Jose Cardenal was an outfielder for the Chicago Cubs in the mid-1970s. He was known for his giant 'fro, his sneaky speed, and his bad excuses for missing games. (He was too tired to play one day because a cricket kept him up all night.) He also happened to be one of my favorite players when I was a kid.
By Rick Kaempfer
I've been an afflicted Cubs fan since 1968 when my Uncle Manny took me to my very first game. Since then I've seen well over a hundred games, and met many of the Cubs players, managers, and broadcasters; but all of those encounters occured in places you'd expect: at the ballpark, at the radio station, at station promotions or events. My Jose Cardenal story happened in a place you'd least expect it: Jewel.
I was grocery shopping with two of my boys, following my usual routine of breaking up fights and castigating unkind comments about the vegetables, when I saw him. He was holding an onion and looking for a plastic baggie. I know this sounds completely ridiculous given the number of celebrities I've met, but my heart started pitter-pattering and I became so nervous I walked in the other direction to regain my composure.
I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I had to talk to him. I was plotting a way to confront him casually, when I saw him rip a plastic baggie off the plastic roll. That’s when I made my move. Leaving the yelping youngsters near the oranges where they couldn’t do any damage, I strolled up to the baggies to get one for myself.
“I don’t want to embarrass you,” I said, my voice squeaking with fear, “but aren’t you Jose Cardenal?
He looked at me and smiled. “Yes,” he said with his Cuban accent. He offered his hand for a handshake.
“Good Ol' #1,” I said, shaking his hand. “I was your biggest fan. We used to sit out in the right field bleachers at Wrigley so we could cheer you.”
“You must have been pretty young,” he said. This wasn’t just a scrappy former ballplayer—he recognized youth when he saw it.
“Well, yes I was,” I said.
I knew he was the first base coach of a team in another city and hadn’t been part of either Chicago team for thirty years, so that led to an obvious question.
“What are you doing in town?” I asked.
“I never sold my house,” he said. “I still spend my off-seasons here. I love it.”
That was pretty much our entire conversation.
My kids, as you might imagine, were less than impressed by our brush with greatness, and not just because I left them by the oranges. They weren’t even impressed when I showed them the Jose Cardenal baseball cards I keep in a shoebox in the basement.
I can understand that. They weren’t born yet when Jose played for the Cubs. But I was impressed big-time. Not because I’m a geeky Cubs fan. Not because Jose is such a big celebrity, or because he was so nice, or because he knows a good onion when he sees one. I was most impressed that he actually still lives here...in the Chicago suburbs.
How cool are we?
A Cuban millionaire spends his winters here.
That should be in all of our brochures.