It was a near-perfect setting.
All the usual amenities for a home-opening victory at Wrigley Field were in place — peanuts, hot dogs with chili and cheese,
There were chips, cold beer on ice and a quality front-row seat.
Surrounded by friends, cracking jokes and telling stories, Bob Havlish enjoyed a grand time like he’s done for every Chicago Cubs home opener since 1958.
Havlish, though, was on the north side of Elkhart this season — not the north side of Chicago like he’s been for the last 55 years. Relaxed and settled into a wheelchair this spring, the 90-year-old Elkhartan said his Cubs spirit was full and lively, though in Chicago.
“My heart is at Wrigley today,” said Havlish, 90, as he watched Monday’s Cubs home opener on a large-screen TV at Greenleaf Health Campus. “A lot of memories. A lot of memories.”
While a Cubs losing streak reached four games Monday, April 8, “Babo” had his own streak of 55 home openers come to an end. But what a run he had.
Havlish had a four-star seat directly behind the screen and just to the right of home plate. Those seats Monday were occupied by his daughter, Kit, and two grandchildren.
On Monday, with a Budweiser in hand, Havlish reveled in the Cubs moment with Jerry Ainsworth and Bill Wuertz in a room filled with more bull than a Texas rodeo.
The “Friendly Confines’’ it wasn’t, but it sure was friendly.
It’s too bad either any way you look at it, but it was still one heck of a string — a streak of openers which featured a dazzling lineup of future Hall of Famers nearly every season during the ’60s and early ’70s.
And not just any hall of famers. These were some of the game’s all-time best.
When Havlish’s string began on April 18, 1958, the Cubs had a young shortstop named Ernie Banks and the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago’s opponent that day, had their own icon in Stan Musial.
A year later, it was the L.A. Dodgers with Brooklyn holdovers like Duke Snider and Gil Hodges hitting ahead of a youthful Don Drysdale on opening day.
In 1960, the San Francisco Giants rolled out a blockbuster lineup boasting Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda.
One year later, the Cubs trotted out a new third baseman named Ron Santo against the Milwaukee Braves.
Across the field in the other dugout was Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn.
A young outfielder named Lou Brock started in the Chicago outfield on opening day of ’62. Three years later, Brock started the season again, only this time with the Cardinals.
Then in 1967, Santo, Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert and Banks began a string of opening-day lineups as the Cubs’ infield.
Today, the Cub names aren’t as familiar to Havlish and he’s not ashamed to admit that. Age will do that.
That fact aside, his excitement was a genuine as the ivy on the Wrigley walls.
“There they are!” he shouted as the Cubs jumped out of the dugout for the first time.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Cubs game without a bit of disappointment. And it was immediate.
“Ohhhh, boy. Ohhhh, boy,” Havlish moaned as Martin Maldonado of the Brewers cracked a wind-blown, bases-clearing double in the top of the first inning.
Havlish, like many Cubs fans, took it in stride.
“Oh, well,” Havlish chuckled, “Wait until next year.”
Next year? It’s just one home game, right?
C’mon, Babo, you know the drill.
Hope you enjoy the season.
Contact Bill Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org