Watching NLCS Game 3 with—and getting stories from—the ultimate Cubs fan
- Carol Haddon has been a Wrigley Field fixture since 1971, but on Wednesday night she could only watch from home as her beloved team fell behind 2-games-to-1 to the Dodgers in the NLCS.
GLENCOE, Ill.—Carol Haddon opens the door to her suburban Chicago home 45 minutes before Game 3 of the National League Championship Series between the Cubs and Dodgers is to begin. She is wearing plastic baseball earrings that are the size of golf balls, and they jingle as she moves around. “They’re good luck earrings, and I got them at the gift store, but they don’t make them anymore,” she says, “So when they’re gone, they’re gone.”
That might seem unsentimental for a Cubs fan, especially one like Haddon. She’s had season tickets since 1971; the Cubs say she is either the longest or one of the longest-tenured fans at Wrigley Field. When her friends went off to the beach after their senior prom in high school, Haddon chose to spend her after party in the upper deck. She’s been there as the Cubs struggled to get some 10,000 fans in the seats. She’s been there nine months pregnant, on crutches and through hundreds of rain delays. Now 74, she was a special education teacher before she had children—a daughter, who lives in San Francisco and works for the NFL, and a son who lives in Mesa, Ariz., and is a podiatrist—and she carved her life around Wrigley. “God bless those day games,” she says. “I could leave the ball park at 3:20 and make it back to do carpools.” She was there for Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game in 1998, and yes, she was there for the Steve Bartman game in the 2003 NLCS. “I’m sick of people talking about it,” she says. “It’s not his fault, and his life changed forever. Maybe he did influence that play, but we ha a whole other game after that. He wasn’t the reason we lost.”
She pauses. “However, he was the beginning of bad luck.”
But this is the year, she recites in a familiar refrain. She’s giddy on this Wednesday night, figuring out if she should put her Barnaby’s pizza in the oven or save time and nuke it in the microwave so she won’t miss first pitch (obviously, she chooses the latter). Haddon rarely misses a game, accumulating scores of stories. Over Game 3, she shared a few with SI.com.
Top of the first inning: Haddon already has her scorebook splayed out on her living room table. She learned to keep score when she was seven years old. Haddon grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Her mother was a German immigrant and would often attend Cubs games with a friend for their Lady’s Day promotions that offered discounted tickets. They had day games, unlike the White Sox, so it was a safe outing. And, as Haddon explains, “It gave them a sense of independence.” Soon young Haddon toted along as well.
Bottom of the first inning: She scribbles an F on her scorecard as Adrian Gonzalez flies out to end a scoreless first inning. “Come on, guys!” she huffs with a slight fist pump. Haddon doesn’t always keep score for away games, just the playoffs. But she always has her scorebook at games. The first year she had season tickets they cost $3.50 a game. Her seats were first row above the visitor’s on-deck circle. But she was a victim of renovation, and 11 years ago the team moved her seats, now four rows up. Among her complaints: she no longer had the wall, a built-in table for her scorebook. She emailed the Cubs, and later that day was awarded the seats she has now: section 14, first row. She has a pair, each of which cost $9,000 for the year.
Top of the second: Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler walks, putting batters on first and second with one out. On deck, Addison Russell practices swings. Haddon loved her old seats, she was knew all the ushers and the vendors, and she was in comfortable speaking distance of the on deck circle. “When they were terrible, I still got excited about going to games to see all of the out of town talent coming in,” she says.
She can rattle off the guy she had casual conversations with—"Hey, how are you?" "How’s your tennis game?"—and knew her by name, but it might be easier to list who she hadn’t met. When Jim Leyland wasn’t managing anymore and returned to Wrigley as a scout, he asked an usher to lead him to Haddon. And Ozzie Smith, “Oh he was the cream of the crop for the St. Louis Cardinals, but he was one of my favorites,” she says. At Smith’s very last game at Wrigley, in 1996, he took the jersey off his back, and handed it to Haddon.
Bottom of the second: Haddon’s husband, Jimmy, returns from work. They were college sweethearts at the University of Illinois, and she won him over when she could play catch just as well (if not better) than his friends. He, ironically, grew up on the North Side but rooted for the White Sox. In a summation of gender roles of the time, he explains the opposite of Haddon’s experience: “We liked them for different reasons, we could go out to night games there and have a good time.”
Top of the third: Haddon points to Larry King and his wife in the premium seats behind home plate. She laughs at their exclusive status. “So Hollywood,” she says. Haddon grew up in a Chicago that felt much more accessible, at least in the circles she ran in. Among her Cubs memorabilia is a signed blowup of the famous Chicago Times magazine cover of Michael Jordan, Walter Payton and Andre Dawson in tuxedos. She explains how she knew people who knew the agents of Payton and Dawson who helped her get signatures. Asked of how she obtained Jordan’s autograph she shrugs: “Eh, it was easy. We actually worked out at the same gym so I went up and just asked him.”
Bottom of the third: The cameras show Larry King yet again. “I wonder what those seats cost,” she says. “You know, I’ve been told if I sold any one of my tickets this off-season I could make a fortune. But I would never. I was never in this for the investment. I have the same set of friends I take every week. There’s a Thursday friend, a Sunday friend. Jimmy comes for big games and on weekends sometimes. But Wednesday’s I always take off. I used to play in a tennis league on Wednesdays, and I just needed one day away from the park. Now it’s mahjong Wednesdays. And now, with the move of premium seating, her ballpark neighbors are mostly Stub Hubbers—out of towners, taking their obligatory trip to Wrigley, “paying whatever they can to get them in those doors.”
Top of the fourth: “Look at that pitch!” says Jimmy, as Soler is caught looking at a 72 mph curveball from Los Angeles starter Rich Hill. The replays show it a few times. “I know baseball so well, and I do have a good vantage from my seat, but I always realize how much I don’t know when I have it magnified like this,” she says. “I once asked David Ross if he’d be able to read pitches from where I was sitting, and he said yes. So I guess it is possible.”
Bottom of the fourth: Yasmani Grandal blasts a two-run homer to rightfield to put the Dodgers ahead 3-0, and Haddon sighs. “Ugh, Grandal!” she says. “Not good when you have a man on base. Not good!” She’s seen her share of power hitters. "I got caught up in the whole Sammy Sosa/Mark McGwire thing," she says. So much so, in fact, that she half-bashfully admits to purchasing a verified signed McGwire jersey online in 1999. When it arrived, she was somewhat skeptical of its authenticity, so she brought it to the ballpark, handed it to her favorite clubhouse attendant, and asked if McGwire could vouch for its authenticity. A few minutes later, the Cubs employee returned with a note scribbled in blue sharpie on yellow legal paper: “Carol, I’m sorry to say but this is not good!! This is the real thing. Mark McGwire.”
Top of the fifth: The announcers mention Theo Epstein and Haddon reflects on the current regime. “During my tenure going to Cubs games, I've seen what, 28 managerial changes, three ownership groups,” she says. “The Wrigley’s were all about entertainment, and they did a good job of that, and they had things like Lady’s Day promotions which got my mom to the seats. The Tribune ownership wanted to change but didn't know how, in my opinion. They brought in Dallas Green, but didn’t really let him do anything, and that kept them in a doldrum for many years. We got lucky in ’84 briefly, but that ended quickly. And now . . . people resent the Ricketts’ financial returns that they will make, but they’re changing the Cubs in a positive way, and with their own private money, or money from other rich people like themselves. They’re committed to winning and they did change the culture. But it’s not as friendly a place as before, though it is efficient. You know, Theo Epstein has been here five years and I barely known him. It used to be that there could be relationships between the fan and executives but not anymore.”
Top of the sixth: Anthony Rizzo strikes out swinging, and Haddon rolls her eyes. At Game 2 at Wrigley on Sunday night, Rizzo had made the last out, lining out to second. “He was playing so lousy, he knew it, I knew it,” Haddon says. “He’s just disgusted as he walks back.” He took his gloves off and made eye contact with Haddon in her regular seat and flipped them over to her. She takes out the gloves and points to the tiny No. 44 stitched into the wrist detail. “That’s how you know he’s a star,” she says. “He’s got personalized batting gloves.”
Bottom of the sixth: After Arrieta surrenders yet another home run, this one to Justin Turner that puts the Cubs in a 4-0 hole, Maddon comes to the mound and calls on Travis Wood. He warms up with catcher Miguel Montero. She likes Montero, and she really likes David Ross, but Haddon’s favorite Cubs catcher of all time is Randy Hundley. “We had knee surgery around the same time,” she says, recalling the season in the early 1970s that for seven months, she was in a cast but came to the ballpark on crutches and carried a step stool in the aisle so she could elevate her leg. “He’d give me all these different tips of how to rehab.”
Top of the seventh: “Come on, we need a hit,” Haddon says, tapping her fingers against the table. Her signature painted fingernails (all blue except for one finger, which is designed like a baseball) are now famous—they were the entire above the fold photo of the front page of the Sunday New York Times sports section last week, in a story on the team's faithful fans. “You know I’ve always had these stories, I guess people just care about them now,” she says earlier, with a grin. As for those nails: She goes to the same nail salon and the technicians know what she likes, but they don't know what a baseball looks like, so she asks them to keep the accent finger white and she adds on the red stitches herself.
Top of the eighth: Dexter Fowler hits a double with two out, just Chicago's third hit of the game. Haddon brings four things to every game: her scorebook, a transistor radio, a seat cushion (to get a little taller) and a Wilson glove. It’s not for catching balls, but rather for protection. She’s been smacked by a foul ball twice. “It's funny,” she says. “People always say look out of for the lefties but I’ve been hit twice, both by righties. Aramis Ramirez, well because you know he always swung early, and the other time was Wellington Castillo. That one left a nasty bruise.”
Top of the ninth: The game ends with Chris Coghlan lining out to third base. Los Angeles has won 6-0 and now leads the NLCS two-games-to-one. Haddon is dejected, but there’s still hope. She's certainly been through worse. She’ll never match the emotion that Jimmy remembers in 1984, when he picked her up at O’Hare Airport at 5 a.m. after the Cubs lost three games in San Diego to lose the NLCS, when only one pennant would have given them their first trip to the World Series since 1945, a trip they're still waiting for. That day at the airport, Haddon had tears streaming down her face. “That was the only time I ever cried for something terrible in baseball,” she says.
Postgame: The Fox Sports crew, which includes Pete Rose, analyzes the loss, and of course, Haddon has a story about him too. With her proximity to the on-deck circle, she had occasional conversations with the future Hit King, knowing they both played tennis, she’d often ask how his tennis game was going. When she went to a law school reunion of Jimmy's, one of his classmates mentioned that he played doubles in Cincinnati with Rose. They arranged for Haddon to fly out to Cincinnati to be a mystery fourth guest at their next match. When Haddon walked onto the court, Rose said, “No way! It's you!”
"Imagine what it’s like serving to Pete Rose,” she says. "We held our own so much that they invited me back three weeks later. And in that match, we won the first set. Let’s just say Pete wasn’t happy about that.”