From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

Dad’s Field of Dreams

Last year’s baseball season was miserable. In addition to the bitter aftertaste of the disastrous 1994 strike, the usual drug problems and the players whining, there were other embarrassments. It was bad enough that wealthy stars from the present and past sold their autographs. But several recently pleaded guilty to not paying taxes on this easy pocket money.

Not everybody in baseball is a self-obsessed, immature stiff, of course. There are exceptions, and here’s one of them.

“I left Chicago in 1980,” said business executive Richard Sturm, “and moved to Eugene, Oregon, to get away from the big city. I wanted to find a smaller town where people still cared about people.”

When Sturm’s eighty-year-old father died last July 4, he returned to the Midwest for the funeral. Harry Sturm had been a cellist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “He loved music and he loved baseball,” Sturm said. “A quiet, nice guy.

“Two days later my brother and I had to go into Chicago to tie up some loose ends. Passing Addison Street, we looked at each other and said, ‘We’re not that far, are we?’

“So we doubled back and headed for one of Dad’s favorite places. Ours too. We got out of the car and just stared. We were kids again, full of excitement. We were standing in front of Wrigley Field.

“Since there was no game that day, we decided to take a walk around the park and reminisce. As we were walking, I pushed on an iron gate and it opened. I said to my brother, ‘Let’s go.’

“We walked up the stairs, and the field came into view. All the stories Dad had told us came rushing back. How, when he was a boy, he would show up at Wrigley to clean up the stands, put up seats and get into the game free. It was the only way he could afford to see a game.

“I noticed a grounds keeper on the field. Thinking I had nothing to lose, I went over and asked if we could walk on the outfield. He opened the gate and said, ‘Sorry about your dad. Make yourselves at home.’ We couldn’t believe it. We were actually walking on the outfield grass of Wrigley Field, touching the ivy. We were kids again.

“About fifteen minutes later, Mike—that was this grounds keeper’s name—walked toward us. I assumed we had overstayed our welcome.

“But he said, ‘Here’s a couple of game balls. I thought you might want to take them with you.’ Then he said again, ‘I’m sorry about your dad.’

“It didn’t end there. When Mike’s boss found out why we were there, he suggested that we might like to sit in the dugout for a while.

“Gosh, you sit in the dugout and see the field like you’ve never seen it before. My brother said, ‘Look, the wind is blowing out. It’s a home-run day.’ We were sitting where Ernie Banks used to sit. We could look up at the right-field bleachers, where my father caught a home run once.

“We stayed for more than an hour. When we left, I tried to give Mike a couple of twenty-dollar bills. He said, ‘No way.’ He and his boss wouldn’t even let us buy them lunch. They just said it was nice to have friendly people come to the park. They were sorry it was under these circumstances.

“I was wrong back in 1980. You don’t have to move to the country to find decent people. We’ll probably never see Mike again, but I’ll always consider him a friend.”

Maybe the team should take away Mike’s rake and make him a coach. There’s a lot he could teach the players.

Mike Royko

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