He went to Wrigley Field on a hot day last June, along with several hundred others, to hear family and dignitaries eulogize columnist Mike Royko, who had spent more than 30 years banging out five columns each week while working for three different major Chicago newspapers. Otherwise empty because the team was on the road, the park was chosen for this tribute because Mike, like many people, was a long-suffering Cubs fan.

The formalities concluded, Mike’s friends and coworkers were invited onto the field, where a caterer had set up two bars and several buffet tables containing hot dogs, grilled chicken, and numerous side dishes. Filling his plate and grabbing a can of pop, he walked to the batter’s box, which now was shaded from the late afternoon sun. It was here in 1932 that Babe Ruth had allegedly pointed to the right center field seats just before hitting a towering home run to that very spot. Six years later, Cubs catcher “Gabby” Hartnett, who was behind the plate for Ruth’s supposed “called shot,” would stand there in the ninth inning and hit “The Homer in the Bloamin'” that beat the Pirates six to five.

He turned to look at the right field corner where, many summers ago, his father had brought him to see his first big league ballgame. He looked at the top of the wall just left of the foul pole where the old man had leaned over and talked it up with a player who was shagging flyballs during batting practice. They talked, he remembered, as though they had known each other for years. That was the last time the two went to a ballgame together because, a few years later, the young boy fell in with the wrong crowd and became a White Sox fan.

“Hey, how about taking our picture?” asked one of his friends, who had joined a few others on the pitcher’s mound. “Sure,” he said, and he set his food and drink on the ground behind the mound in the spot normally reserved for resin bags. “Great! Now you get up there, and I’ll take one of you,” said the friend.

He looked in at home plate and thought that 60 feet, 6 inches didn’t seem that far to throw a ball. He could do it easily, he thought, but not at 90-plus miles an hour.

The picture taken, he walked off the mound through the infield where men like Roger Hornsby, Phil Gaveretta, and Ron Santo had played the game. He headed for the 400-foot marker in straight-away center field, and, as his feet touched the outfield grass for the first time, he felt the skin on his neck and arms begin to tingle. The old, green scoreboard loomed larger as he strolled toward the ivy-covered walls, and he swore that he heard the opening strains from the title theme of the movie The Natural. How corny, he thought, but was what he felt at that moment much different than that experienced by any rookie the first time he walks onto a major league field?

Two men stood, talking, at the 400-foot sign. He walked over and touched the ivy, and said facetiously, “Hey, do you think that ‘Shoeless Joe’ might show up?” He took in the full beauty of the park, listening to the popping sounds made by the numerous pennants, including the one bearing Billy Williams’ number, that fly above the grandstand. And he wondered how some are able to throw a ball from this spot and hit the cut-off man, very often on the fly.

The three walked back, and, after bidding the other two goodbye, he headed for the home team’s dugout and sat on their bench for a few minutes. “Wow! What a great smell, huh?” asked someone, referring to the dank odor coming from the tunnel leading to the clubhouse. ‘You can tell this is really an old ball park.”

He looked at the left field wall, over which Ernie Banks sent his 500th career homer, and again he heard the voice of announcer Jack Brickhouse: “Back, back, back! Hey! Hey! He did it! He did it! Way to go, Ernie!”

Sadness came over him as he again looked into the right field corner. The old man was 30 the last time his team played in the World Series, and the odds of him seeing another get poorer each day. Why hadn’t the gods been more generous to someone with such devotion and loyalty? His melancholy lingered as he left the field, not because of this team’s sorry performance over the years, but because he wondered why some sons and fathers never develop that special relationship enjoyed by others. Why do some boys grow up having to seek other heroes?

As he stood at Clark and Addison waiting for his bus, a short man in his 80’s hurried up to him and said, “Hey, if you see a cab coming, give me the high sign, and I’ll get my wife. She’s standing over there, just inside Gate F. It’s too hot out here for her. I’d really appreciate it.” He said he would, and he watched the old man walk back to his waiting wife.

A car pulled up at the stoplight that had just turned red. The driver, an attractive woman in her 30’s, lowered the passenger-side window and, looking in the direction of the old man, asked, “Excuse me, isn’t that Studs Terkel?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered. “It surely is.”

He grinned a lot on the way home, thinking about how he had spent the afternoon. This day would never have come had he insisted, fresh out of high school, that he pursue his dream of becoming a drummer like Gene Krupa or Buddy Rich.

“Listen,” his mother had said, “you can’t make a living playing drums!” She told the wayward youth that the brother of his third-grade teacher was a printer at the Chicago Daily News. “He said he can get you a job there,” she continued, and she strongly encouraged him to do the right thing.

His big-band dreams in tatters, he relented, and in the spring of 1959, he joined the News as a copyboy. A short time later, while working the night shift, he spotted an unfamiliar face in the newsroom. The man looked pretty much like all reporters did in those days: the sleeves of his white shirt were rolled up to the elbows, his tie was loosened, a cigarette dangled from his mouth. He didn’t smile much, and his voice very often sounded like a low growl.

“That’s the new guy,” said a coworker. “His name is Royko.”