I’ve been writing stories just about my whole life. When I can’t sleep, I’ll work out dialogue or a chapter in my head and it busies that part of my brain enough so I can drift off. Every once in a while, I’ll dream all or part of a story—and that is true for Welcome to Cottage Bay.
As the story emerged for me, so did the stories around each character. Antonio, Rose’s sweetheart, for example was from Chicago and a huge Cubbies fan. Antonio, Rose’s sweetheart, for example was from Chicago and a huge Cubbies fan. It was a memory he shared about the Cubs that established a strong connection to her young brother, Collin. As some know, the 1908 Cubs season came to a historic tie with the New York Giants with what’s been dubbed The Merkle Boner game on September 23rd, forcing a playoff game on October 8. Antonio’s father took the family to that historic 1908 Cubs-Giants playoff game all the way up in New York City from Chicago. Antonio witnessed the magic of pitcher Three-Finger Mordecai Brown and catcher “noisy” Johnny Kling in that historic game.
Sharing a bit about his love for baseball and the Cubs began a life-changing relationship between Antonio, Rose and the entire Nicovich family. It underscores the truism that sometimes a seemingly small thing sparks the most important things of our lives.
It signals we share common ground, that we can understand each other. This historic game was legend to a young baseball fan—and to him, those who played the game were gods.
The Chicago Cubs pitcher, three-fingered Brown, lost his other two digits in a farm machinery accident. He turned his disability into magic by perfecting a knuckle-ball or curve ball that dropped at the plate like no other. Noisy Johnny Kling created a legacy of getting into the heads of his opponents—both at the plate as the team’s catcher and on the field. His chatter earned his name. Together, this dynamic pitcher-catcher duo saved the Cubs’ season, securing their place at the 1908 pennant championship.
Behind-the-plate umpire, Bill Kelm, spent 37 years calling major league games, so for the sake of reason, we’ll consider his an expert opinion. At 2:45 on October 8, 1908, he joined the other umpires on the field and later, called this historic playoff game, “the most exciting day in baseball.”
Over 250,000 people attended. People fought for tickets. Some got into the stadium with none; others with tickets were left standing outside when the first pitch was thrown. All in, it was the largest crowd ever gathered in the world for a sporting event. Three-fingered Brown relieved starter Jack Pfiester, two-thirds of the way into the first inning and went on to allow just one hit and one more run. Noisy John caught a stupendous game and also, made a hit, batted in a runner, and himself scored a run.
The game ended with the Chicago Cubs beating the New York Giants 4-2, clinching their spot in the Pennant. Yet, the championship pennant race that year was truly anticlimactic to this one playoff game.
Nearly 22 years later, this common ground and connection sealed the deal between Antonio and his future brother-in-law, Collin. They were aboard the Nicovich family fishing trawler one afternoon, The Sea Horse, and Collin blurted out the question. Antonio knew that his question wasn’t really about baseball.
“How come the Cubs haven’t been back to the World Series,” Collin asked, after hauling in the nets for the third and final time that day. Antonio was tying off a last bit of rope, wending around a cleat. He laughed at the boy’s why questions, this being the tenth or twelfth of the last half-hour.
“Well, to answer that, we have to ask ourselves a few other questions,” he said, standing up from his task and turning his attention directly to Collin. “You ready?”
“Yes,” Collin nodded, solemnly, as if this were an important quiz.
“Okay, well, I heard your team won the district championship a couple of years ago. Is that right?”
“Yep. We went unbeaten the whole season,” Collin said, proudly.
“Why was that, you think?”
“We had the best players, and the other teams had some rotten luck that season, with losing players or coaches.” Clearly, Collin had thought about this a time or two.
“Have you won the district championship since then?”
“Well, uh, no,” he admitted, sheepishly. Antonio’s line of reasoning was taking shape. “So, why is that, you think?”
“Well, uh, our best players went on to the higher age bracket, and then last year was my dad’s first year at coaching because our other coach retired.”
“To everything there is a season,” Antonio said. “Players move on, coaches retire. It’s important you recognize a special group of people brought together at just the right place and time.”
“Right,” Collin digested those words, nodding and looking out at the water. “So, it’s just bad luck.”
“Winning a game, or a pennant, isn’t everything,” Antonio said. “Sometimes the greatest gain, or lesson, can be found in losing a time or two.”
“We really want to win districts this season,” Collin said, admitting his yearn. “But I worry that maybe we used up all our good luck on that one season and, well, maybe now we’re cursed.”
“Ah, I see,” Antonio answered, thoughtfully. He wondered if Collin thought that losing his father was part of a string of bad luck and that somehow he’d done something to bring such misfortune on his family. “Hmmm, that’s a serious concern, that.” And Antonio sat down on the trawler’s port side, mid-ship. Motioning for Collin to join him, he stroked his chin, thoughtfully. Giving himself a minute, he pulled a cigar out of a pocket inside his jacket and lit it up, puffing on it to ensure it was lit.
“Good luck. Bad luck,” Antonio said, shaking his head as he puffed a bit more on his cigar. “Did you know that I lost my Da, in January?”
Collin nodded a ‘yes’.
“So, that was bad luck, right?”
“Losing your dad is always bad luck,” Collin said, quickly. He should know, Antonio thought to himself.
“Well, it’s a loss, for sure,” he agreed. “But after my Da died, I came out here, right?”
“Yes, Rose said it was because he told you to.”
“Yep, I came because my Da told me to. It seemed like a good idea at the time, better than just staying put and crying about him being gone. So, what’s happened since then?”
Collin could quickly tick off all the things that happened. “You came here. You beat up Marko, who deserved it and if I were bigger, I’d have helped you. Now you and I play baseball together and you’re helping with fishing and, well, you’re dating my sister.”
“Yep. All good things.”
“So, you’re saying it took bad luck to make good luck?” Collin was confused.
“No, I’m saying that these are just things that happen. It’s part of life. It’s what we do with these things. It’s our determination to keep on going. That’s not luck. It’s perseverance. It’s hard work, with a little faith thrown in. That’s what matters.”
“So we make our own good luck,” Collin said, extrapolating.
“In a matter of speaking. Good luck, bad luck, it’s not luck. It’s just life. It’s how we handle it by not giving up, by working through our grief and our loss. That’s what makes all the difference.”
They sat for a moment, The Sea Horse rising and falling with the waves. It was a sunny day, just like Antonio’s first day out on the water with Tomo, earlier in the week. He thought how much changed in just a few days. Collin seemed to join in his thoughts.
“A lot has happened in just a little while,” he agreed with Antonio’s silent conversation.
“And, over the past few months, you kept house so your sister could work, and your family could work through your grief of losing your own Da, like I lost mine.” Antonio clapped the boy’s shoulder. “Well done, Collin. I’m proud of you. Your father would be, also.”
Collin continued to look at the water then wiped his face with his sleeve. Antonio was respectful to not mention he saw tears in the eyes of his young friend. After a minute, he seemed composed again.
“Your cigar smells good,” he said, sniffing the air. “I’m hungry. Did Rose and Anna pack food?”
Ah boys, thinking with their stomachs! And Collin's last comment signaled he was good on Antonio’s explanation. Their connection led to common ground and a healthy discussion to sort things out for a grieving kid.
Vince Lombardi said “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. And while I don’t always agree with Coach Lombardi on that theory, a similar thought comes to mind about Antonio and his ability to encourage and comfort young Collin. Remember, this imaginary conversation, it took another 15 years before the Cubbies got their Goat Curse. I’d say it underscores the very real truth that good luck or bad, we really make our own by how we respond to the events and things going on around us.
It’s tragic to lose one’s father, at any age, like Collin and Antonio had each just experienced in their own lives. Yet, not wallowing, finding a way through our grief. Connecting and helping one another…how we respond makes all the difference in our lives and the lives of others.
So, yes, the connections we make are so important. It’s from this common ground, we can create camaraderie, friendship, a shared sense of purpose, and yep, even love. And, you know I believe that love changes everything.