Alexandra F. Baldwin
I was born in Chicago, IL in the summer of 1982 to an alcoholic single mother wholly unequipped to be a single mother. Twelve years later, she got pregnant again. This time, the guy didn’t disappear, but he did demand she quit drinking as a condition of getting married. So she did, and in the spring of 1995, she finally sobered up just in time to give birth to my perfectly adorable little sister.
One of the strongest memories I have is of sitting very quietly in a chair, holding a days-old infant as tightly as I thought was safe, and promising to her that I would never, ever let anyone hurt her. That perfect little baby and I were fast friends immediately.
From the moment she could walk or talk or even smile on purpose, she loved sports. She loved playing, she loved watching, and she loved attending. More than anything, she loved the Chicago Cubs. Technically, we lived in White Sox territory, inasmuch as “White Sox territory” is actually a thing, but her father was a Cubs fan, and she inherited that from him. She went to her first game at Wrigley Field at age two, complete with a pink, toddler-sized Cubs hat, and spent long hours sitting on the couch or the floor with him watching games.
Her father died, quite suddenly, early in 2003. That was pretty devastating to a little seven-year-old girl, and she chose to remember him the best way she knew how…by loving the Cubs as much as he did. Her older brother, her father’s family and even her older sister (when I was home…I wasn’t around much in those days) indulged her Cubs love as best as we knew how. The saddest phone call I ever made was to talk to her on October 16, 2003, after the Cubs broke her fragile little heart by losing three straight games to fall just shy of the World Series.
In the summer of 2005, as she was finishing fourth grade, I was finishing college and moving to Boston with my best friend. Our mother was dying. Livers and kidneys, much like relationships with 12-year-old daughters, never fully recover from that much drinking.
And that’s why, at age 24, I did the most important thing that I will ever do: I adopted my then 10-year-old sister. I was 24, woefully unprepared for motherhood and barely settled into a city 1,000 miles away from her home. None of that mattered, though, because that little girl was the most important thing in my life and I was never going to break the promise I made to her on the day she was born.
So, after some unpleasant legal wrangling (not surprisingly, her brother and the rest of their family had different plans), I picked her up and moved her to Boston. She moved in with me and my best friend in a three bedroom apartment in Beacon Hill and started a brand new life in a brand new place at a brand new school.
The most challenging thing about suddenly taking in a 10-year-old who doesn’t start school for three weeks is figuring out what to actually do with them on a day to day basis. There are a lot of hours in a day, and every one of those hours needs filling. It is hard to whip up a busy routine from scratch, and it is doubly important to do so when that 10-year-old has just gone through what is likely the most traumatic thing she will ever endure.
One immediately fun activity involved the Cubs. I found a sports bar that would turn the Cubs games on while we were there, so we began going out to eat chicken fingers and watch the Cubs games. Early on, this meant weekends or the odd afternoon game so she could watch the whole thing. But even that changed, and the baseball became less important.
School started, but the tradition continued. Soon, it was every Thursday: if she got her homework done, we’d go out to watch the first hour or so of the game over chicken fingers. Sometimes we’d go by ourselves; sometimes we’d bring one or both of our pretend sisters (my best friend – our roommate – and her older sister) or their boyfriends (eventually husbands) or some other friends of mine or hers. The cast changed regularly, but the standing date remained. Thursdays meant chicken fingers.
Baseball season ended, but Thursday night chicken fingers did not. It was our time to stop whatever else we were doing and talk about anything going on in her life. I would like to pretend that we worked through her deep emotional issues over the loss of both parents, but the truth is she was an almost impossibly well-balanced kid, even at that time. So, we just talked about whatever was important and worked our way through our uncharted sister/mother relationship as it unfolded.
I looked forward to Thursday nights more than any other time of the week. We sat in the same place. We ate the same thing – chicken fingers and French fries. The bartenders greeted her on sight by ringing the bell. They poured her signature cocktail (7up and cranberry juice in a martini glass) without asking. And when baseball season started up again, they remembered to find the Cubs game every Thursday (eventually, the Red Sox became an adequate substitute if there was no Cubs game).
Eleven years have passed since, sobbing (me, not her), I packed that skinny little 10-year-old into my car and drove her halfway across the country. She has made me proud beyond words on so many occasions I couldn’t even begin to count. We moved out of that apartment with my best friend, then back into it without her. My husband moved in, and then the two babies showed up. My sister moved out for six weeks (back in with my best friend!) so that my husband’s mother could move in and help with the babies. She was a bridesmaid in the weddings of both of our pretend sisters. Their kids call her “Auntie.”
But we never stopped having dinner every single Thursday night, and she never stopped loving the Cubs. That little girl grew into the most amazing young woman I know. She starred in soccer and lacrosse. She graduated as the valedictorian of her high school class, delivering a speech that still makes me cry. She is kind and considerate and mature well beyond her years. She hit home runs against the boys in little league, then against the girls in softball. She met an amazingly adorable French boy on vacation and forged a friendship/romance that amazes me to this day.
After high school, she enrolled at that super fancy school across the river that would have seemed so foreign to teenaged me that it may has well have been on the moon (it’s the one where they mint Supreme Court Justices, not the one where they mint Biotech patents.). Once she started college, we moved our standard location to a rotating series of restaurants closer to where she goes to school. The Cubs usually aren’t on TV, but she doesn’t love them any less. She’s met friends who share her love and give her natural partners with which to watch important games. If she is wearing a baseball hat (which she does, with pigtails, to boy-melting effect), it is a blue one with a red C and a bear cub on it.
She started spending her summers at the beach, so Thursday night dinner has been suspended in summer for a couple of years, but it has always started up again in the Fall. It never stopped being my favorite time of the week. Tonight, at roughly 6 p.m., I will walk into a restaurant in Cambridge to find a stunning, confident Taylor Swift lookalike sitting casually at the bar, staring at her phone, left leg cross over right, subconsciously rocking her foot while she waits for me. In May, she will graduate from that fancy school in Cambridge and go to work for the hedge fund at which she interned last summer and currently works part-time. My gangly 10-year-old sister is, despite my wishes to slow down the evolution, a full-blown adult.
. . .
Last night, the Cubs won the World Series. They did so for the first time in 108 years, and the first time in the lifetime of every Cubs fan on earth, including one particular Bostonian in a well-worn hat and an Ernie Banks game jersey. Her older sister, a casual (at best) sports fan, stayed up to watch the game, not because she had a deep emotional interest in the outcome, but because it would mean so very much to the person who means so very much to her.
After the game ended, the older sister found herself much more emotional than she ever imagined she would be. She thought of taking a missing-toothed seven-year old to her first game without her father. She thought of that parentless 10-year-old asleep in her Cubs t-shirt in the car during a cross-country, life changing adventure. She thought of that same girl at 10, 11, 12 and all the ages in between growing taller and smarter and kinder and worldlier and more perfect and never, ever abandoning her love of her perennially disappointing hometown baseball team.
She thought of her own wedding day, and how she cried only at seeing that girl, a grown-up at 14, her companion in that adventure. She thought of her own kids, who adore their aunt so very, very much, and who she hopes will grow up to be just like her. And she thought back to April and the celebration of that girl’s 21st birthday, during which the girl confidently entered the Sportsbook at the Bellagio and wagered $100 on her beloved Cubs to win the 2016 World Series.
Before she went to bed, she called that girl as she has done thousands of times previously. The girl was ecstatic and relieved, emotionally drained and a little hoarse from yelling. The older sister asked if the win reminded her of her father. Pausing, the younger sister replied through a slightly cracked voice: “It reminds me of chicken fingers.”
11/3/2016 09:03:26 pm
One of the sweetest tributes to the intersection of sports, love, and devotion I have ever read.
Alexandra F. Baldwin
11/4/2016 08:06:55 am
Thank you, Richard:-). I am glad you enjoyed it.
Brian A Ruff
11/4/2016 09:17:32 am
I've been playing and coaching Baseball for 40 years, and it still reminds me of the Father I lost in 2003. It was the bond that held us together. Now it's the bond between my son and I. This rings true and beautiful to anyone who fiercely loves the game and the people in their lives with whom they share their love. Bravo.
Alexandra F. Baldwin
11/4/2016 12:08:47 pm
Thanks! Baseball seems to have the effect on people more than any other sport:-)
11/4/2016 09:33:03 am
I loved reading this article so much. (tears to eyes)
11/4/2016 10:03:50 am
Loved your piece so much. Watching the game made me cry--so happy for such a great group of diamond warriors. Your love letter to sister and sport and life made me cry. And your piece made me so happy that my husband and I never miss a Friday night dinner with our dearest friend Rick. Our own tradition grounds us, makes us remember what matters--each other. Thank you.
11/10/2016 11:53:12 am
Best 2016 "World Series Article" by a mile! Awesome 💗💗💗
11/10/2016 12:27:20 pm
Trigger warning: reader needs waterproof mascara!
2/10/2017 03:41:39 pm
Just found this from the link in your Ask Alex column. That's a wonderful story, with a great ending, especially considering how things were early in your life, and hers.
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Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.