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Baseball and Grandpa

The last two victories for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in the World Series were this past Sunday October 30th and back on October 8th 1945 which happened to be Game six against the Detroit Tigers. When the final out was recorded Sunday night the television cameras panned to the audience trying to capture various shots of the emotionally charged crowd.

One shot in particular really resonated with me. It was a man I am guessing in his early 40’s or late 30’s holding a hand crafted sign high above his head with a smile from ear to ear. His sign simply read…….”This is for Grandpa.”

Robert Louis Helmer was born December 3rd 1933 in West Branch Iowa. He is without question the biggest Chicago Cubs fan I have ever met in my entire life. Bob and his wife, the long suffering Barb, have four children, eight grandchildren, and five great grandchildren. One of those eight grandchildren happens to be my wife. She has jokingly said that the reason Grandpa has to eat his dinner at 4:30 every day is so that he is settled into his recliner for first pitch. Bob and a few of his friends growing up always made their way to Wrigley Field a dozen times or so to watch Cubs games every year starting in the mid 1940’s. He could rattle off players, stats, and mostly losses dating back decades. He always knew where he was when something of great significance happened in Cubs history.

At the conclusion of the Cubs Game 6 victory over the Cleveland Indians one thought immediately came to my mind. I need to make the five hour drive down south and watch Game 7 with Grandpa Helmer.

For nearly the past year Bob has been tending to his wife whose health has been failing her. Every day after lunch he makes the trip to the nursing home where Barb is living spending a few hours with her during group activity, social time, and of course physical therapy. He has a very tight schedule that is followed to the minute that always means dinner at 4:30 followed by the news and desert afterwards. This, of course, always allows him to enjoy the Cubs playing postseason night games. I asked Bob what his sleep schedule is usually like. Bob said “I stay up to watch the game until the very end.” He then added, “Although if they aren’t playing I am usually in bed by 8 o’clock.”

If you are looking for the picture perfect desription of great small town America, look up the city of West Branch Iowa. It resides 10 miles east of Iowa City and home to just over 2,300 residents. It is the birthplace of the 31st president of the United States, Herbert Hoover, complete with a Historical site, and Presidential library in his name. The high school football stadium is named “The Little Rose Bowl,” the home of the West Branch Bears. The town is also host to not one, but two locally owned and operated small ice cream shops. As I stated, the perfect description of small town America.

This area and the vast majority of Eastern Iowa and the state for that matter is and always will be Cubs territory. In fact the sports pecking order is Iowa Hawkeye football, followed by Iowa Hawkeye football, Cubs baseball, and then Iowa wrestling.

Driving through that state and more importantly that city you could see the excitement, the classic white Chiacago Cub W flags hanging from trucks, windows, and front porches. This game, this team, and mostly this moment extends far beyond Wrigleyville and the city of Chicago.

Watching last night’s Game 7 with someone who has lived through so much heartbreak was an experience I will never forget. Wearing his old, thread worn, creased, 70 year old Cubs cap and listening to him shout “That’s not a strike!!” “What is he taking him out for??” and tension building with every pitch. With a three run lead at the end of the 7th inning, I looked him in the eye and said, “Grandpa, the Cubs are gonna win the World Series.” This of course was followed by the perfect response as only a Cubs fan could put it, “No way, they are gonna find a way and (bleep) this up!!”

The Cubs did not screw it up, even though they tried. They delivered a World Series championship in one of the most thrilling games in World Series history with an 8-7 victory in ten innings. An improbable comback after facing a 3 games to 1 deficit.

For so many Cubs fans from all around the world and for Robert Louis Helmer, in West Branch Iowa, next year finally became this year.

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