| Jerri Jeskey, age twenty-six,
leaned over the ivy-covered right field wall, flailing her arms right
along with the prepubescent boys around her.
"Sammy, over here!"
"We love you, Sammy!"
"*Sammy, que nalgas!*" This was Jerri, rather crudely letting the baseball player know, in his native language, that she admired his rear view. She wasn't normally given to yelling out naughty things in Spanish. However, she was willing to go to any lengths to get Sammy's attention and start the ritual.
The large Dominican right-fielder stopped his warm-ups long enough to turn his attention to the bleachers. The early- arriving fans broke into a maniacal series of shrieking and arm waving, the likes of which was usually reserved for the unexpected attention of an on-air T.V. camera. There was something about the presence of a live television camera -- or of a superstar in a Chicago Cubs uniform -- that turned normal people into lunatics.
Good-naturedly, Sammy lifted his arm in greeting. His warm, boyish face broke into a grin as he returned to his work.
Jerri stood for a moment, reveling. The young boys around her began a raucous shrieking in hopes of recapturing Sammy's attention or gaining that of one of the other Cubs players doing their warm-ups in the outfield.
Jerri broke to the right and ascended the empty center field bleachers until she reached her favorite observation point. There, she settled in to watch batting practice. Miniaturized by the grand old manually-operated scoreboard rising in gargantuan splendor above her, she lifted her eyes above the antics of the Cubs in their royal blue warm-up jerseys and gazed the length of Wrigley Field. Past the lush green of the playing field, above home plate and below the broadcast booth, her upper deck box seats awaited. Their seats, really -- hers and Serena's. They always sat there. The view was the best in the whole ballpark.
Today, though, Serena had put a damper on things. It wasn't her fault that she had a headache, but why did it have to be on one of the mere handful of days per summer that two working girls from the far-north suburbs were able to get away?
Still giddy from the encounter with Sammy, Jerri returned her attention to the warm-ups. Sitting cupped within the protective confines of Wrigley Field, she felt the familiar blissfulness settle over her along with the gentle breeze. The world away from the ivy-covered brick walls could not touch her. Not while she was here.
After awhile, she sighed and rose. She had promised not to leave Serena alone for long. Perhaps by now Serena's headache had abated and they could return together to enjoy batting practice. Jerri's royal blue running shoes padded lightly across the bleachers as she made her way to the Sheffield Avenue side of the ballpark.
Several minutes later, she was on the upper deck level behind home plate. She skirted around the backs of the curved rows of seats and towards the outer part of the stadium. Bypassing several concession stands, she stepped into the sunshine of the upper deck patio. If she were to walk straight ahead and look directly over the wall, she would see the mass of teeming Cubs fans and traffic down below on Clark Street. But from almost anywhere else on the upper deck patio, the view over the top of the wall was of blue sky outlined by stately buildings.
Serena sat slumped at one of the round tables, cradling her head in her hands and massaging one temple with her thumb. She perked visibly when she spotted her sister. "Did he do it?" she demanded.
Ponytail swinging as she jogged forward, Jerri punched both fists in the air. "He did it!"
"Yes!" Serena, too, jabbed the air triumphantly. In unison, the sisters chanted, "The red birds are dead birds!"
A neatly groomed man, alone on the other side of the table with a plastic cup of beer , looked up at them. Serena grinned sheepishly. She explained, "On days when the Cubs play the Cardinals and my sister can get Sammy Sosa to wave to her during batting practice, the Cubs always win."
The man lifted his brows. "Is Sammy aware of this? He might want to make sure he waves before all Cardinals games."
"It would be nice if we could make it here for all those games," Jerri responded, peeking surreptitiously at his left hand for a wedding ring. There was none. "Besides, it might not work if he knows he's supposed to wave."
"We can't have that." The man laughed. He appeared to be in his early thirties. A bit chunky at the waist and thin at the scalp, but altogether he wasn't bad. His New England way of dropping his r's was appealing. And his smile came easily.
Jerri noted his lack of Cubs colors. "Hey. You're a Cards fan, aren't you?" she demanded, grimacing with distaste. She was only half-jesting. Getting together with a Cards fan was almost as unthinkable as getting together with an axe murderer. Or worse, a Chicago White Sox fan.
The stranger lifted his manicured hands in immediate surrender. "Never. I swear it." Grinning, he picked up his beer again. "My team is the Boston Red Sox."
"Oh." Jerri nodded sympathetically, seating herself on beside Serena. "Red Sox fans have had it almost as hard as us Cubs fans. Almost."
"I'm Will." He held a hand of introduction first to Jerri, then to Serena before he continued, "My job takes me on the road, so whenever I'm in a city that has a major league baseball team I make a point of taking in a game. I've been to most stadiums in the majors. One of these days I'd like to say I've seen them all. I can already tell you, though, that I'm happiest when I'm scheduled to visit Chicago. I've been to Wrigley Field half a dozen times and the atmosphere here is different than at any other ballpark. You can feel it the moment you walk through the gates."
Jerri was pleased. Very pleased. She offered, "You're right about that. This is a very special place. I feel safe here, if that makes sense. But Fenway Park must be wonderful, too. I've always wanted to see a game there. It's the only other real ballpark left in the majors. Wrigley and Fenway are definitely ballparks, not stadiums."
"I agree completely." Will motioned to the battered leather fielder's mitt that rested beside Jerri's backpack on the picnic table. "Is that for catching a long ball?"
"No, Reenie and I don't sit where you can catch home runs. We like the upper deck box seats behind home plate. There's a million chances to catch a foul ball there, but can you believe it? We've been coming here since we were kids and we've never had a ball come our way, foul or otherwise."
Serena smiled as she quietly continued to massage her temple. Usually, she was the one men discovered first. Serena was slightly prettier and far more busty than Jerri, and Serena spent a lot of money to make sure her hair looked realistically blonde. Yet Will was clearly more impressed with Jerri, whose loose Cubs road jersey, underdeveloped chest and dark, windblown ponytail made her appear about twelve years old. However, Jerri radiated a passion and intensity (especially when the subject was the Cubs) that Serena had never been able to match.
Serena had no problem with that. Like everybody else, she loved Jerri. She was genuinely happy that her kid sister had caught somebody's eye.
"May I buy you ladies a beer?" Will was inquiring.
"I don't drink beer, but I'd love some spring water," said Jerri.
Serena nodded. "Spring water sounds great. Beer would just make my headache worse."
"Two spring waters, then."
When the pleasant-looking Will had disappeared through the doors and into the concession stand area, Serena squeezed her sister's arm. "He likes you, Jer-Bear."
Jerri was already wearing a smile. "And he seems to like it that I know baseball. Unlike Mark, huh?"
Both sisters snorted at the memory of Jerri's ex-husband. Then Jerri frowned. "Will's nice, but did you hear him? He's a traveling salesman. What good will it do me to get interested in someone who's not staying in town?"
Serena shrugged. "So the worst that happens is that maybe you get a fun date with him. So what? Who knows, if things really click with you two, he'll come live out here. It's worth a shot." It was impossible, of course, for Will or anybody else to succeed in enticing Jerri away from Chicago. That wasn't even a consideration. Jerri was not to be parted from her close-knit family, much less from her beloved Cubs and Wrigley Field.
By the time the three parted in time for the first pitch, it was confirmed that Will and Jerri would meet after the game at Harry Caray's Restaurant, where Will already had a reservation. Founded by the late, great broadcaster, Harry Caray's was loaded with Chicago baseball history. If nothing else, Jerri's future held a good dinner and a discussion with a man who appreciated a female Cubs fan.
The pitch broke sharply over home plate. Sammy Sosa still managed to put some wood on it.
The ball sailed foul behind him. An enthusiastic fan in the first row of the upper deck grabbed the ball enroute . . . and, like a rookie outfielder, bobbled it. The white sphere dropped like a rock into the lower deck. A mini-rumbling echoed through Wrigley Field as fans in both decks booed their butter-fingered compatriot.
Jerri's hand tensed inside her battered leather fielder's mitt. Foul balls often found this part of the ballpark. Problem was, they never found her. Some years back, a Ryne Sandberg foul had landed in the outstretched glove of somebody two seats down from her, but that was the closest she'd ever been.
Today promised to be different in every way.
Sammy fouled off another ball. Like the previous one, it popped up back and high.
Jerri stared upward. For a long, long few seconds, she was able to see the ball dropping directly down towards her face. Her heart sped. This wasn't simply a foul ball. It was a Cubs ball. It had touched the bat of a Cub who had set records and was sure to be a candidate for the Hall of Fame. To catch this ball meant that if she died tomorrow, she'd die knowing that her life was complete.
She shot her gloved hand up to meet the baseball.
Everything shattered into a blur of motion and smeared colors.
When it was over, Jerri could only say that she'd landed in her sister's lap. Because that was where she found herself; her mitt flapping open and shut like a trout out of water.
"I can't believe it!" Serena exploded.
Nobody else could believe it, either.
The man seated on Jerri's other side had been annoying throughout the game. With a shaven head, a gigantic Cubs logo tattooed on his right bicep, and a build like a pro wrestler gone berserk on steroids, he seemed to spill out of his seat. Despite the fact that he'd brought his own one-pound sack of potato chips and crunched fistfuls of them noisily through a good deal of the game, he continuously traveled back and forth to the concession stand for enough additional snacks to feed a battalion. On his sojourns to and from his seat, he stepped on feet and bumped people with his massive derriere.
And just now, he had hijacked the Sammy Sosa foul ball.
The potato chip man had made sure that nobody stood between him and that ball. As the baseball hurtled downward towards Jerri's glove, Potato Chip had leapt to his feet and swept everybody out of his way with one gesture of his Goliath-like arms. The people on either side of him ended up in the laps of other fans; the small radio held by the person behind him ended up in pieces.
Unrepentant, Potato Chip settled back in his seat and burped in satisfaction, his hammy hands cradling the baseball.
The baseball that rightfully belonged to Jerri.
She silently helped the other fans pick up the scattered pieces of radio. Then she folded her arms and stared grimly down at home plate with a dark sense of foreboding. Something had been disturbed; something she couldn't touch. Everything felt different now.
Sammy struck out.
As the eighth inning commenced and the Cardinals took their turn at bat, Potato Chip rose yet again and headed in the direction of the concession stands. "Don't hurry back," the radio man muttered.
"I'm going to get some more spring water," Jerri said, picking up her backpack. "Want some?"
Serena shook her head glumly. Her headache was gone but she, too, felt that the magic of the day had been destroyed.
Jerri slipped out of the row of seats, only minimally disturbing her fellow Cubs fans. Her tanned legs flashed as she moved up the stairs and towards the concession stands. Potato Chip was standing in line. Quietly, she waited until he had smothered his fresh, hot pretzel with mustard before she approached. "I was sitting next to you when you caught that ball," she said, making her blue eyes wide and innocent. Maybe Serena was prettier, but Jerri had lovely eyes. Everybody said so. "Can I see it? Please?"
"Sure, why not?" Balancing the pretzel, Potato Chip removed the baseball from the pocket of his massive shorts. He kept tight hold of it.
"If you let me hold the ball, I'll show you something of mine. And I'll even let you touch." Enticingly, Jerri backed in the direction of the now-empty upper deck patio. The fingers of her sturdy right hand fluttered towards the top button of her jersey. "Come on out here and I'll show you."
The ninth inning was underway when Jerri returned to her seat. "I was getting ready to go looking for you," Serena scolded. She looked her sister up and down approvingly. "You look great, though. Did you just buy that shirt?"
"Yes." The replica road jersey Jerri had worn to the game was now folded neatly in her backpack, which she calmly shoved beneath her chair. She wore a crisp white tank top bearing the Cubs logo. She had knotted it just below her petite bosom, revealing a smooth expanse of stomach. She'd put on some makeup too, and let down her hair so that it fell in silky dark lengths around her shoulders.
"You must really like Will if you're willing to miss an entire inning to get fixed up for him," Serena said, lifting her brows significantly.
"It wasn't up to me," Jerri replied darkly.
The Cubs lost the game.
"Sammy waved to you during batting practice. How could we lose?" Serena grumbled as they joined thirty-eight thousand other fans in departure. "It was that potato chip-eating jerk, the one who stole the ball from you. This is all his fault. He messed up the karma. I'm glad he never came back."
"Don't worry, he only ruined it for this game. Next time everything will be just like always." Jerri, usually the emotional one, seemed almost supernaturally stoic. She patted her older sister's shoulder.
As they reached the top of the stairs, they saw the commotion on the upper deck patio. Serena joined the ever- curious Jerri in attempting to see what was going on.
"Heart attack," was the knowing phrase on everyone's lips. Serena clapped her hands to her mouth when she caught sight of the body. "It's the potato chip guy!"
Jerri stared unsympathetically for a moment. "Come on, let's go," she said finally.
"I'm worried about you taking the train back home by yourself tonight," Serena fretted as they parted from the crowd and continued to the concourse. "Make Will go with you."
"Maybe I'll just spend the night in his hotel room. That'll solve that problem." Jerri laughed as her sister pretended to slug her.
She could afford the laughter. Wrigley Field was safe again.
With near-perfect timing, she alighted from the cab just in time to see Will strolling towards Harry Caray's.
"Whoa! I almost didn't recognize you, Jerri." Will made a show of knuckling his eyes. "You looked good before, but now you're a showstopper." He raised her strong, tanned hand to his lips. "I'm sorry things didn't go the Cubs' way this afternoon. Did you at least get to catch that foul ball you've been after for so many years?"
"As a matter of fact . . . " Jerri opened her backpack.
She proudly removed the baseball and allowed Will to hold it. "And it's not just any foul ball. This is a Sammy Sosa ball."
"If Sammy had put this into the bleachers instead of into your glove, the Cubs might have won," Will quipped, giving the baseball a short toss into the air. He caught it again neatly and handed it back to Jerri. "I'll bet this is going to have a place of honor when you get it home."
"No question." Jerri already knew where the baseball would be displayed. She was going to buy a special holder for it first thing in the morning, and it would be the sole center of attention atop the antique cedar chest she'd inherited from her grandmother.
For now, though, she stored the precious baseball carefully in her backpack, right beside the package containing the hypodermic needle and Imitrex. She carried the package everywhere. She suffered from devastating migraines; headaches far worse than the garden-variety one Serena had been nursing that afternoon. It took only a small injection of Imitrex beneath Jerri's skin to help kill the headaches.
Of course, she always carried extra. Just in case.