The summer of 1988 was the first time I spent a summer away from my parents. I passed away those terribly hot days in Chicago. Things changed when the Cubs finally got lights at Wrigley Field and, in many ways, the world would never again be the same.
One of the things I did that summer to pass the time — and beat the heat — was to go to movies. It was the summer of Bull Durham and Eight Men Out, and there were some good non-baseball movies, too, such as Die Hard and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? But my favorite one of all from that summer was Midnight Run with Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin.
The bad guy in that movie, and the reason why DeNiro’s character was protecting Grodin’s character, was because of Jimmy Serrano, the character played by Dennis Farina. Farina had movie star written all over him, but he came to acting after nearly two decades as a Chicago cop. Talk about paying your dues!
In addition to being a successful actor, Farina was also a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. He played a part in the revival of Joe Mantegna’s Bleacher Bums, a play written about life in the bleachers at Wrigley Field. As with drawing on his cop experiences to play cops and villains on the screen, Farina had more than enough real-life experience as a Cubs fan to know what he was doing in Bleacher Bums.
The news that Dennis Farina passed away today, at the age of 69, caused a bit of sadness for me. To explain why, I first need to revisit the most amazing moment from last Friday’s Pearl Jam concert at Wrigley Field.
I had never before been on the field for a concert at Wrigley, and walking out onto the field to behold a packed house in the stands was an awesome feeling. Once the show started, the band played about six songs before Eddie Vedder announced that some bad weather was coming through. Everyone then took cover and waited out the rains, and shortly before midnight, the band took the stage again. And the first song played was a true reward for our patience.
Vedder, who was living out a childhood dream by playing at Wrigley Field, told the crowd of the story behind his song “Go All the Way.” He told of how, upon being introduced to Ernie Banks, he was asked by Mr. Cub to write a song about the experience of being a Cubs fan. Vedder balked at the suggestion initially, but he reasoned that “when Ernie Banks tells you to do something, you do it.”
When Vedder then launched into the song, it became a sing-along of 40,000 kindred spirits, in the place that inspired the song to be written in the first place. All of us sang the chorus, with a recognition of the pain that we’ve all suffered as Cubs fans through the years. Despite that, Vedder and his song express a sort of defiant promise that it won’t win out in the end. There’s nothing but hope to base that song on, but hope is enough to sustain us if we dare to hang onto it.
When Ernie Banks was finally brought out onto the stage, the place was up for grabs. And as the chorus to the song was sung a few more times, I found myself hoping that Ernie Banks would live long enough to see it happen. By extension, I hoped that myself, Eddie Vedder and all the rest of us who have waited so long will finally get to see our dreams realized.
When Dennis Farina passed away, within three days of the Pearl Jam concert, he went to his grave without seeing a Cubs victory that Vedder sings about. Thousands more who are just like Dennis Farina — though considerably less well-known — will also pass to whatever comes next for us with that great itch unscratched.
Hopefully, some of us who were singing along with Ernie and Eddie will get to see what it feels like to finally “go all the way.” And when we do, we should think about Dennis Farina, Ron Santo and the thousands of others who weren’t quite so lucky. Perhaps there will be some great cosmic sing-along that we’ll all be a part of. Until then, Friday night’s show at Wrigley Field will just have to be enough.