As the Cubs sputtered to finish line of the 2019 season, I checked out. Call me a bad fan or whatever, but baseball just wasn't fun anymore. I know that fans of the North Side baseball club would have basically sold their soul just to be in postseason contention less than a short decade ago (myself included), but the last few months of Cubs baseball were just... grating. Between the Addison Russell crap (launch him into the sun), the political dealings by ownership, the suspect new television conglomerate, the managerial drama, the general toxicity of the fan-base on social media, the seemingly lackadaisical play on field when it mattered most, and the second straight craptastic collapse, I simply wasn't enjoying America's pastime anymore. With that in mind, I turned to the only voice of reason I could find in this topsy-turvy world: the goddess of decluttering, Marie Kondo.
Simply put, baseball was not sparking joy in my life; so, I disposed of it. Unfortunately, part of dumping baseball was dumping baseball cards, as well. With that, the blog went on indefinite hiatus.
After a couple of months of focusing on greener pastures, like training for the Chicago Marathon, focusing my need to collect on vinyl records, and whiling away the hours with my wife - sans the burden of subconscious stress over the performance of two dozen random men participating in a child's game - I feel quite rejuvenated. Now that the World Series is halfway over, I feel comfortable jumping back in, once again. After all, the split was never meant to be permanent, I just needed a nice long break to regain perspective and to remind myself that there are infinitely more important things in life than sports.
Of course, the Bears are trying their damnedest to drive me right back to the brink.
Turns out they needed more than just a kicker, huh? The whole offense is screwy.
Thankfully, I'm not nearly as die-hard towards the Bears as I am the Cubs, so I can still enjoy the sport of football while keeping it at arm's length, without the intense emotional investment. In fact, before last weekend, I had never even attended a single Bears game. Heck, I had never even been to Soldier Field for so much as a carnival, let alone a professional football tilt. Notice also that I am speaking in past tense.
That's right, this lifelong outskirts of Chicago native had never seen the Monsters of the Midway perform outside of a TV broadcast. That is, until my Eagles fan of a mother-in-law accidentally won tickets to last Sunday's game in a raffle and (since she would rather burn them than entertain the thought of going) offered them up to my wife and I as a gift. That definitely sparked joy!
That being stated, the Philly native got the last laugh, as the Bears were absolutely pantsed by the injury ravaged Saints, despite coming off of a bye week. Even though they lost 36-25, it didn't even feel that close. During the Bears' very first offensive set, a blocked punt led to a safety, which really set the tone for the rest of the evening. By the end of the third quarter, Mitch Trubisky and crew had only four first-downs on the ledger. Four. Needless to say, it was a lopsided affair. Nevertheless, I had an absolute blast as absolutely everything was a new experience to me.
We arrived at the complex super early (more on that in a bit), after a train ride and a mile and a half walk, partially along the fog-draped lakefront. Nevertheless, I still had enough energy to excitedly sprint back and forth along the original and still empty, column-lined concourse of Soldier Field. I am a runner, at heart, after all.
Seeing the gridiron, in person, for the first time as we emerged from bowl plopped on top of that historic concourse briefly took my breath away. In fact, it was much like my first time seeing the diamond at Wrigley Field way back in 2004. I was awestruck long enough to have the much more experienced folks blocked behind me contemplating knocking me over the railing so they could get to their seats.
And, of course, souvenirs. The reason why my wife and I arrived at the gates early - an hour before they opened and three before kickoff - was so that we'd each be guaranteed that day's giveaway: the above Walter Payton bobblehead. "Sweetness" is going to be making some new friends on my desk at work very soon. Additionally, I also made sure to keep my souvenir soda cup and a Miller Lite can celebrating the 100th anniversary of the NFL with a Bears logo on it because I adore my ephemera.
But, this is a card blog, is it not? And I am a card-carrying, card collector, right? With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that my souvenir scavenging was not limited to stadium giveaways and beverage containers:
That's right - I also picked up this bad boy from the first kiosk I came across.
Not only have I been shying away from my baseball cards during my self-imposed hobby exile, but my football cards have been ignored too. As such, there's definitely some new, fresh faces in this factory team set blister pack that are needed for my Bears All-Time Roster Collection. I pulled the trigger - even though it was more expensive there than in regular retailers - because I loved the idea of having Bears cards from my maiden Bears game hold such prominent places in my collection. If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know how much emphasis I place on my roster-based binders.
While there were some repeats, including a highly unnecessary Brian Urlacher single (throwback players being included in what is serving as a flagship product is a rant for another day), I was able to nestle a few new names into my BATRC after the shellacking ended and the Metra train took me home. For example:
Roquan Smith was last year's first round draft choice and, as such, his cards came with a premium in Chicagoland card shops. Prices didn't go down either after the linebacker posted 122 tackles, five sacks, five passes defended, and one interception in his rookie campaign, arguably the best defensive debut since Brian Urlacher. Unfortunately, he's been struggling quite a bit this year; but, then again, so is pretty much the entire roster.
Anyway, it's always nice to cross a big name off of the list!
David Montgomery has been an integral part of what is technically considered Matt Nagy's "offense." The running back was a third round draft choice last winter and now leads the team in rushing yardage with 231. In fact, it's not even close, with last year's breakout star, Tarik Cohen, lagging miles behind with 47. Once again, it's quite apparent that the offense is broken, but Montgomery is doing his best to carry the team on his back.
Meanwhile, Riley Ridley hasn't played so much as a single snap for the team so far, though he is on the 53-man roster. Thus, I don't have much to say about the fourth round draft choice. Maybe he deserves an opportunity to play? Heck, he even looks like he's stuck on the sidelines and annoyed in the picture chosen for this rookie card.
While not entirely new to my Bears roster collection, Khalil Mack certainly needed an update - he looks so much better in blue and orange!
Mr. Mack has been nothing but a beast since being pillaged from the Raiders prior to the start of last year. For frame of reference, in 2018, he registered 47 tackles, 12.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and an interception returned for a touchdown. Significantly, the 12.5 sacks were the most by a Bears player since Richard Dent back in 1993. So far in 2019, Mack already has 4.5 sacks and leads the league with 4 forced fumbles. Like I said, he's a nearly unstoppable beast.
Finally, though I was quite happy to properly update my card for the Bears' biggest star, my favorite card from the blister pack was actually the one that follows:
While my OCD tendencies are usually somewhat offended by cards which picture a player on a different than he is listed as being with, that quirk still does not diminish this pull for me. From now on, Cordarrelle Patterson will always hold a special place in my heart because he provided the lone Chicago highlight from my very first live gameday experience and, boy oh boy, it was a doozy:
I have always thought that return a punt or kick-off for a touchdown was the most exciting single play in sports and, after seeing one in person, that it nearly caused my heart to lead straight through my rib cage. I haven't had a declared favorite player since Devin Hester moved to Atlanta, but I think Mr. Patterson might have stolen the crown! The Swiss army knife offensive weapon was only brought over from New England last winter, but he'll now always hold a special place in my heart.
With that, we've covered all of the relevant content from the factory team set which commemorates my first visit to Soldier Field.
All told, despite the result, the memories made and the souvenirs obtained definitely contributed to making the game an overall positive experience. I had a great time and hope to make it back again sometime sooner than in another 30 years. Is there anyone else out there like me that roots for a particular team but has never seen them play in person or took decades to finally do so? Was it a geographical location thing or was there some other reason that kept you from making the pilgrimage? Let me know in the comment section below!
Another benefit was that I felt inspired to return to the Chicago sporting world and to blogging, so that I might have some documentation of my first Bears game. Here's hoping that it sticks! On that note, here's hoping my newfound balance in life and sanity stick too. We shall see - there's nothing or nobody better than the Cubs at testing my limits though. Thankfully, they have far less opportunities in the off-season.
Don't make me Marie Kondo you again, Cubs!