Each win lights a match, and in the corner of Richard Buckle’s mind, a memory leaps to life.
Chicago Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse emerges from the black Cadillac he just parked in front of Wrigley Field.
Ernie Banks signs autographs outside Wrigley Field after another loss in another losing season.
Cubs pitcher Don Caldwell is working on his no-hitter at Wrigley Field.
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“There is something about that ballpark that is supernatural,” said Buckle, the Bradenton attorney who spent entire summers at Wrigley Field before moving to Bradenton with his family in 1960. He was told he was the first person to wear a Cubs hat around town.
The Chicago Cubs begin a three-game series tonight at Tropicana Field. They have the best record in baseball, a development that has Cubs fans thinking of October glory.
Not Buckle. He’s looking back at a magical time of his life, a time when he and his friends and about 8,000 other Cubs fans had the run of Wrigley Field.
“From 1956 to 1960 we went to Wrigley Field every day,” Buckle said. “I kind of grew up there.”
He lived in nearby Park Ridge. An uncle would take Buckle and his friends to games. Or they rode the bus and the train. Afterward, they waited for Banks to sign autographs.
“Ernie Banks would come out and shake hands with every kid,” Buckle said. “The Cubs could be 30 games out with 32 to play, and he’d say, ‘Don’t worry kids. We’re coming back,’ and he’d make you believe it.”
Of all the things Buckle would like to do in his life, one is to have lunch with Banks.
“That’s at the top of my list,” Buckle said.
You might know Buckle as the Chubby Cubby, whose office sits on East Main Street in downtown Bradenton. You might know him as the man inside the bear costume, who dedicates a great deal of his life to raising money to help abused children.
Buckle turns 62 later this month. He just became a grandfather for the first time.
He no longer holds big league ballplayers as superheroes because he’s met too many over the years who were more interested in the money end of the business.
Where have you gone, Ernie Banks?
But the Cubs win another game, and flick goes another match, and another childhood memory comes to life.
The Chubby Cubby still has his tickets for the 1984 World Series games that were supposed to be played at Wrigley Field until Steve Garvey and the San Diego Padres ruined yet another October in Chicago.
The Chubby Cubby once wrote a song about the Cubs.
Late ’50s when I was a boy
Hooky was my greatest joy
Going to Veeck’s walls covered with vines
“It was a good song,” Buckle said.
The title was “I’m a Chubby Cubby, a World Series Walk With You.”
The Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908. Cubs fans are dreaming of a World Series walk this year, the end to 100 years of cursed futility.
Buckle isn’t one of them.
“Next year,” he said.
He can explain. In 2004, he was at an American Trial Lawyers meeting in Boston when he went to a game at Fenway Park. He and a friend convinced those around them to say a prayer to break the curse that afflicted the Red Sox.
The Red Sox won the World Series that fall.
“Curses have to be broken in the order they were placed,” Buckle said.
The Cubs have been cursed since 1945, if you believe in those things.
It may be 100 years since the Cubs won it all, but not 100 World Series. The 1994 series was cancelled.
So next year, Buckle said he will go to Wrigley Field with the same friend and convince Cubs fans to pray over their team.
Wait another year? It makes sense to Buckle, who sees the significance in 100 winless World Series.
“I went to my first Cubs game in 1954. You know how many times my heart was broken?” Buckle said. “How many times can you be disappointed?”
Richard Buckle, who still has his tickets to the ’84 World Series, who wrote a song about his beloved Cubs, who grew up in the ivy-covered play land where Ernie Banks once romped, is the one Cubs fan who can wait another year.