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Effectively Wild is your place for mediocre coverage of the Chicago Cubs, Chicago Blackhawks, Arsenal FC, and FC Kaiserslautern.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Hero Worship: Mark Grace

The Hero Worship posts are a series of posts in which I hope to explain my infatuation with the Chicago Cubs. My father was in the Air Force and we traveled the country and beyond during the first fifteen years of my life. Aside from the three years we spent in Germany, WGN and the Cubs were our connection to our relatives back in Illinois.

I was born in Las Vegas in '76 and after a short stint in Germany we had returned to Vegas in '83. I rooted for the Cubs in '84, but being 8, I had no idea how devastating it was that the Cubs had lost as I had no sense of the history at that time. For a time I became infatuated with Steve Garvey (!) and the San Diego Padres, as Las Vegas had the AAA club for the Pads at the time. Over the next few years, I saw guys like Benito Santiago and John Kruk play for the Stars before moving on up the ladder. In 86, we moved yet again, this time to Michigan. While rooting for the Padres, I did continue to watch Cubs games with my old man, and it was thus that on May 4th, 1988, I saw the man who would bring me once more into the tumultuous arms of Cubdom once and for all. Ironically, I was watching the game because the Cubs were playing the Padres, but a young, fresh-faced first baseman for the Northside stole my heart, going 1-2 with a homerun, 2 walks, and a couple runs scored. He'd made his debut a few days before, but this is the first game I remember watching. Ironically, the homerun was what caught my attention, and Grace was never a power hitter. As the years passed, his skill on the field and his uncanny ability to rack up clutch hits cemented my affection. The next year, my family watched breathlessly as Gracie put on a show in the playoffs, eclipsed only by Will Clark. After every win, I'd retire to my room and play my "Go Cubs Go" and "Men in Blue" 45s on my old Goldstar stereo. It wasn't enough, unfortunately, and the Giants met the A's in the World Series that year.

Mark Grace remained one of the few bright spots over the next nine years. Sure Sammy came, but I was never really a Sammy guy. Mark was the steady one, rapping out doubles, keeping shortstops and second basemen from committing too many errors, enduring many jokes from Harry and Steve about his speed (or lack thereof). Plus he was smooth and cool during interviews, and he made the ladies swoon. Man, I would have killed to have been Mark Grace. There was another chance in 1998, the year I graduated college. I found new heroes that year as I prepared to leave college behind for the uncertain future. Kerry Wood with his flamethrower arm and this site's namesake, Rod Beck, The Shooter. The greatest game I have ever seen was the one game playoff against the Giants to clinch the Wildcard. Unfortunately, the Cubs were swept by the Braves.

But there was always Mark Grace. I kept watching, hoping against hope that the Cubs could score a World Series title and a ring for my hero, Mr. Everyday, the man who coined the term 'slumpbuster'. And then disaster. After the 2000 season, another dismal Cubs debacle, Mark Grace was a free agent. And the Cubs declined to resign him.

I was angry and heartbroken. The 2001 season started and manning first base was the less than inspiring combination of Ron Coomer, Chris Stynes, and Matt Stairs. Later, the sulky Fred McGriff was acquired. I still was a Cub fan and I still watched the games, but not as many as I had before and nor with as much enthusiasm. When the Dbacks reached the playoffs, I watched every game, rooting for the goateed one. When they reached the World Series, I was ecstatic. In the 9th inning of game 7, Slumpbuster himself came up against Mariano Riveria and was Captain Clutch once more, blooping a single and starting the game winning rally. My dad and I watched that game and I swear, the old man (who's about as emotional as a teaspoon) had a tear in his eye. My mom was crying for Crissakes. It was the next best thing to actually seeing a Cub World Series win. Mark ended his career two years later, but he remains my favorite Cub of all time. I did finally get over losing him to the Dbacks, since guys like Wood, Ramirez, Zambrano, Lee, Fukudome, and Soto have come along. '01 and '02 were pretty rough, though.

Mark always seemed like a team player who loved the game. I'll never forget how excited he was at the conclusion of Kerry Wood's 20K game, or his genuine appreciation of Mark McGwire when the bulky slugger hit his record breaking homerun. One of my favorite moments came in September of 2002. The Dbacks were getting crushed by the Dodgers, so Mark Grace came in and pitched the 9th. He gave up a homerun, but got great comic value for his performance, imitating teammate Mike Fetters's distinctive windup and head gestures.

Now Grace is a commentator for the DBacks and for Fox Sports. Personally, I'd love to see him in the booth with Len or Bob calling games for the Cubs. From his games on Fox, he seems like a candid, no bullshit kind of announcer. Here's to you Mark. You'll never be a Hall of Famer, but someday, I hope to see #17 on a pennant shaped flag flying high atop Wrigley Field.

Mark was a 3 time All Star (1993, 1995, 1997), and a four time Gold Glove Winner (1992, 1993, 1995, 1996). He might have won some batting titles had he not played during the same time as Tony freaking Gwynn. Mark Grace's Career Stats.

BallHype: hype it up!

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