Constable: Kindness of stranger cheers up Wheeling Cubs fans

 
 
Updated 10/9/2018 6:39 AM
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  • A longtime season-ticketholder, Tom Henningsen of Wheeling once got to deliver the rosin back to the pitcher's mound before a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

    A longtime season-ticketholder, Tom Henningsen of Wheeling once got to deliver the rosin back to the pitcher's mound before a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Courtesy of Tom Henningsen

  • At 4, Tom Henningsen already was an avid Cubs fan.

    At 4, Tom Henningsen already was an avid Cubs fan. Courtesy of Tom Henningsen

  • Recalling a photograph taken when he was a 4-year-old Cubs fan in 1949, Tom Henningsen of Wheeling strikes the same pose on the same porch during the Cubs' 2016 World Series championship season.

    Recalling a photograph taken when he was a 4-year-old Cubs fan in 1949, Tom Henningsen of Wheeling strikes the same pose on the same porch during the Cubs' 2016 World Series championship season. Courtesy of Tom Henningsen

We Chicago Cubs fans watched a five-game lead to the Milwaukee Brewers melt away in September. We started October by seeing the punchless Cubs lose the division title 3-1 to those same Brewers. Then came the 2-1 Wild Card game loss to the Colorado Rockies in 13 innings to jettison the Cubs out of the postseason.

But longtime Cubs season-ticketholders Tom and Alice Henningsen of Wheeling found a way to end the season on a high note.

"Sometimes, something happens that restores your faith in people and in the, well, humanity of humans," says Tom Henningsen, 73, who admits that the last Wrigley Field game of the year with his wife of 46 years was headed down a dismal path until miraculous help arrived out of nowhere from a stranger.

As part of the two-hour ritual they do for most games, the couple drove to a parking lot in Wilmette and took the Purple Line to Howard Street before changing to the Red Line for the trip to Wrigley Field in time for the 7:08 p.m. game, which was tied 1-1 and went into extra innings.

"Every inning, I said to Alice, 'This is the inning they are going to score,'" Henningsen says. "And they never did."

This wasn't the first Cubs disappointment Henningsen has endured.

"My earliest memory of my life is my dad holding me up so I could get Roy Smalley's autograph," Henningsen says of the Cubs shortstop who had 51 errors and led the league in strikeouts during his best season.

As a young man, Henningsen missed one of the most iconic events of his generation because of his love for the 1969 Cubs.

"I didn't go to Woodstock because I wanted to watch the Cubs," he remembers. "I had friends who went, and I said I'd stay home to watch the Cubs."

He saw the historic playoff collapse of Games 6 and 7 in the 2003 National League championship series, and other playoff losses. He and his wife saw the Cubs' two 2016 World Series losses at home and missed the team's only Wrigley Field win because she was sick.

So he knew how to handle his disappointment after the Cubs lost their final 2018 game a week ago. When the game ended shortly after midnight and nearly five hours, the Henningsens sat in their seats for about 20 minutes to let the crowd thin out. "The el station was so crowded that access to the platform was limited," says Henningsen, who says he and his wife waited for a while in the alley and for a while longer in the station.

By the time they arrived at Howard Street, they learned the last Purple Line train of the night had gone.

With no taxis on the street, the Henningsens thought they'd finally have to learn how to use one of the ride-sharing apps on Alice Henningsens' smartphone. Then a stranger, who had been to the game, was wearing his Cubs gear and had parked in the same Wilmette lot, told them they could share his Uber ride. The Uber driver, however, said he could only take two people.

"The gentleman told the driver to take us while he called for another car," Henningsen says. He wouldn't let the couple pay for the ride, and wouldn't even give them his name, phone number or email address.

"I'm not sure that he wasn't my personal Guardian Angel dressed as a Cubs fan," says Henningsen, who says he and his wife arrived home at 2:59 a.m. almost giddy because of that stranger's good deed. In a world often dominated by ugliness surrounding our differences, Henningsen says he doesn't know who that mystery fan voted for in the 2016 presidential election, how he feels about Brett Kavanaugh or whether they have anything in common outside of the Cubs. But he would like to thank him.

As he waits until next year with the Cubs, Henningsen and his wife can enjoy their other season tickets to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The commute might offer a similar hassle some days, but they can be sure that Puccini's "La Bohème" won't have any trouble when it comes to the score, and will end on a high note.

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