At Long Last, the Thrill of a Lifetime

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Calvin Tajima shows off a vintage Chicago Cubs bobblehead doll at his home in Altadena, where there is Cubs memorabilia in nearly every room. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

Calvin Tajima shows off a vintage Chicago Cubs bobblehead doll at his home in Altadena, where there is Cubs memorabilia in nearly every room. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Sports Editor

ALTADENA — The hottest ticket in town – yea, the hottest ticket in a century – is one that gets you into Wrigley Field in Chicago this weekend, for the first World Series games hosted by the Cubs in, well, a lifetime.

Tickets for Saturday’s Game 4 against the Cleveland Indians start at over $2,000, and from there, the sky’s the limit.

One of those precious passes has Calvin Tajima’s name on it, and he wouldn’t sell it for the world.

“Are you kidding?” Tajima barked. “Do you know how long I’ve waited for this?”

If you’re keeping score at home, he’s waited the better part of eight decades. Tajima is a die-hard Cubs fanatic for most of his 92 years, and now that the unthinkable has happened – that his beloved team is actually playing in the Fall Classic for the first time since 1945 – he’s going to see the game in person, mileage notwithstanding.

Tajima and his wife, Marie, have lived in the same Altadena house since 1966, raised their children (including filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña) and have since settled into retirement. At the outbreak of World War II, Tajima moved to Chicago, but his love for the Cubs was already established.

“Pasadena was still pretty segregated back then,” Tajima recalled, explaining how Tuesday was “minority day” at the Brookside Park swimming pool. “That was the day before they cleaned the water each week.”

Calvin Tajima in Germany, where he served with the Army during World War II.

Calvin Tajima in Germany, where he served with the Army during World War II.

Tajima’s father, Kengo, was a pastor at the Pasadena Union Church, and one of the great joys for the kids was established when chewing gum tycoon William Wrigley Jr., who had called Pasadena home for some time, decided to have his ball club training during the off-season in the warm confines of Catalina Island. Before heading back to Illinois for the start of the season, however, the team would play several exhibition games at Brookside, usually against their crosstown rivals, the Chicago White Sox.

“That’s where I really fell in love with this team,” Tajima said.

When the wartime order came in 1942 for all persons of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast to evacuate and be essentially incarcerated in camps, Tajima’s family opted to move eastward, having heard of favorable conditions in Chicago.

“It was really God’s country,” he described. “The city was very good to the Japanese.”

Tajima joined the Army in 1944 and served in Germany until war’s end, then looked to resume his life with Marie in Pasadena, only to find home not so hospitable.

“There was so much prejudice and discrimination here, so we decided to go back to Chicago,” he said, adding that since most of the city’s young men were away at war, there was plenty of work for minorities who had reduced opportunities for military service.

It was the anti-Japanese sentiment in California that kept many of Tajima’s relatives in the Chicago area. The family settled into a home just a few blocks from Wrigley Field, where school kids would be let into games free of charge after the seventh inning.

“We would walk to the park and see players like Ernie Banks and guys like that,” Tajima remembered.

Wrigley Field – now the oldest ball park in the big leagues – has seen few changes over the decades. Opened in 1914, it still boasts its signature ivy-covered outfield walls, and fans in the surrounding apartment houses clamor to the rooftops for a bird’s-eye view of the games.

The park didn’t have electric light installed until 1988, meaning all previous games had been played during the day. In fact, a 1942 plan to install lights was derailed by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The son of the late Mr. Wrigley opted to donate the lighting equipment for the war effort.

The heretofore hapless Cubs have withstood the longest drought of any major league team in terms of making an appearance in the World Series. They last won the championship way back in 1908, when they repeated as champions from their 1907 title year.

Since then, it’s been an endless saga of high hopes ultimately leading to heartbreak, at times coming tantalizingly close, but falling short. There are curses, including one involving a goat that simply refuses to go away.

Then there’s 2003. With the Cubbies five easy-peasey outs away from the pennant in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins, what seemed like a sure pop fly foul-out went terribly awry.

A fan – a Cubs fan – reached out and deflected the ball, preventing outfielder Moises Alou from making the catch. From there, Chicago’s best-laid plans unraveled and two losses left the fans dealing with another cold, long winter, pondering yet again what seemed to have been within their grasp.

This season is the “next year” the Cubs and their faithful have been pining for, as the team was picked early on not only to get into the World Series, but to win it. Thus far, they’ve delivered, posting the best record in baseball and pushing the mighty Dodgers aside en route to the championship series.

Tonight, when the umpire yells “Play ball!” Tajima will be there – in person.

“I’ll be on that plane, then there to see that game,” Tajima said before departing on Thursday, almost still with a fair degree of disbelief. “My nephew said he might be able to get tickets, and it actually happened.”

Holy cow, indeed.

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