Stepping up to the plate to save Chicago this weekend

If you follow this blog, you know my husband Mike likes baseball. You also know he doesn’t like the Cubs.

Mike Knezovich is a Chicago White Sox fan. He does not think the ivy is cute — crying is OK in baseball, just not shrubbery. He doesn’t think naming a dog Wrigley is clever. He thinks the Cubs manager likes attention a little too much, and is too fond of gimmickry. And grown men posing for photos in onesie pajamas is a sign of weakness.

Last year Mike went to a Cubs-Sox game with some members of my family, including my nephew, Brian. The Sox won, the L flag came out, and Brian couldn't quite believe it (Also note Mike's ballcap:Marlins).

Last year Mike went to a Cubs-Sox game with some members of my family, including my nephew Brian. The Sox won, the L flag came out, and Brian couldn’t quite believe it (also Note Mike’s Florida Marlins hat).)

Mike Knezovich owns an “L” flag.

Earlier this month I came up with a plan. For Mike’s sake — and the sake of Chicago citizens — I’d see to it that Mike was away from Cub fans if the Cubs ended up playing at Wrigley in the World Series this year.

Cub fans are everywhere (they’re like cockroaches, Mike says). Where on earth could we go to watch those games where Cub fans would be in a minority? The home of the American League champions!

At the beginning of the playoffs, we knew we’d be traveling to Texas, Toronto, Baltimore, or Cleveland the last weekend of October. At risk of offending any blog followers who live in Texas, I rooted against the Rangers. Mike and I have always been curious about Toronto, and having never been there before, I started out pulling for them. We have good friends in Baltimore, Boston and Cleveland, though, and in the end, I am absolutely delighted to have Mike rent a car and take Whitney and me with him to Cleveland while the Indians play here at Wrigley.

Our friend Brad may drive with us, too — he’s originally from Ohio, loves staying in downtown Cleveland near museums and music halls, and with the
Indians out of town he should have no trouble finding a hotel room.

Mike, Whitney and I will stay with our friends Lauren and Bob there. Bob grew up a Brewers fan, Lauren followed the Mets, and one (of many things) that brought them together was the discovery that both buy scorecards and score every single baseball game they attend in person. Since moving to Cleveland a decade ago they’ve taken on the Indians  as their team. They have tickets to World Series games in Cleveland but will be home to watch it on TV with us during our visit.

We’ve offered our Chicago apartment out to family members (my family is full of Cub fans) to use while we’re away and are very pleased that Floey’s dad and her big brother Justin took us up on the offer. They’ll be staying here and taking public transportation to Wrigleyville, just an earshot away from Wrigley Field
while the games are being played there.

And, because Mike Knezovich will be hundreds of miles away, they should be able to enjoy their time.

Mondays with Mike: What the Cubs, White Sox, and Cleveland have in common

I took a lot of cues from my late mother, Esther Knezovich, who was only too happy to provide them. For example, she’d lived in California in 1950 when Richard M. Nixon ran for the U.S. Senate against a woman named Helen Gahagan Douglas. Nixon smeared his opponent as a communist and won. My mom (whose maiden name was Latini, cue the Godfather music) held grudges. She also judged Nixon to be of generally low character. So growing up in our household, even as a boy, I was programmed to despise Nixon long before we learned anything about Cambodia or Watergate. I also learned my mom knew what she was talking about in some matters, and then some.

As heroes go, you can do better than Bill Vleck

As heroes go, you can’t do better than Bill Veeck.

If my mom’s villains were mine, so were her heroes. One of them was Bill Veeck. She grew up in a small coal-mining town about an hour from Pittsburgh, and her Italian-born uncle and aunt had settled in not-so-far away Cleveland. That led to summer jobs waitressing at a restaurant that, if I remember correctly, was named Childs. My mom was a Pirates fan, but she adopted the Indians as her American League team. She lived with the aunt and uncle, and took in games at Cleveland’s old Municipal Stadium. One of those games was July 17, 1941, when she saw the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak broken.

Bill Veeck eventually bought the Cleveland franchise in 1946. He hired Lou Boudreau, a star shortstop, to be a player-manager—a typically unorthodox Veeck move. Boudreau delivered a World Series championship in 1948, the last time Cleveland won the Series. (Boudreau was eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and went on to become a broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs.)

That same championship year, Veeck’s Cleveland team broke the color barrier in the American League when he signed Larry Doby and then Satchel Paige. Larry Doby would eventually become the manager of the White Sox.

The exploding scoreboard was a big deal at Comiskey.

The exploding scoreboard was a big deal at Comiskey.

Veeck had cut his baseball teeth working for his father with the Chicago Cubs. William Wrigley, Jr., the chewing gum mogul who owned the Cubs, hired William Veeck, Sr., to serve as vice-president of the team. During the senior Veeck’s tenure, junior started as a popcorn vendor at Wrigley, and he is famously known for helping to plant the iconic outfield ivy.

After his time owning the American League Cleveland team, Veeck bought the National League St. Louis Browns. His time there is best known for a stunt: He signed Eddie Gaedel, a person with dwarfism in modern terms, to play for the Browns in hopes that Gaedel’s tiny strike zone would lead to walks.

Which brings us to the South Side of Chicago. Veeck owned the Sox twice. His first stint brought Sox fans a 1959 American League Pennant. Veeck built Comiskey’s exploding scoreboard, with the fireworks that are now standard after home runs at so many ballparks. The electronic pinwheels on the high-tech board at today’s Sox games are vestiges of the actual pinwheels back at old Comiskey. He constantly created promotions, like patrol boy night (that got me in free more than once) to Polish-American night, Italian-American night, … and so on.

His second stint as owner led to some infamy. He and his wife Mary Frances redesigned the Sox uniforms, and one iteration included short pants. One of his many promotions—Disco Demolition night—went too far and devolved into a small riot and a forfeited game.

Throughout his baseball life, Veeck constantly swam upstream against the conservatism of his fellow baseball owners. Way back when, for example, he introduced the radical “socialist” idea of the home teams sharing broadcast revenue with visitors. The owners balked, but that kind of revenue sharing is now part of the lucrative financial bulwark of Major League Baseball.

Even small moves were controversial: In 1960 the White Sox became the first team to wear uniforms with player names on the backs of their jerseys. Some howled. Mostly, it’s standard practice today.

A great off-season read.

A great off-season read.

I knew most of this by the time I hit my teens (the short pants and Disco Demolition came later) thanks to my mom. But my estimation of Veeck grew on its own as I learned more and more about him. Much of that was via his autobiography, co-authored by Ed Linn in an as told to style, called “Veeck as in Wreck.” It’s a treasure chest of information about the business of baseball, as well as a colorful chronicle of Veeck’s incredible life in baseball.

Veeck was crazy like a fox. He was—and probably still is—the only baseball owner who didn’t come into ownership because he was independently wealthy. His business was first and foremost, baseball. And for all the promotional gimmicks, he was a brilliant visionary when it came to the economics of the game.

And so, on the eve of game one of the 2016 World Series—whether you’re a Cub fan, Cleveland fan, White Sox fan, or simply a baseball fan—you owe it to yourself to give “Veeck as in Wreck” a read.

You’ll love your team, and the game, all the more.




My mind’s eye

Last week was “Disability Awareness Week” at Wilmot Elementary School, so yesterday Whitney and I took a commuter train to Deerfield, Illinois, to talk with third graders there about what it’s like to be blind and get around with a Seeing Eye dog.

Whit's always up for a class visit.

Whit’s always up for a class visit.

The train ride to Deerfield was a long one. Whitney was so frisky when we arrived at Wilmot that she wouldn’t sit still in front of the kids. What to do?

I usually end talks with Whitney guiding me out of the classroom so the kids can see how she follows commands. Maybe this time I’d start my presentation showing the eight-and-nine-year-olds how Whitney works.

I stood up, lifted the harness, and commanded a stern “Outside!”

The kids were all sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the library rug, and Whitney threaded me safely past them to the hallway door. “Good girl, Whitney!”

The children were wowed.

Once I turned around and had Whitney lead me back to the front of the classroom, the valiant Seeing Eye dog was back to her stoic self. Guess she just needed to establish who was really the star of this show. Some of the questions the third-graders had afterwards:

  • How do you eat if you can’t see?
  • How do you drive?
  • I know your dog knows left from right, but how do you know?
  • Dogs, you know, kind of, like jump when they go up stairs, so how do you get up the stairs with your dog?
  • Do you ever even get into a car?

When all my talks at Wilmot were over yesterday, I took Whitney’s harness off and let any of the interested kids come by and pet her. As Whitney flipped over and over again for belly rubs, one bashful eight-year-old approached with a question she’d been reluctant to ask in front of the entire class. “Can you see in your mind?”

If I could see to find her little hand, I would have patted it. Instead, I did my best to reassure her with words. “Oh, yes,” I smiled, picturing this wistful little waif cocking her head with wonder. “I do it all the time.”

Wednesday with Wanda: She’s 95 today

Wanda way back at her 90th.

Wanda way back at her 90th birthday party with her fellow writers in our Renaissance Court class.

If you’ve followed our Safe & Sound blog for a while, you know who Wanda Bridgeforth is: she has been attending the memoir-writing class I lead in downtown Chicago for a decade now. She’s witty and talented, and today is her 95th birthday!

When Wanda was growing up on the South Side of Chicago, her mother worked “in private family,” which meant mama lived at the houses she took care of. Wanda lived with one relative one week, a friend the next, and sometimes, with complete strangers.

Wanda was tickled by the idea of us publishing one of her essays here in honor of her 95th birthday, and she suggested one that opens on Election Day in a small town she lived in just south of Chicago city limits in the early 1940s.

Election – Village Style

by Wanda Bridgeforth

Election Day was always eventful, but this one was extra special. Our 80 year old grandmother was “going to the voting” for the first time, a privilege she did not have in her home state of Mississippi.

Her Sunday suit and blouse were pressed, Enna Jettick shoes polished, bosom ruffle starched and ironed, white gloves washed and placed beside her, hat and purse on the hall table.

The second important event of the day? Mr. C. J. Berry had announced this would be his last campaign. He had been in office for many years and now wanted time to go fishing.

He was a very tall, very lean man whose arms and hands always dangled below his sleeves. He walked with a slow determined step. All the young people said he looked like Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow.

Elections in our village were truly democratic. There were no appointed officials. All candidates had to go through the election process, even if there was only one name on the ballot. If a candidate did not receive a majority of yes votes, he lost the election and the search would be on for a new candidate. However, in all of my years of residency I don’t recall a losing candidate.

The ballot box was on the mayor’s front porch in the summer and on his enclosed back porch in winter. The volunteer election judges worked in three-hour shifts during the 12-hours the polls were open. The polls closed at 6 p.m., and by 7:00 or 7:30 we had our results.

When the day ended we had two big things to celebrate: Grandma’s entry into the voting world, and Mr. C. J. Berry’s pre-retirement re-election as Village Dogcatcher.

Beth here: Wanda never misses an election, and she told me once that every time she casts a ballot, she thinks of the day her impeccably-dressed grandmother voted for the first time. The memoir-writing class she’s in is called “Me, Myself and I” and meets on Wednesdays. We’ll all be together to celebrate her birthday in class today, and we’ll all be together the day after voting day next month, too. However that election turns out, there’s one thing you can count on: Wanda will be sporting a “I voted” sticker to class on November 9, 2016. Happy 95th, Wanda!

Mondays with Mike: The other elections    

We interrupt this presidential election with a reminder: The presidential election, as important as it is, is just one race. Don’t let the spectacle distract you from state and local contests.

I say this because I’ve been blindsided when I didn’t take a peek at the sample ballot in advance. That is, there were races I didn’t even know about, and I felt unable to vote reasonably and intelligently in those races. It hasn’t happened in a long while, because I hate feeling like a deadbeat citizen.


I’ve come to believe that one of the many things that ail our political system is being hypnotized that things only happen from the top down. We want saviors—but it’s harder than that. Or, when it comes to politics, as Pogo would say, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Local politics can be dreary as hell. And it’s a lot easier to share snarky, zingy Facebook memes than to say, attend the local school board meeting. Or keep track of city council agendas. But it matters.

When I edited an alt-weekly in Champaign-Urbana lo these many years ago, I watched city council meetings on cable—I’d attend particularly important ones, but cable was a godsend. It allowed me to stay home, and go grab a sandwich, and from time to time, curse. There was a lot of malarkey, to be sure, but you know—Urbana and Champaign city council members spent a lot of time on that job. And mostly, they were sincere and operated in good faith.

Working that newspaper job taught me a lot about the value of local, or as it’s now called, community journalism. And how bad it is that local papers have been replaced by really weak attempts like DNA info, Chicagoist, you name it.

That job at the alt-weekly also taught me how important local politics is, and what a meaningful impact citizens can make when they get involved. That starts with paying attention and voting.

On that note:

  1. Please vote.
  2. Before you do, check out a sample ballot for your address. There are some national sites like or the League of Women Voters’ Vote411, but the most reliable bets for sample ballots are your local board of elections or your state election commission. There are also state and local non-profit orgs—here in Illinois Vote IL is a good resource.

Another site that’s useful if you want to follow the money is the Center for Responsive Politics.

Also, in case I forgot: Vote.





How can college students who are blind get to class without being able to see the campus?

Ali and Joe.

Ali and Joe.

My young friend Alicia Krage was born blind. The guest post she wrote last week about going to a movie with her boyfriend Joe, who also is blind, got so much positive attention that I invited her to write another post for us.

Ali’s new post is about transferring from a community college, moving from home to a dorm and settling in to university life.

by Alicia Krage

Northern Illinois University (NIU) is located an hour away from my family. My boyfriend goes to NIU, and I have a lot of other friends who go here, too.

I couldn’t wait for this school year to begin. The knowledge that I’d get to see them every day and have face-to-face interactions with them instead of chatting online made me long for moving day to get here. I wanted to be surrounded by my closest friends.

However, contrary to the way that might sound, having a wonderful social life wasn’t the only thing that made me want to attend such a big school. What really attracted me was how well-known NIU’s Disability Resource Center is. As far back as my eighth grade year I can recall hearing about blind students attending NIU. I had considered going there myself after I toured the school seven years ago, but back then I was intimidated by the large campus — more than 20,000 students go to NIU.

My boyfriend Joe is blind, and visiting him at NIU gave me first-hand knowledge of the resources and wonderful transportation services available for students with disabilities there.

My move-in day was August 17. My parents, along with one of my sisters, helped me move in. .

I had requested a single room with my own private bathroom, and my wish was granted. It is a decent size, and I’m happy to have so much space.

The move took several hours, as did running through a few routes — from the lobby to the elevators, from the elevators to the dining hall. After all that, I was exhausted.

It wasn’t until my parents and sister left that it finally started to sink in: I was on my own. Instead of being nervous, I was unbelievably excited.

After my family left, Joe came over and offered to run through some routes with me, despite knowing my family had helped me earlier.

I declined.

But then he thought up a different task: How will I know the difference between my room key and bathroom key? My mother had already put a sticker on my room key to tell the difference, but Joe helped me figure out another method just in case the sticker we used might fall off –which it did a few days later.

He showed me the teeth on my room key and then my bathroom key and pointed out that the teeth were more curved on the bathroom key. that is how you can tell the difference. I was impressed! This method works perfectly.

Most of my classes are in one building on campus, but that building is big. It could have been intimidating — and confusing. Getting to classes isn’t as bad as I thought it might be, though. I often stop others in the hall to ask for assistance, and over and over again my fellow students cheerfully say, “Of course!”

I have been amazed, impressed, and very happy with everyone’s reaction to a blind student walking around campus. When I attended my local community college, I’d get frantic apologies when I’d accidentally run into someone, and all sorts of unusual reactions to my white cane, too. Some people didn’t even understand what my “white stick” was for. It was clear I was one of very few blind students at College of DuPage.

Here at Northern Illinois University, things are different. When I walk around campus here at NIU, several people (often at the same time) stop me and offer to help. Many are very familiar with sighted guide techniques. Students here just seem very accustomed to seeing a white cane or even a guide dog.

Now I often run into people who have already offered me their arm and led me down the hall somewhere or another once before. We might not be friends, but I’m glad I’m a familiar face on campus.

The dining hall in my dorm is a short walk from the elevator (which beeps for every floor). Someone is always at the front counter where your card is swiped, and they often greet me by name (again…I’m glad I’m a familiar face). A worker swipes my card, then uses a walkie-talkie to request assistance from a student worker. The student worker then leads me down the ramp and into the food court, where they ask me where I want to go.

There’s Traditional (which has a different menu every day), Pizza and Pasta, The Grill (which has the same thing every day), among other options. They fill my tray and seat me directly by the ramp. That way I can easily exit when I’m finished.

The social aspect is fantastic. Almost all my close friends live in my building, and if they don’t, they are a five minute walk or a 10 minute drive. We use what’s called the Husky Line Freedom Mobile, which is a free door-to-door Paratransit service for NIU students with disabilities. It will take you anywhere in the area, and off campus after 5 p.m.

I’ve already found my favorite coffee shops and music venues, and I’ve been to pretty nice restaurants. I have yet to explore so much more!

I’m sitting in my dorm room typing this, and it’s amazing to look back on all of this and realize that it’s only been a couple of months since I moved in. I’ve had the most amazing start here, and I’m so happy knowing there’s so much ahead of me – so many new experiences, challenges, and many more wonderful people to meet.

Mondays with Mike: The truth about dog years           

Pretty much everyone knows the “dog years” thing—you know, that a dog’s age in years is seven times a human’s. So, for example, a dog that is seven years old is roughly at the same point as a 49 year-old human. (Unless the human watched the debate last night, in which case the human aged a year for every ten minutes, which really messes up the math. But I digress.)

Click on the image to see Hanni do her 94-year-old dash.

Click on the image to see Hanni do her 94-year-old dash.

I’m not sure why calculating dog years ever really mattered, except that as one theory suggests, it’s just a shorthand way of thinking about canine longevity relative to human longevity. Anyway, the bottom line about dog years is that it really has no basis in, well, anything.

The American Veterinary Medical Association calculates relative age as follows:

  • 15 human years equals the first year of a medium-sized dog’s life.
  • Year two for a dog equals about nine years for a human.
  • After that, it’s easy: each human year would be approximately five years for a dog.

This article at the American Kennel Club website explains the reasoning and science.

I got to thinking about all this as the result of a really nice afternoon spent with our friends Chris and Larry and Greg yesterday. Greg has been a friend since our Urbana days. He introduced us some years ago to Chris and Larry, who you may recall adopted Harper, Beth’s third Seeing Eye dog. After a close call in which he saved Beth from getting hit by a car, Harper developed a heartbreaking case of canine PTSD, and Harper just couldn’t guide Beth anymore. In fact, when he moved to a quiet, leafy suburb to live with Chris and Larry, Harper wouldn’t even walk around the block. He was that traumatized.

Beth returned to The Seeing Eye to be matched with her current dog Whitney. And thanks to Larry and Chris’ care and patience, Harper’s doing great, goes for long walks now and loves playing with the other neighborhood dogs.

At one point during our time together yesterday, Larry said, in a careful tone, “I’m almost afraid to ask, but how’s Hanni doing?” Afraid, because he thought there might be bad news about Harper’s predecessor, Hanni—who’s retired and living in Urbana with our friends Steven and Nancy.

Larry was relieved when we told him that Hanni’s doing dandy and fine in her golden years, which total 16 in human terms. Seventeen come February. And he was tickled when I showed him the video Nancy sent last month of Hanni running full bore at a forest preserve.

Now, full bore isn’t what it used to be, and Nancy said Hanni slept for hours after her frolicking.

But it’s not bad for a 112, er, um, let’s see… 94-year-old golden/lab retriever cross.

P.S. Special thanks to Greg for his patience. I think he may have aged a month for every minute the rest of us talked about dogs.

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