Staff photo by Carol Keefer
Diehard Cubs' fan Ophelia Lopez is going along to take the hex off the Cubs. The last time the Cubs were in the World Series pennant race was1945.
"I'm taking them on vacation. I'm taking them to my neighborhood, to my world, that of baseball," the one-time ball player recently announced.
June 12, Holden and a handful of adult chaperones are taking 20 students to Chicago for five days. No. 1 on the agenda — to see the Chicago Cubs play the Chicago White Sox in its annual civil war, a three-game series.
The interest in the Cubs has peaked throughout the school year because of Holden, who had a short stint with the Cubs early in his career and is today probably one of the club's biggest supporters. His students are now also huge fans. All but a few of his year-long students are going along.
"When someone offers you something like this, I would be crazy to turn it down," says wrestler and class Vice President Lane Klinkenbeard.
This little holiday package for Holden's "wonderful kids," by the way, will cost him and some benevolent friends about $8,000 to $10,000.This is Holden's last year; he's moving on to private education after 29 years in the public sector, two of which have been in Camp Verde. This is a celebration of his departure, he says.
"I'm anxious to go on this trip. It's part of history. It's part of America. It's the Cubs versus the Sox," says an excited Logan Drake. "This is special. I've heard about this place (Wrigley Field) for years. You always see it on TV. Now I'm going there. Awesome!"
Tickets for the popular inter-city series do not come easy, but like everything else the headstrong Holden sets out to do, the tickets came his way. And the youngsters will get a chance to see some of their beloved teacher's old sports buddies, guys like Carl Mauck, Detroit Lions' offensive line coach and Greg Reisig, an agent friend.
Part of the fun for the class is a determination to take the "goat jinx" off the Cubs. If you've never heard the story, it goes something like this:
The last time the Cubs went to a World Series was in 1945 against the Detroit Tigers. Bill Sianis, owner of the famous Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago, used to bring his pet Billy goat to the Cubs' games at Wrigley Field during the 1945 season. The famous tavern is located in the Chicago loop, a place where sports guys and writers are known to water down after work.
When the Cubs went to the series that year, Owner Phillip Wrigley suggested the tavern owner no longer bring his goat to the stadium because "it stunk." The irate fan took his goat home and when Cubs eventually lost the pennant, Sianis wired Wrigley a telegram stating, "Who stinks now?"
"He put a jinx on the Cubs," swears a smiling Holden. He maintains that his Arizona group and the spirit of an Arizona goat will turn the Cubs' luck around.
Ophelia Lopez, a freshman affectionately called "Brown Bear," is going along as "a good-luck charm." The volleyball player, who, like Holden and the other students, is a Cubs' devotee,' in particular of famous slugger, Dominican-born Sammy Sosa.
"I will take the hex off the Cubs. We will use an Arizona goat to take off the jinx. When it's time for the Cubs to win the World Series, it will happen," a determined Lopez promises.
As a side note, the Billy Goat is the same tavern the late actor John Belushi used to spoof on Saturday Night Live with his "cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger" routine, according to Tracy Blackford. Blackford, one of the chaperones going on the trip, teaches the visually impaired like another of Holden's students, Blake Tucker.
"I want to see the Cubs beat the living tar out of the White Sox," Tucker boasts.
Although Tucker may not be able to physically see the on-field plays, rest assured he, just like the others, will taste the excitement of the games and Chicago, says Blackford.
"He's been a great thing for us, and I'm anxious to see his reaction," Holden added.
As a prelude to the trip, Tucker has been in touch with Cubs' radio announcers like Pat Hughes, a Tucson native, and Ron Santo, a former Cubs third baseman. They generously sent Tucker audio tapes.
In his early years, Holden played Class A Ball (minors) for the Cubs as an unrestricted free agent in spring training in 1971, when Leo Durocher was still manager. He jokingly says he was invited "out to get a real job" but felt lucky to play as long as he did. He also played ball at Southern Illinois University and when the Cubs released him, went back to finish his degree. He then began coaching at various schools and in 1976, came to Arizona.
He returned to the Cubs Triple A farm club in Iowa during the 1983-84 season as an instructor/scout/acting general manager, but the long hours, 18-19 a day, took its toll. He eventually picked up his elementary school teaching certificate and returned to education.
"It's about the Cubs and the kids. It's like taking them to the moon," he explains about the upcoming fun-packed trip. Besides baseball, the youngsters will get many fantastic opportunities.
They'll see the Chicago Art Institute and the Museum of Science and Industry. They'll eat Chicago hot dogs and Chicago pizza, ride the "el" and stroll up Lakeshore Drive. These young people on the cusp of adulthood will get to taste, see and hear what cosmopolitan life is really all about, a place where Holden knows inside and out, because he grew up there.
Holden said he was inspired by something President George Bush said after the recent terrorist attack on America. He said the President encouraged people to spend time with kids, get involved and travel. And that's exactly what Holden plans to do with his lucky "wonderful kids."