I am dreading Opening Day. I haven’t lost my eternal optimism but this will be the first baseball season my father won’t be calling me to ask, “What time are the Cubs playing?” or “Are the Sox playing tonight?” or “What station for the Cubs game?” or “Did you see last night’s game?”
Before cable, my father had no problem finding baseball games on TV. Cubs were on 9 and Sox on 32. Last summer, however, he was in a nursing home, at first confined to a wheelchair and later to bed, unable to use the remote control except for the power on and off button. Setting the TV to the right channel for, say, an American League afternoon game and switching channels for a National League evening game became logistically impossible.
We did our best. Most days someone was visiting him and would turn on the TV for one of the daily games. When I visited him for lunch, served at 11:30 a.m., I’d set the channel for the afternoon game. I’d leave written instructions, listing time and channel for the evening game, in hopes the staff or whomever might visit later in the evening would read the note and change the channel.
If I visited my father in the evening, I would write a note detailing the following day’s games. The notes always disappeared, the staff was always changing, and when my father pushed too many buttons on the remote, or the wrong ones, the remote and cable box would get out of sync. I’d get a call, just as the evening game was starting: “Call the cable company. The TV is broken.”
I couldn’t ease his suffering, but at least I could make sure my father never missed a televised Cubs or Sox game. Two games a day went far towards alleviating his boredom, compensating for time I couldn’t spend with him. I should mention that when I was visiting him, he sometimes nodded off. But in the event he was alone and awake, I was determined the TV would be set to the right channel.
For as long as I can remember, baseball was an important part of my father’s life. During the season, my father scheduled his office hours around games. He was a pediatrician and in the sixties and seventies his medical office was at 3355 North Clark Street, near the corner of Roscoe, under the L tracks. (The building was demolished in the late 1980s and a parking lot—for Cubs games—replaced it.)
He’d close the office at 12:45 p.m. and walk two blocks north to Wrigley Field. A couple of comp tickets usually were waiting for him at the box office. Often my father went to the games with his good friend, Enrique Maroto, a Cuban who had played for the American Negro League in the fifties. Whether or not the game was over, my father left at 3:30 p.m. to reopen his office for the afternoon and early evening.
My father knew many Latin ballplayers. There were autographed baseballs lying around our house like popcorn on a movie theatre floor. Don’t ask–there are none left. My father gave them away. He’d say to visiting friends, “What team you want? Cubs, White Sox, Phillies, Yankees, St. Louis?”
Part of my father’s daily routine was a stop or two at a Cuban storefront restaurant called Liborio. It was on Broadway just north of Irving Park, not at all far from his office and Wrigley Field. On game days Latin ballplayers from both the Cubs and the away team took up several tables. Once I met my father at Liborio for lunch and we sat a table with the three Alou brothers—Matty, Felipe and Jesus. It was a rare occurrence for all three to be in the same city on the same day.
There’s no other way to tell this story, so pardon me while I name drop. Believe me, it won’t happen often. I remember the afternoon I first met Bert Campaneris, probably in 1973. I found him sitting in the waiting area of my father’s office, talking to a crowd of patients. Campaneris’s cousin Jose Cardenal also visited my father’s office, sometimes to wait out the rush hour traffic following a game. Cardenal’s daughter, Bridget, and I were friends. I went to several games with her—seats in the wives section, right behind third base–and she came to my high school graduation in 1974. We saw the Cardenal family during the off-season for weekend brunches and even went snowmobiling together on someone’s property near Twin Lakes.
Jorge Orta and his father, Pedro Orta, who was also a ballplayer, visited our house on several occasions. Minnie Minoso and Cardenal attended my father’s 80th birthday party. My father’s acquaintance with Cookie Rojas dated back to Cuba, when Rojas was ten years old, and they lived in the same Havana apartment building.
Several years ago I found a photograph taken at Ditka’s of my father and Cookie Rojas in the online edition of Nation’s Restaurant News. Unfortunately, the photo has been removed but the article and text of the photo caption remain online:
Photo: Ditka’s manager Ed Minasian, standing left, and general manager Jim Rittenberg welcome restaurant visitors, seated from left, Dr. Domingo O’Cherony, team doctor for the California Angels baseball team; Frank de Lama, Angeles team trainer, and Cookie Rojas, Angels manager.
So, my father wasn’t the California Angels team doctor. Boys will be boys.
Sources: “Sports Themers Score Big,” Nation’s Restaurant News, May 16, 1988.
Photo credit: I found a photograph on Google Earth of the Havana apartment building where my parents, and the family of Cookie Rojas, lived. I have no way of contacting the photographer for permission, but here is the site where I found it.