I was going through the newspaper this morning and read that today is the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Reading that article brought back all kinds of memories from my childhood. Dad was a rabid Cubs fan while I tended to like the White Sox, for no other reason than they had a cool scoreboard and every time a White Sox player hit a home run, fireworks dotted the skyline as the player rounded the bases. They called it the Green Monster.
But Dad was a purist. He loved the “Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field as the broadcasters used to refer to the park… How vividly I remember the vine covered walls in the outfield and the low brick wall behind home plate. You could always tell whether the Cubs were home or away based on whether you could see that wall in the background on TV. Each game, when the national anthem was finished, I remember the famous words, “Play ball.” And Wrigley, the gum company, was one of my Dad’s clients, so he used to hear stories about the park and how during the war, Mr. Wrigley was going to install lights for night baseball. In fact, the lights were being stored under the bleachers in 1941 when Mr. Wrigley decided the war effort, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, needed them more than the Cubs. So there were no night games at Wrigley – he didn’t install lights. Finally, when the team was sold to the Tribune, lights became more of an issue and finally, in 1988, lights were installed after the Tribune threatened to leave the neighborhood for the suburbs if night games couldn’t be played there.
And then, there were the memories of the vines. The Cubs publication, called the Vine Line, was even the subject of a Jeopardy question several nights ago. How famous that outfield was for the beautiful greenery growing up the outfield walls. And how many times in my childhood did I see a deep fly ball lost in the outfield ivy. A natural hazard, I guess. And the players – Ron Santo, Billy Williams and, of course, the most famous one of all, Mr. Cub himself – Ernie Banks.
When I was sixteen, I worked in an upscale boy’s clothing store on 95th Street on the south side of Chicago. And one day, I was in the store when Mrs. Ernie Banks needed to buy some clothes for her son. I actually waited on her – she was gracious and so pleasant – I remember her to this day. Just like I always imagined her husband, Ernie, to be. And whenever Jack Brickhouse interviewed #14, Ernie always had a sunny disposition and would usually utter something about being a beautiful day at the “friendly confines” – “let’s play two…” He was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He even carried another nickname – “Mr. Sunshine…” And last year, in addition to all his other awards and honors, he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom with 15 other inductees – giving President O’Bama a bat once used by Jackie Robinson.
By now you must have figured out that we could use a variety of verses for this evening – for example, in deference to the installation of the ballpark lights, 1 John 1:7. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Or, in referring to the kindness and love of Ernie Banks for the game and for the people of Chicago, we could use Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” That’s how Ernie lives his life – and that was pretty difficult to do in a city that had deep racial divides in the fifties and sixties.
But I have chosen another way to go for tonight, in honor of those famous outfield walls I remember so vividly from the games I attended with Dad. From John 15:5, Jesus tells us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” My encouragement this evening is to stay connected to the vine, Jesus Christ. Because that is the way we can truly make a difference for the kingdom of God. My prayer is that you will always be healthy in your faith and that people will look to you as a wonderful example of Christian behavior, a ray of “sunshine” in a sometimes dark world. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…