The red brick with the simple message has rested outside Wrigley Field since 2006, entirely unchanged even while everything around it underwent a metamorphosis. A few years later the Cubs began a massive rebuild that, while entirely necessary, tested the patience of a large swath of the fanbase. The stadium and the surrounding neighborhood also went through a teardown, a project that won’t be completed until 2018. As part of that maintenance work, a few years ago, the brick and others near it were moved from Addison Street, Wrigley Field’s southern boundary, to Sheffield Avenue, bordering the outside of the right field wall.
For 10 years, though, the inscription on the brick carried the same somber, yet hopeful, words:
In heaven and
Yet on the gorgeous, unseasonably warm Chicago afternoon of Nov. 3, 2016, I added two words in yellow chalk to the brick. They were words that gave a fitting epilogue to a Cubs fan who wasn’t lucky enough to have witnessed, the night before, Kris Bryant fielding a soft ground ball in Cleveland and throwing it across the diamond to Anthony Rizzo, finally turning next year into this year and giving the Cubs their first World Series championship in 108 years.
Peter Masson was my maternal grandfather. If there’s one thing he handed down to his progeny, it is an unceasing love for and loyalty to the Chicago Cubs. Everyone in my family got it in some way, but I was bitten by the Cubs bug much harder than most. When the Cubs made it to the NLCS against the Marlins in 2003, I was sure they were going to sneak in that elusive World Series for my Grandpa Pete before the end of his days. Unfortunately, that season ended in bitter disappointment, and it would be the last one he would live through: Grandpa Pete passed away the following summer due to complications from emphysema.
My grandpa did two things for most or all of his life: smoke cigarettes and cheer for the Cubs. Some would say both were hazardous to his health. I know the latter brought him almost limitless joy, despite all the attendant grief.
He was born on the northwest side of Chicago on Oct. 28, 1917. One year later, the Cubs made it to the World Series for the fifth time in franchise history and the first of six times in the 87 years of my grandfather's long, full life. None of those pennants came later than his 28th birthday, in 1945, just months after he arrived home from serving with the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. He initially returned to his native Chicago, but he settled in Merrillville, Ind., about 50 miles from Wrigley Field, after securing a job with Indianapolis-based Wonder Bread, a job he would hold the rest of his life. He got married and had three kids who gave him 10 grandchildren, his own little cub den. He would visit Chicago and Wrigley Field as often as he could, convinced that one day the team’s successes of his youth would not only return but culminate in the only thing he ever hoped for more than the health and happiness of the family he sent hurtling down the path of Cubs fandom.
My uncles raised their families in northwest Indiana, as well, but my mom, Shirley, moved to Chicago shortly after college. She met my dad, David, at the Leo Burnett advertising agency, where they both worked. They lived in a few different apartments in Chicago before buying a house in Skokie, Ill. That was the town in which I was born and raised, about 12 miles north of Wrigley Field.
Some of my fondest memories are of my Grandpa Pete’s frequent visits to the house where I grew up and where my parents still live today. My grandmother, Hope Masson, passed away in 1988. His trips to Skokie increased after he lost her, and only become more frequent as he got older; I spent much of my adolescent and teenage years watching the Cubs with him. No matter how bad the team was—and it was often very bad—we celebrated each win.
He told me stories, possibly apocryphal, about sneaking into Wrigley Field, which he always called Cubs Park, through a chain-link fence on Waveland Avenue in leftfield. He taught me about the Cubs' stars from his childhood, like Hack Wilson and Charlie Root. He schooled me on franchise legends Phil Cavaretta and Andy Pafko, Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins. He told me about the heartbreak of the 1969 regular season and the 1984 NLCS, the latter of which occurred just one month after I was born. I like to think I helped take the sting out of that one, but I never got him to commit to that.
By time I was 13 and he was 80, I became the authority. We both loved Shawon Dunston, Mark Grace and Ryne Sandberg during the 1990s, but now it was time for me to bring him up to speed on the players who were becoming my generation’s Cubs legends. I told him about how the Cubs plucked Kerry Wood out of Texas and kept him up to date on the Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire home run chase in 1998. I made sure he knew the proper pronunciation of “Grudzielanek." I explained why the Twins passed on Mark Prior with the first pick in the 2001 draft. I helped him understand why Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton could be the final pieces of the puzzle in 2003. When the Cubs ultimately fell to the Marlins that October, the first person I called the next day from my dorm room at the University of Wisconsin was my grandpa. I finally had my own 1969 and 1984.
On July 4, 2004, my entire family gathered at my parents' house before many of us headed to a game between the Cubs and White Sox at Wrigley. At this point, my Grandpa Pete was too sick to go to a game in person. Before leaving for the game, we took a family picture in the park where I went to elementary school. A tree is planted there in honor of my sister Melissa, who passed away at age 12 in 1993 because of a brain hemorrhage—a birth defect completely hidden from view until it was too late (I also have a half-sister, Samantha Henderson). The family had spread far and wide, thanks largely to two of my first cousins being in the Army. We took the picture in front of that tree, marking the first time in too long that the entire family had been together. It seemed my grandpa was making sure he held on until that day. The Cubs beat the White Sox, 2–1.
Two weeks later, Grandpa Pete died. At his funeral, three of my cousins and I led everyone in a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." In 2006, the Cubs started selling bricks to the general public. That same year, my parents were among what would become thousands of people who bought one. They dedicated it to my grandfather.
By time the 2016 season started, it seemed it was a matter of when, not if, the Cubs would win a World Series. Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer took the power—and the dollars—given to them by owner Tom Ricketts and built the Cubs into a powerhouse. Chicago entered the season with the best core of position players in the league, a rotation that ended up leading the majors in ERA, a defense that turned out to be the best at turning balls in play into outs in a quarter-century and a manager in Joe Maddon whose loose personality made him perfectly equipped to lead the way. With each Bryant home run, each Javier Baez swipe tag, each Jon Lester gem, each Jake Arrieta strikeout and each clap-driven dance party at Wrigley when Anthony Rizzo came up to bat, it became clear that 2016 would be a great year, even if it wasn't the year.
It turned out to be both. This was the team for which Cubs fans had waited their entire lives, even though all too many didn’t get to see it. All postseason long—from the thrilling ninth-inning comeback against the Giants to clinch the NLDS, to Kyle Hendricks’s gem that wrapped up the pennant against the Dodgers, to that simple groundout in Cleveland that kicked off the greatest party Chicago has ever known—I kept wishing my Grandpa Pete had lived to witness what I was watching. I would have loved to hear him say “Nice shot,” after one of Rizzo’s three postseason home runs, or tell Maddon what he should do next. Mostly I would have liked to have celebrated a meaningful win with him after doing the same for so many that seemed to matter only to us.
I watched all seven games of the World Series with my fiancée, Jennifer. I watched Games 3 and 5 with my cousin Mike Masson, a 46-year-old command sergeant major who flew in from Fort Meade, Md., just to be in Chicago for the first World Series games at Wrigley Field in 71 years. I watched Game 5 at my parent's house, where I logged all those treasured hours with my grandpa. For Game 7, we had 14 close friends, many of whom grew up with me in Skokie and were also die-hard Cubs fans, at my apartment, one mile south of Wrigley Field. And yet, after the Cubs won it and we launched our own champagne celebration in my living room, I thought mostly of the one person in my life who would have wanted to be there more than anyone, but wasn’t. If I couldn’t be with Grandpa Pete on the Cubs' path to our mutual dream, I knew I had to share the moment with him the day after that dream became a reality.
Peter Masson is in heaven. He waited for 87 years on earth, and 12 more in the friendly confines in the sky. Not anymore, Grandpa Pete. Not anymore.