series title is birthday wish for 101-year-old Cubs fan

Lifelong Cubs fan Virginia Wood has seen 101 birthdays pass by without the chance to celebrate one with her team as World Series champion.

She's hoping this year's Cubs can change that just in time for her upcoming 102nd.

"That's a good gift!" proclaimed Wood, a resident of the Luther Village retirement community in Arlington Heights.

Wood, who moved to Arlington Heights two years ago from the South Side of Chicago, was born in November 1914, just after Wrigley Field's first season of baseball. She remembers when its famous outfield walls were bare and appreciates Bill Veeck's suggestion to plant the now familiar ivy. Among the players she saw play in person is Babe Ruth.

With just about a full century of dedication to the team behind her, Wood's outlook on Cubs' history is perhaps slightly different from that of younger compatriots who learned most of it from books and documentaries.

She never sat in the bleachers because of their distance from the main entrance, preferred the friendly tones of Jack Brickhouse to Harry Caray, welcomed the addition of night games in the late '80s for being more convenient to watch, and said most adults like herself were too busy with work and distracted by the aftermath of World War II to pay much attention to the team's last World Series appearance in 1945.

Wood retains great affection for the 1969 and 1984 Cubs, but she said the 2016 team has been the best of all.

"They're young and enthusiastic and having a good time," she said. "It was bleak there for a long time. We were hopeful, but I never thought we'd do as well as we did this year."

For quite a while, she'd fallen into the habit of watching only the last three innings of Cubs games - whether they were winning or losing. But this season she resumed watching games from the first pitch.

Having been a physical education teacher and later the coordinator of girls' athletics for Chicago Public Schools, Wood said she appreciates that physical fitness has never been as great a priority among professional baseball players as it is today.

And from her experience coaching team sports, she recognizes Manager Joe Maddon's influence on getting his talented players to jell.

"He's a doll, isn't he?" she laughs. "He's smarter than a whip. And he gives them all a chance."

Wood said the Cubs owners over the years have always seemed to invest heavily in managers but never seemed to pick the right person for the job.

"They were nice, but they weren't very effective - at all!" she said.

Wood grew up in Chicago's Austin neighborhood and during the 1920s rode the streetcar with her sister about once a month to take in a Cubs game. It was a much bigger deal to go to the games back when the games were broadcast only on the radio, she said.

She vividly recalls the first time she saw a television - a whole line of them in a store window she passed by in a streetcar. No one she knew owned a TV at the time and everyone on the streetcar craned their necks as they passed the store display, she said.

With the start of the Great Depression, visits to Wrigley became much less frequent for Wood until after the war.

The White Sox also played a significant role in her life because, at the age of 34, she married a Sox fan. He proved the stronger influence on their son, Gary, who joined his dad in cheering for the South Siders.

Though she never went to games with her husband and son, the Sox provided her introduction to baseball as a girl.

"My first game was a Sox game. Can you believe that?" she said.

She even rooted for the White Sox when they won the World Series in 2005.

"After all, it's a Chicago team," she said. "So I cheered. Honestly, I did. But it's our turn. You're darn right!"

  Lifelong Chicago Cubs fan Virginia Wood of Arlington Heights and daughter-in-law Debbie Wood are watching the team's playoff run together. Wood turns 102 in November and hopes she can finally celebrate a birthday with her favorite team as World Series champs. Mark Welsh/
Virginia Wood, seated center, watched Saturday night's Cubs game with her son Gary, right, and daughter-in-law Debbie, left. In back are Virginia's grandchildren and their spouses - Ryan and his wife, Jillian, from left, Laura and her fiance Scott Masa, and Kevin and his wife, Susie Malinak. Courtesy of Laura Wood
  Virginia Wood, second from left, is a 101-year-old Cubs fan now living at Luther Village in Arlington Heights and hoping for a World Series pennant in time for her upcoming 102nd birthday. With her are her granddaughter, Laura, left, daughter-in-law Debbie, and son, Gary, of Arlington Heights. Eric Peterson/
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