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By Stephen Ostrowski | June 9, 2017 | People
Ahead of his upcoming appearance at the 33rd Annual Printer’s Row Lit Fest, we caught up with Scott Simon, journalist and host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, to talk books, baseball, and summer bucket lists.
As an award-winning journalist and veteran of NPR since 1977, Scott Simon is no stranger to deft storytelling—nor, as a Chicago native, is he to the roller-coaster experience that is Chicago Cubs fandom. Simon documents that enduring allegiance and more in his recently released read, My Cubs: A Love Story (Blue Rider Press), which he’ll discuss with Chicago-based Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh this Sunday, June 11, at the 33rd Annual Printer’s Row Lit Fest. In anticipation of the talk, Simon—who confesses that My Cubs could only be born out of a World Series win ("I have always resisted it, because I felt that superstitiously, if I began to write such a book and the Cubs lost, I would be to blame for it," he admits)—revealed his favorite Cubs past and present, his summer to-do’s, and the interview subject he’d still like to score.
On discussing My Cubs: A Love Story with Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh: "I have admired Irvine’s work for a long time—and I have no idea, actually, if he even likes baseball; in any event, I thought his take on the book would be interesting and I look forward to a conversation with him about it. He’s a great novelist and I think he has a real knack for discovering beauty in unexpected places and cleverness in places that aren’t obvious, and I think baseball has a lot of both."
On the condition of "Cubness": "I have to speak for my generation of Cubs fans, although my generation of Cubs fans runs back 108 years. My daughters are of a different generation; our daughters expect the Cubs to win….I believe the quality of “Cubness” is preparing for failure even if the circumstances seem to be favorable. The quality of “Cubness” is never losing your appreciation of the possibility of the tragic; the quality of 'Cubness' is understanding that in every moment that promises victory, there is an equally poignant moment that promises defeat and vanquish."
On his respect for late Cubs Legend Ernie Banks: "I will always revere Ernie Banks in an extraordinary and a special way. His sunniness, his light touch—his light touch with the bat, by the way even, as he thumped home runs—and the wonderful kind of aquiline grace that he had once cracking the baseball and in the field when he was a shortstop. And of course, his sunniness and disposition and the way he made the Cubs a spot of sunshine during some of their darkest years."
On imitating Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins as a youth: "When I was a kid I tried to be Ferguson Jenkins; it didn't work out so well. But I had read somewhere that when he was growing up in Southern Ontario, Fergie used to throw little bits of coal between the trains as they were passing by, where he lived along the train tracks, to try and sharpen his pitching delivery. So I couldn't do anything like that, but I did pick up acorns in Lincoln Park and on the North Side and I tried to throw them through the slots of park benches."
My Cubs: A Love Story by Scott Simon.
On his favorite modern-era Cubs: "I have a real affection for two number 34s: I think Kerry Wood, who, of course, a lot of us remember that extraordinary afternoon when he tied the [single game] strikeout record in Major League Baseball—and, unfortunately, the argument may be made that in the process of being a young phenom, he threw out his arm—but he was so game for the rest of his career, and also trying to excel as a pitcher who hit like Fergie Jenkins, so I always admired his spirit.
And on the team right now, I love Jon Lester. And I find his little problem, whatever it is, throwing to first [base] just, you know, a more admirable human frailty, and I was also exultant to see him pull a pickoff play to first base the other day."
Simon with the late Ernie Banks.
On the Cubs' chances of repeating as World Series champions: "I like their chances at repeating this year, and I really like their chances in repeating this year or next year. I think the hardest thing to do in professional sports demonstrably, team sports certainly, is to repeat a championship. A national leaguer hasn't repeated a championship since the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970 and '80s. It’s very difficult, it’s so capricious; it depends not just on the talent of the team, but it depends on health and the capriciousness of injuries that might occur over the course of the season."
On the subject he'd still like to interview: "After I interviewed Katy Perry, my bucket list in that view grew very short. I guess any journalist should want to interview President Trump, but I don’t think that that's going to happen any time soon, or anytime anytime, and I’m not sure how interesting it would be in any case. Maybe Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. For my children’s sake, I’d like to interview Adele; I think that would be nice."
On his Chicago summer bucket list: "Certainly going to a game at Wrigley Field is always on our bucket list; I’ll certainly be doing that. I think above and beyond that, I want to take our daughters, who are 14 and 10 now, to a couple plays at the Goodman...Other than that, there are a couple of good Indian restaurants I want to try (laughs)."
On his advice to aspiring storytellers: "I think to remember you have to straddle what can be that very confusing line between telling a story that means a lot to you, and telling it in a way that will reveal itself in the heart of the people that hear it. You have to care enough about a story that it means a lot to you to put [yourself] out there and try to share it. On the other hand, you can’t communicate just with yourself; you have to find that deep vein in the story that will communicate to others, and that can be harder."
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARCOS GALVANY (HEADSHOT); COURTESY SCOTT SIMON (BANKS)
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