Ten years ago tonight, Andy Kaye was sitting in the living room of his home near Durango and Alta. He was sitting alone, in front of the TV. He was counting down the outs.
He had grown up in the shadow of Wrigley Field. 3731 North Janssen. Four blocks from the venerable ballpark with the ivy on the walls on Chicago’s near North Side.
It wasn’t a very nice neighborhood in those days. When Andy and his pals would pedal their bikes to Wrigley after school let out, they’d have the Andy Frain ushers watch them while they caught the last couple of innings for free.
Young Andy was a Ron Santo fan. But on Oct. 14, 2003, older Andy had become a huge Mark Prior fan. Prior, a big right-handed pitcher, won 18 games that season. He lost just six. And he was mowing down the Florida Marlins in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.
That’s why Andy Kaye was counting the outs.
Five more, and the Cubs would be in the World Series, and they would be in the World Series for the first time since 1945. When Claude Passeau was pitching for them.
And then it happened.
Luis Castillo hit a foul pop fly down the left-field line. There was a tangle of outstretched arms. Then Moises Alou, the Cubs’ left fielder, threw down his glove in disgust. Alou thought he could have caught that ball. Then there would have been only four outs to go.
If only the nerdy guy wearing the Cubs cap and the headphones and the green turtleneck hadn’t touched it first.
“Alou goes for the ball and the hand comes out and Alou starts yelling, and I’m like, ‘What happened?’ ” said Kaye, the public affairs director for Lotus Broadcasting and one of the hosts of the morning show on KOMP 92.3 FM, who estimates he has thrown out more than 220 first pitches at Cashman Field before 51s games.
“I felt an eeriness start to happen. Oh no, oh no, oh no. You could feel the air come out of Wrigley Field.”
It was 3-0, Cubs, when the nerdy guy with the headphones reached out and touched the foul pop fly with one out in the top of the eighth.
It was 8-3, Marlins, after Alex Gonzalez booted a double play ball off the bat of Miguel Cabrera, and Derrek Lee (who would sign with the Cubs during the offseason) hit a double, and Kyle Farnsworth replaced Prior and threw a giant barrel of gasoline on the fire.
If Gonzalez doesn’t boot that ball, it’s 6-4-3, and the Cubs are out of the inning.
This is why I blame Alex Gonzalez and not Steve Bartman for Oct. 14, 2003.
Alex Gonzalez was paid a tidy sum to field routine ground balls and turn them into 6-4-3 double plays. Steve Bartman was just a fan. A Cubs fan.
He was one of us.
He was only doing what one of us would have done had we been sitting in his seat, and the foul pop fly was coming down softly, so softly, you could almost reach out and catch it.
Alex Gonzalez hit 20 home runs for the Cubs that season. His Wikipedia biography does not mention he booted that routine double-play ball off the bat of Miggy Cabrera. It says only this: “Gonzalez’s strong point in the (2003) postseason was his offense; he batted .275 and hit 4 home runs in 12 postseason games.”
Cubs fans did not blame Alex Gonzalez for misplaying that ball; they did not douse him with Old Style beer as he was escorted from the ballpark. He was not offered asylum in Florida by Jeb Bush; he did not go into hiding, never to be heard from again.
A lot of Cubs fans have since forgiven Steve Bartman. He’s still not talking.
He could have been on “Dancing With the Stars” by now. That’s what an expert from a public relations firm specializing in crisis management told the Chicago Tribune in 2011.
It was in that story I learned Steve Bartman, like Andy Kaye, like me, like a bazillion other Cubs fans, was a fan of Ron Santo, the former Chicago third baseman and broadcaster. When people would send Bartman money in the mail as a peace offering, he would give it to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Ron Santo had played with diabetes, had suffered with it all his life, until it finally killed him.
A couple of weeks ago, I read where a bar owner near Wrigley Field had fished a bunch of Ron Santo’s memorabilia from out of a Dumpster near the ballpark. Among the items were a sympathy card signed by Cubs fans following Santo’s death. A Cubs spokesman fibbed about it, said Santo’s things got dumped by accident and that the club had retrieved them.
So no, this Cub fan does not hold Steve Bartman responsible for blowing the lead with five outs to go, and for the Cubs frittering away a 5-3 edge in Game 7 the next night with Kerry Wood, their best pitcher — even better than Mark Prior — on the mound.
Andy Kaye is over it, too.
When I asked what his first question would be if Bartman agreed to end his silence on the 92.3 morning show, the telephone line went quiet.
“Why did you do it?” Andy Kaye finally said. “Why couldn’t you have just waited for the ball to come to you and not reach for it?”
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.