A Post Falls baseball nut and Chicago Cubs fanatic lived out a dream last week in full-circle moment overflowing with trains, family history and destiny.
A train carried David Smith, 71, to see his first Cubs game since 1952. Four years after that, a train crash claimed the life of his father, who had worked as a conductor for 35 years.
And on Thursday, a train departed Spokane that carried Smith back to Wrigley Field watch the Cubs get derailed twice by the Cleveland Indians in the Cubs’ first World Series since 1945, which of course is the year Smith was born.
The Cubs then rallied for a 9-3 win on Monday, which is 60 years to the day that Smith’s father, Hugh B. Smith, died from injuries sustained in that train crash.
“I have these great memories as a child that he created for me,” Smith said of his father. “I remember us going on the train, the hotels and going to the games.”
As a conductor on the Milwaukee Road (Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad), Hugh Smith would get free passes on the trains and would use them to allow his kids to travel from their home in Ottumwa, Iowa, to Chicago to watch the Cubs.
In 1958, Smith’s mother took him back to Wrigley as they watched the great Ernie Banks during his MVP season.
“I’m 13 and I’m keeping score. Ernie Banks hits a foul ball and the guy right behind me catches it because I have my nose in the score card,” Smith said. “I’ve never kept score since.”
Decades of life and Cubs futility later, Smith never lost the passion for the game. He plays on three teams: a plus-60s team that plays at Franklin Park, a plus-65 team called the “Living Legends,” and a plus-70s team called the “Dirt Dogs.”
The retired social worker and his wife, Melissa Withers, recently took their last RV trip of the season over Thompson Pass when the Cubs beat the Los Angeles Dodgers to finally make it back to the World Series.
“She said, ‘You oughta go to Wrigley Field,’” Smith said. “I replied, ‘Are you crazy?’”
The wife then purchased a train ticket from Spokane and a return trip by airplane. She left her husband to figure out where he would stay.
Smith arrived in Chicago on Friday afternoon with only a couple hours before the game.
“It was a great train ride. The memories were just flowing back,” Smith said.
The reality of not having a ticket then set in. Smith found a guy selling spots on a rooftop venue that only had a tiny view of the field. The guy asked for $500 but gave Smith a break and only charged him $400.
“It had the feel of the game, but we mostly watched the game on TV,” he said.
With an eight-second broadcast delay, the crowd would cheer moments before Smith could watch what happened.
Then on Friday, Smith got to Wrigley Field hours before the game and toured those places where he sat when as a kid.
He found a scalper who wanted $3,500 for a ticket. Smith said he was willing to fork over $1,000 for standing-room only. Local bars near Wrigley Field were charging $300-$400 just to get inside their doors.
But Smith decided to try to stand in line for hours. It worked. He scored a ticket just after the game started. He learned that ticket companies, such as StubHub, have to return any unsold tickets after the first pitch.
Smith paid the face-value price of $325 for a seat on the third-base line.
“It was almost exactly where I sat with my mother in 1958,” he said. “And my wife just wanted me to go for the ambiance.”
After the game, Smith had to walk more than a mile to find a cab to get him back his hotel for a short sleep before his plane ride home to Spokane.
“It was the most incredible trip,” Smith said. “I ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. But this was truly an amazing experience that only a baseball fan would savor.”
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