Game 34 // Fifth Inning // David Ross, Forever Young



David Wade Ross turned thirty-nine years old on March 13th. He’s played in over 800 games. He has over 100 gray hairs bespeckling his beard. And in a sunny, afternoon game against the Pirates, in the fifth inning, he hit career home run number 99—into the reaching hands of a dozen Cubs fans, shirtless and drunk with the dream of a winning team at Wrigley finally alive.

He’s found the fountain of youth in 2016, living the failed dream of Ponce de León, living the plot of “Cocoon” daily, rejuvenated back to early 20’s form in indoor pools filled with extraterrestrial pods, blending in like a peer and not a father figure, alongside a youth movement now in full bloom on the north side.

And the Cubs, his team, have been on a season-opening streak of historic proportions. They’ve won eight in a row in recent days, sweeping the Pirates a week earlier. Now they’ve got the Pirates again. At home. A 3-0 lead. A 25-8 record. Jason Heyward up against Francisco Liriano.

A line-drive single to center, a man on first to open the inning.

Then, I hear something, like a dog listening to a garage door open, its owner coming home, dashing around the house for a full round of routine joy.

Out of the speakers around Wrigley Field, out through my TV speakers at home, comes the daily sound of a budding legend walking to the plate, the soundtrack to the best young Cub on this team.

Say toniiiight… we gon’ get going, going gone….

Kris Bryant comes up to the plate. Liriano leaves a fastball up in the zone, on the third pitch. There’s a quick, unfurling swing, sweeping upward. And the ball lands for a two-run home run, in the short porch of left-center field, just beyond the basket, into the sun-baked crowds celebrating a 5-0 lead, into the spot Ryne Sandberg made so familiar over the years.

Now, out of the speakers it’s “Sweet Home Chicago,” Bryant rounding the bases, a group of fans taking panoramic shots on smartphones, singing, dancing, the Pirates stuck in a collective grimace, Liriano digging into the mound dirt, at a new low, another win on the horizon for Chicago.

“Bad Blood” up next on the PA system, Taylor Swift, walk-up choice for Anthony Rizzo, the tune the theme for two teams in an increasingly fired-up rivalry.

Sudden success for both. A benches-clearing fight in last year’s NL Wild Card game. Sean Rodriguez and a destroyed, battered Gatorade cooler. And now, the Cubs with another win, maybe another sweep, on the table.

Rizzo drives a pitch deep to center, the deepest park of the park, either into the basket or wedged into the thick ivy, flying straight at the yellow 400-feet sign painted on the outfield bricks. Andrew McCutchen jumps into the wall, his yellow-striped socks crashing into the ivy, and the ball’s off his glove, onto the warning-track dirt.

Rizzo jogs in to second base. Double. Still no outs. Still 5-0.

The music changes, still pop, Christian pop, coming out loud around Wrigley Field. “Alive,” the single from Julianna Zobrist, wife of Ben—the song he’s promised (forced?) to play each home at-bat of the season.

Post-homer Kris Bryant is in the dugout chatting with Ryan Kalish, both in sunglasses, both all smiles. Pirates’ pitching coach Ray Searage comes out of the away dugout, his white mustache curling into a slight frown, out to talk to Francisco Liriano.

He jogs back, Liriano chews some gum and stares dread-fully at Zobrist, coming off NL player-of-the-week honors. A slider from Liriano for a low, first-pitch strike.

Zobrist’s hands quiver, as they always do, his tense, curled up, hunch-backed stance awaiting the next pitch from Liriano. Moments later it’s a walk. Liriano digs into the mound with his cleats, exhales, wipes his forehead.

Jorge Soler comes up, strikes out on a slider down the middle. One out. Liriano up to almost 90 pitches. And it’s Addison Russell next, coming off a three-run homer in the 4th.  “Shoop,” by Salt N Pepa, on the ballpark speakers. What a coincidence…

Around the stadium, fans are whistling. Cheering. Then it quiets down. The old-school organ playing, “hot dogs!!” yelled from the vendors, and the sound of a fastball hitting the mitt of Francisco Cervelli. Francisco to Francisco. A strikeout looking. Two outs.

And then, out from the speakers: Jay-Z’s “Forever Young,” a 39-year-old stepping to the plate. A 2-0 count. A fastball down the middle.

And then it’s home run number 99, a three-run shot into the left-field bleachers, way back, into the hands of a group of fans leaping up for it. A guy takes his shirt off, prays to the heavens, chugs a beer, a dozen arms sticking up together like logs in a bonfire.

Liriano is done. “Hit the Road, Jack” on the speakers, Grandpa Rossy rounding third, touching home, the fifth run of a five-run fifth inning, the score 8-0.

The Cubs haven’t won it all since 1908. But how long is 108 years, anyway? How old is a losing streak that bad? Forever young.





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