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Ken Holtzman’s no-hitter recalls time before jadedness set in

Cubs lefthander Ken Holtzman (c) is grabbed by fans helmeted ÒBleacher BumÓ who stormed field following HoltzmanÕs no-hit pitching 8/9

Cubs lefthander Ken Holtzman (c) is grabbed by fans and a helmeted ÒBleacher BumÓ who stormed the field following HoltzmanÕs no-hit pitching 8/9 to defeat the Atlanta Braves, 3-0.

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Updated: June 24, 2014 6:14AM

On Aug. 19, 1969, Ken Holtzman threw a no-hitter against the Braves. Not only was I at Wrigley Field that day, but I predicted he would throw a no-no minutes before the game started.

I also predicted Ron Santo would hit a home run that afternoon. He did.

It probably should be pointed out that I was 9 and that there’s a decent chance I made predictions to my family in bulk back then. Or maybe I was caught up in the possibility of good things happening if only I believed they would. The Cubs had given me reason to think that way. They came into the game with a 76-45 record and were in first place in the National League East. Think about that: a Cubs team 31 games above .500!

The ensuing chair being pulled out from under us would shape the psyches of thousands of children in Chicago. Many of us would go on to productive lives but with a haunted look in our eyes. We had seen too much, too early.

Wrigley was just a ballpark in a sketchy neighborhood back then, a long way from the cathedral in the adult playground it would become. The apartment buildings across the street were just that, apartment buildings, and their rooftops were used for, well, nothing.

But it was where the Cubs played, and that made it special. Mother Nature seemed to take a shine to the ballpark, which was 55 years young in 1969 and not the centenarian it is now. The box score says the temperature was 76 degrees and sunny that day, a beautiful day for a ballgame, which is what I recall every day being. That’s how 9 feels.

Holtzman was great that afternoon. He walked three and struck out none in a game that lasted all of two hours. Hank Aaron came close to breaking up the no-hitter when he hit a long drive to left field in the seventh inning. Billy Williams has said a strong north wind blew the ball back into the park. I’m sure I would have said my prediction played a role. Whatever. We all could agree on this being the Cubs’ year. Williams caught the ball against the vines, and that was that. Santo’s three-run homer off Phil Niekro in the first had given Holtzman all the offense he needed in the 3-0 victory.

The Cubs were on their way.

And then they weren’t. They went 15-25 after that, and the Mets . . . well, I’ll spare you the grisly details. But as I look back now, it’s clear there is no separating Wrigley Field from what happened that season or in any of the 100 seasons that have resulted in zero World Series for the home team. Lots of people know the ballpark as a shrine; I know it as the scene of the crime.

Sportswriting slapped the fan out of me a long time ago. I root for the story, not the team. Frankly, I’m not sure what the better story would be: the Cubs winning a World Series or the Cubs never winning a World Series.

I look at Wrigley differently now — and certainly differently than most people do. I’ll take the scoreboard and the outfield walls. You can have the rest. We’ll share the sunshine.

And Holtzman’s no-hitter.


Twitter: @MorrisseyCST

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