Bob Bates —
Mark Richardson’s moving essay entitled “My Mom, Baseball, and Me,” published previously on Wise Guys, is my motivation for posting this baseball poem I wrote about someone very dear to me. The poem is a combination tribute and eulogy to Jeanette “Jeanie” Sotka Hofmeister, who married my cousin Daryl “Sonny” Hofmeister in 1954. In his baseball-playing days, Sonny was a slugging outfielder who also hit for average and had a cannon for an arm. Upon graduation from Hillsboro High School he played for the townies, punishing the leather sphere for half a dozen years or so. He and Jeanie diligently worked a dairy herd of 40 to 50 Holsteins and farmed 80 acres of hilly Vernon County terrain until his untimely passing in 1992 of heart failure. Sonny literally played his heart out on the ballfield and on their farm.
As adept in the kitchen as in the barn at milking time, Jeanie as a widow built from scratch a distinguished home-baked goods vocation, specializing in exquisitely decorated cakes, for which she was sought out come special occasion time. Significantly for this piece, throughout her life Jeanie tuned into Chicago Cubs games on the radio wherever she was. Safe to say she was a genuinely dedicated fan. The reason the following poem exists is that, after 83 years of anticipating a Cubs World Championship, Jeanie passed on to the Big Skybox just five days after the Cubs 2016 World Series victory.
To further set the scene for the poem, note that the Chicago Cubs baseball club appeared in three of the first five World Series, winning it all in 1907 and 1908. Coming into the 2016 season, it had been 107 years without a championship on the North Side of the Windy City—by far the longest span of futility by any franchise in any major sport.
Known as the Lovable Losers, the Cubs heartbreaking failures season upon season wore down their fans, pushing many to the brink of hopelessness.
Consider this: The Cubs lost the Series in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, and 1945 and were eliminated in National League post-season play in 1984, 1989, 2003, 2007, 2008, and 2015—count ’em: beyond unlucky 13 losing attempts at a World Championship since 1908! So, just what kind of a Cubs fan could maintain her hope, never losing faith?
The Cubs in ’32 took the National League flag
but in the Series, sadly, they’d lag,
and lose to the powerful Yankees.
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig belted out doom
and the Cubbies went down amid great gloom,
losing four-zip, beaten completely.
But, during that ’32 Series,
Frank and Tillie Sotka made mad, crazy love.
. . . and Tillie conceived an instant Cubs fan!
Nine months later on July the 3rd
newborn babe Jeanette’s first cries were heard!
But it wasn’t a Wah! but rather a Whoop!
“Go Cubs!” could be heard all the way to the Loop!
Little Jeanie was two at the next Cubbie pennant,
and once more, at age five, Chicago won it again.
But both times they collapsed in the Series . . .
Yet Little Jeanie kept hope that
someday they’d win it . . .
Wartime crept up as the Cubbies blundered
through five straight seasons under .500.
But in ’45 at the close of the war
the Cubs won the pennant — Jeanie’s hopes did soar!
. . . But, oh, those fierce Tigers ripped up every Cub,
starting 23 years of flub after flub!
One losing season followed another —
eighteen in all under .500 — oh, brother!
Yet, Jeanie kept hoping . . .
surely someday they’d win it . . .
The ’69 season was going real great
and with just a month left, the Cubs lead was 8.
But the Swoon of September is pain to remember —
the Cubs went inept, losing their last ten of eleven!
. . . Fans literally dwelled in the converse of heaven . . .
Yet, Jeanie kept faith, a hope beyond reason
that both pennant and Series would come true next season.
Oh, woe . . .
It took 15 years . . . but in the ’84 season
winning the NL East flag was ecstatically pleasin’
. . . until . . . the Cubs lost in the playoffs . . .
But, just five years later, in ’89
an East pennant once more made for times lookin’ fine
. . . until . . . the Cubs lost in the playoffs, again . . .
Yet, was Jeanie depressed, sobbing big tears with a wail?
NO! She maintained her hope . . .
Someday the Cubs would prevail!
Two Thousand and Three — after 14 mediocre years —
Cubs fans had a winner and reason for cheers.
Ahead in the playoffs, on the verge of the pennant,
it appeared a sure thing to advance to the Series . . .
. . . until . . . that fateful foul fly ball . . .
and the hands of Steve Bartman . . .
the Curse had struck again and Cubs World deeply mourned,
sabotaged by fate, deserved glory scorned.
So very close . . . yet it had slipped from their grasp . . .
HOW MUCH LONGER, fans cried, CAN OUR AGONY LAST?!!!
Yet, did Jeanie lose hope?
. . . You know the answer:
But in ’07, Cubs fans again wept —
first round of the playoffs, 0-3 they were swept.
But hope surged sky high in Two Thousand and Eight.
Under Sweet Lou Piniella the Cubs played just great!
97 blue W’s brought the Central flag to Wrigley —
the best record in the NL entirely!
. . . But . . . just six runs in the playoffs brought in the hearse
and a winless post-season extended the Curse.
Sure, Jeanie was crushed, but did she lose hope?
No — ‘cuz for 75 years she had learned how to cope . . .
Hey! Hey! Lucky seven years later the Cubs got it in gear
and in 2015 made a huge breakthrough year.
The Cubs won the Central in convincing fashion
and took on the Mets — a real NL Championship Series clashing!
. . . until . . . New York’s young pitchers shut the Cubs down —
and another season of promise closed with a frown.
Yet, Jeanie’s hopes rose, higher than ever,
awaiting 2016, feeling full Pennant Fever . . .
Well, you all know what happened just ten days ago.
Despite trailing the Series, one game to three
this valiant Cubs team refused to concede.
And, with wins in games 5, 6, and 7,
finally, FINALLY, Cubs fans were in heaven!
Hey! Hey! Holy Cow! Jeanie shouted out WOW!
My hopes are fulfilled and I’m ready to go!
And speaking of Heaven, Jeanie’s new scene —
Yup, she’s baked the most FAN-tastic cake ever seen,
grandly decorated, and spelling these words:
CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN! World Champs, yes they are
both below and above . . .
Jeanie’s team that she dearly did love!