Cubbies, Bleacher Preacher again left to look to next year

Kirk Wessler

The Bleacher Preacher suffers from what he calls 'a Moses complex.'

Moses, the Old Testament tells us, heeded God's call to lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and take them to the Promised Land. The people eventually got there, but Moses didn't.

The Bleacher Preacher hopes he doesn't suffer the same fate.

He stands outside Wrigley Field, wearing a baseball jersey with 'Bleacher Preacher' lettered across the breast. His head is shaded by a safari-style hat, adorned with buttons and such; his real name is revealed on the back.

'This is no baloney,' Jerry Pritikin says.

'In 1945, my father took me to a Cubs game for the first time. A month and a half later, they were in the World Series, and I asked my father to take me. He said, ‘You're too young, I'll take you next time.' I was 8 years old.'

We all know what has happened with the Cubs since 1945.

Absolutely nothing.

After a 5-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday swept them from the National League Division Series, the Cubs are now, as always, left to look ahead to next year.

Let the Bleacher Preacher tell you about next year.

'In 1946, I started cleaning the grandstands at Wrigley Field,' he says. 'My father had cleaned the grandstands at the old West Side ballpark back in 1908. He saw Tinkers to Evers to Chance actually play.'

Not only did his father see the double-play combination that American poetry immortalized, he also saw the Cubs win the World Series. He had no way of knowing they wouldn't do it again. The Cubs did manage to reach the Series seven more times, which is why he was able to tell his young son Jerry 'next time.'

So in 1946, Jerry watched as the Cubs wilted from the pennant race.

'Late in the year, I was at a game, and this kid next to me said, ‘Wait till next year,'' the Bleacher Preacher says. 'It was the first time I'd ever heard that. Who would have thought?'

Yes, who would have thought?

It took almost 40 years — until 1984 — for the Cubs even to return to the postseason. But it has been 62 years since they reached the World Series. Sixty-two years since Pritikin was 8, so young and trusting and full of hope.

He grew up, went off to work, got into public relations, moved to San Francisco. One day in 1980, while looking through the Help Wanted classifieds in a Bay Area newspaper, he spied an ad for an actor to appear in the play 'Bleacher Bums,' about the famous denizens of the Wrigley outfield seats. He called the producer and said, 'I'm not an actor, but I am from Chicago, and I'm a Cubs junkie.' He wound up helping promote the play.

During his work with the production, he took on the nickname 'Bleacher Creature.' But upon finding out that Tiger Stadium in Detroit had a whole section for fans known as 'Bleacher Creatures,' Pritikin sat down at his kitchen table and tried to dream up something else.

'Bleacher Preacher' was born.

He doesn't go to many games anymore. It's his biggest complaint about his beloved ball club.

'In 1991, I went on strike because they raised the price of a bleacher ticket from $4 to $6,' he says. Now the face value is more than $40, and bleacher tickets get sold every day of the season, by brokers, for more than $100. 'They've priced me out of the ballpark,' he complains.

But he still stands outside that ballpark, smiling, exuding the hope that this is the year. And if it's not, then next year will be.

The Bleacher Preacher totes a bag, stuffed with handmade signs. He reaches inside and holds up one.

'Help Me Get To The Promise Land,' it says.

'My father promised me,' the Bleacher Preacher says. 'I want closure.

'I'm still waiting.'

KIRK WESSLERis Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist. Contact him at 686-3216 or kwessler@pjstar.com.