The date was April 23rd, 2004.
Growing up near Chicago, I spent a lot of my springs and summers at the city’s two ballparks, Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park (at the time it was still called that).
This particular story involves the former of the two. On the aforementioned date, the Cubs played an afternoon game against the New York Mets. I typically went to a lot of games in April and May because of the cost involved. At that time, a lot of the weekday games at Wrigley and Comiskey (more often at Wrigley) in April/May/September were less expensive than the summer and night games because of the number of fans in school or work.
In fact, I’ve only gone to three MLB games outside of those three months ever. But that’s not the story I’m telling you today.
My typical strategy for getting the best bang-for-buck experiences at Wrigley was to get bleacher tickets, park at a certain spot that was a few blocks away and less expensive, and get there early to get the best seats in the bleachers.
The strategy almost always worked with very few exceptions. Leave at about 6:30-7:00am to beat the rush hour Chicago traffic, get into Chicago and mess around for a bit getting breakfast or running by WGN Radio to watch the morning show, and heading to the parking lot next to a school that’s now a Chicago Police Department precinct.
From there was always the hour or more wait in line waiting to be one of the first to get in the bleachers to get first pick of seating, which wasn’t usually too full in those days for daytime games anyway. My girlfriend at the time and myself were the third people in line.
We got into Wrigley and raced to our seats in right field. Almost every time we sat in left. Better chance for home runs usually, but we decided to change things up a bit for once. That decision led to the whole point of this story.
The Cubs were finishing up batting practice and the Mets were heading out for their session. A group of the Mets pitchers were all gathered up out in right field shagging some flies, throwing the ball around a little bit, and just kinda hanging out. Several of us fans noticed that as they were throwing balls back into the infield, several of the players were trying to get the balls into or near these five-gallon buckets behind the second base bag. Almost like “competing” to see who could get it closest. They may have done this every game, I really don’t know for sure.
A few other fans and myself caught on to what they were doing and starting cheering them on. It was a good way to kill time until the game would start about 90 minutes from then. Being the over-confident 20-year-old I was in 2004, I started yelling out to the players trying to bet them whether they could hit the bucket. One after another they ignored me, probably because I was just yelling out physical descriptions of the players since I didn’t know much about the 2004 Mets. The only one of the Mets pitchers that I recognized was one John Franco.
“Hey...FRANCO! I bet you $5 you can’t get one in the bucket. HEY!”
I had found my target. Franco turned and looked towards me once or twice, but mostly ignored my obnoxiousness. So I changed it up a bit.
“John!! Johnny Boy! Come on John! Five bucks, Johnny!”
This went on for about 5-10 minutes. Me berating him incessantly. Finally, Franco turned towards me and yelled back, “Five bucks??”
“Yes sir! Five bucks if you get it in the bucket!”
John pulled back and launched a high-arching throw and missed the bucket by about three feet. We all were cheering him on, and let out a loud chorus of “Awwwwww” after the attempt.
Franco turned again and said, “Another shot?”
We all obliged and John reared back again, this time launching a more straight shot. The ball was right on line but hit the protective screen set up behind the second base bag and almost bouncing in the bucket. Franco looked like he’d done this before.
He asked me, “One more time?”
We all watched as he again went for a higher throw, almost like a pop fly. The ball looked dead on again, but fell just short of the bucket.
We all let out our noises of disappointment again. Franco shrugged his shoulders and said something I couldn’t hear. Then, he just walked off the field.
I started yelling towards him about my five dollars. No response. I was playfully upset about it.
Every half inning that Karim Garcia trotted out to right field I yelled towards him, “Hey Karim!! Go get my money from Franco!” No response.
I thought, maybe I’d get my money after the game. John’s in uniform sitting in the dugout and most likely doesn’t have any cash on him. I waited for about ten minutes after the game and no sight or sound from Franco.
So here I am today, still waiting for my money almost 15 years later. If I ever get the chance to meet John in person, I’ll ask him for my $5. If he’s lucky, I won’t ask for interest.