The Happiest Man on Earth

by Gregory Pratt,
August 8, 2008

Carlos Zambrano and the Chicago Cubs are in Milwaukee tonight to face Ben Sheets and the Brewers in the second game of a four-game series, but Wrigleyville is alive and well without them, as Wrigley Field is set to host its first-ever minor-league baseball game. The Kane County Cougars are scheduled to play the Peoria Chiefs this evening on the north-side of Chicago, and 32,000 people are expected to come out and watch the game. Tonight, July 29th, 2008, also marks the first time Hall of Fame second baseman and Cubs hero Ryne Sandberg returns to Wrigley Field in uniform since 1997, as he is the manager of the Chiefs. Harry Caray's Tavern, located across the street from Wrigley, has hung a huge welcome sign above its doors: "Welcome home, Ryno!" The scalpers that line Addison from the Red Line to the ballpark call out, "Tickets! Who needs tickets to see Ryne Sandberg and the minor league game!" Buses from Peoria park in the Cubs lot, and fans of the Cougars and the Chiefs stand at the statues of Harry Caray and Ernie Banks to take pictures. A father can be overheard telling his six year old son about Sandberg's career, and an elderly couple -- the woman in a wheelchair, the man pushing it -- are wearing #23 jerseys in anticipation of his comeback. Children walk along the Cubs' commemorative brick pavilion, reading the names and messages of Cubs fans young and old for their ballpark, their team and their family.  

It is just a little over two hours until game time, but there are already long lines stretching to the street with people waiting to get into the stadium. I am waiting for one such diehard Cubs fan, an acquaintance who asked me to join him for this game. He is about fifteen minutes late, and as I look up from my watch, I catch him standing at the corner of Addison and Sheffield, just in front of the statue of Harry Caray. He is wearing what he always wears: a blue Cubs shirt, blue shorts and a filthy, blue Cubs cap flipped backward. It isn't all the clothing he owns, but it might as well be. I call out to him and he looks around wildly until he sees me. He does his best impersonation of Jack Brickhouse and yells out "Hey hey!" as he gives me a stinging high-five. He is about five six inches tall, but his heavy frame makes him look even shorter than he really is. His face bears a striking resemblance to Animal the Muppet, as he has big bushy eyebrows, wild hair that juts out from every side of his cap, and a beard and sideburns that haven't been trimmed in months. His name is Rat Arnab but he uses more pseudonyms than a pornstar on the run from her family. He only reluctantly agreed to let me write about him because he is "wanted by three different fan nations.  

"Just remember," he told me after agreeing to the story, "I'll pulverize you if I don't like the article." He laughed deeply and told me to relax. "I'm only messing with you. Just don't give out my address or my phone number. That's enough for people to hunt me down and kill me."  

Rat asks me if I would like to take pictures with him for the story and then takes back the offer. "Don't want to get killed," he explains, and then he asks me to stand in line at the gates on Clark and Addison to get us a good position in line. I do just that as he saunters off to snap pictures of himself with the statues of Harry Caray and Ernie Banks. Several minutes later I am still in line on the curb thinking about the game when a loud voice booms from just behind my left ear. "The night we clinched the division in 2007, we had a great big party out here. Did I ever tell you about that? We had a roll call and everything." It is hard to imagine Rat at a party, as he does not drink, does not smoke, and has never had a girlfriend, and it is especially difficult to picture him at a party outside of Wrigley Field, where there are more bars than sewer rats. I tell him so and ask, "What do you do at parties like that?"  

"Trash the Cardinals and the White Sox and the Brewers. Jerry Reinsdorf. Talked about my Cubbies. It was a great time."  

Despite his refusal to do the things that a typical college student does, Rat is not an unpopular man at his University. He has a large circle of friends, though there are very few people that he trusts. And despite not being much of a party animal, Rat can still be quite obscene. His every other word is often a profanity, and he spits on the ground with every other step he takes. As we are standing in line waiting for the gates to open he spits, narrowly missing the back of a young woman's ankle as she stands with her boyfriend. It is all foam, appropriately more similar to the froth from a rabid dog's mouth than the spit of a human being. It is disgusting, and I make him cover it with his foot before it traumatizes a child. "Aw, I spit everywhere," he says, and then turns the conversation in a new direction. "Hey, do you think I need a Fu Man Chu mustache? Do you think I'd look even scarier than I do?"  

It is five o' clock, and the gates open two hours before the game, which is a 7:05 start, so the ushers are getting ready behind the fence that keeps us out. There is a sudden commotion, and I wonder whether they are opening a couple of minutes early, but it is much more exciting than that. People are screaming "Ryno!" and I look around and spot Sandberg walking just ten feet from where I am standing. Rat runs out of line as soon as he sees the Chiefs' manager and starts to scream "Ryno! Hey, Ryno! Ryno! Ryno!" until Sandberg turns to look at him, smiles and turns back. Rat frantically digs inside of his backpack for a camera but fumbles it a couple of times and by the time he takes it out Sandberg has stopped turning around. Not one to be denied the opportunity to photograph a legend Rat snaps picture after picture of Sandberg's back until the light turns green and he walks across the street. I am surprised when Rat returns to me without following Sandberg. "I missed the good shot but we'll get 'em. Let's go Cubbies!"  

The Hustler from Glencoe

  When the gates open and it is my turn to enter beautiful Wrigley Field, I sail through, as I am carrying nothing that needs searching, but Rat has to stop and have his bag inspected. All they find is a bag of balls and a bottle of water, which they tell him he must throw away or finish before they can let him in. This is no problem for him as he literally inhales a full bottle of water in five seconds. He burps loudly, walks into the park, and asks whether I noticed anything special about our seats. "We're right by the Bartman seat!" Before I can respond he yells out "Look, it's the mascot!" and begins speed-walking across the mezzanine toward a big white dog wearing a fireman's helmet. Rat asks me to take a picture of him with the firedog and then takes the camera from me as he jogs a hundred feet to a few Chiefs players who are signing autographs. He pulls out not one, not two balls, but three and approaches the ballplayers for their signatures. He is the only adult not standing with his child. Infielder Elvis Lara, outfielder Brandon Guyer, and pitchers Craig Muschko and Steve Vento eventually sign the ball. "Doesn't it embarrass you to be the only adult asking for autographs?"  

"I never did this as a kid. Never went to games as a kid. My dad didn't like to drive through traffic or pay outrageous sums of money for tickets. Wouldn't even take me to Bulls games because he says it was in a dangerous part of Chicago." What do you do with the balls? "I always try to get three. One for me and two to sell. Gotta make money. But you can have one today," he says, stretching his hand out. "It's yours." Rat's father is a successful man, and though the Arnab family is not rich, it is comfortable. They live in Glencoe, Illinois, which is an affluent suburb of Chicago. The father is a professional whose profession I can't disclose for privacy reasons, but he is an intelligent man who is widely respected by his peers, even though he does not work in a field that brings him fame. The elder Arnab never understood the appeal of baseball and did little to encourage it in his son. They had a falling-out a few years ago that saw Rat beat his father after an argument, and ever since then they are wary of one another when they do speak, which is rare. Mr. Arnab considers his son dangerous, uncouth, and does not approve of his desired profession as a sportswriter. He doesn't approve of his son's use of profanity, or the general behavior at ballparks. While Rat is not a bad kid -- he has never been in trouble with the law, he is not a troublemaker in school or work, has never been in a fight except with his father and in the fourth grade, and he keeps most of his obscenities confined to celebrities and general "idiots"  -- his father does not approve of anyone who would choose to devote themselves to such "unserious" business as sports.  

It isn't until we have reached our seats that Rat mentions Bartman again. "I don't blame him for what happened in the NLCS. I blame the shortstop! And I don't think Cub fans blame Bartman. I think Sox fans glorify him and then say we're stupid for blaming him at the same time. They want to have it both ways." For Rat, everything in sports is a conspiracy organized by fans of the other Chicago team or its owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, whom he curses several times in any conversation for having "broken up the Bulls" and trying to "screw the Cubs" at every turn. On Internet chat programs, his away message is almost always something to the effect of "Fuck Reinsdorf!" or "Fire Jerry Angelo!" or some joke about Rex Grossman having neither brain nor ability. He invites me to join him in searching for the Bartman seat, but I am not interested, so I stay behind and watch him with one eye and look around at all the tourists with the other. "How will you know which one is Bartman's?"  

"Oh, some wisecracks put stickers on it," he says, laughing at a deed he desperately wishes he could have been a part of. "Did you see the wisecracks that changed the name of 'Dempster Street' to 'Ryan Dempster Street'?" Rat shuffles off to find the seat, and when he doesn't see it, he begins to ask everyone in the general area about it. The ushers don't know where it is, and neither do the fans sitting around there, either. Almost all of them point to the general area in the left-field box seats but none can pinpoint it. At one point, I saw Rat run after a small kid to ask him whether he knew where the seats were. Finally, someone knew and told him which one it was. He asks an attractive woman to take his picture in the seat and she obliges him. He thanks her, takes the camera and runs back up the stairs to greet me. Along the way, he almost knocks a young girl into another life with his knees but she narrowly dodges him and he turns around to mutter an apology but he doesn't stop. He shows me the picture and sits down next to me to talk.  

Rat has possibly the worst memory on Earth, but he considers himself a storyteller. The problem with that is, he often tells the same stories over and over to the same people, sometimes repeating stories within minutes of having told them, and he only has a limited number of stories lodged in his head to take out at any given moment. (A couple of times during our conversations he told me a story more than once and insisted I write it down a second time even when I told him that he had already told me this story. Finally I said, "You're not the journalist. Shut up.") Rat lives to be flipped off by ballplayers and sports figures. The first story he shares with me is of Bill Hall of the Milwaukee Brewers flipping him and the bleacher bums off with double barrels when they were sitting in the bleachers heckling him in centerfield all game long last season. "Hey, Billy! Your mom called, she said put on a sweater, it's cold out!" Jim Hendry, who is the General Manager of the Chicago Cubs, is the centerpiece of another favorite anecdote. Rat saw Hendry getting into his car in the players' parking lot and started to give him hell. "Hendry! You're a horrible GM! You just got lucky that the Pirates and the Marlins gave you something for nothing! Hee Sop Choi for Derrek Lee! I could do a great job if everyone else were laying down for me!" Rat insists that Hendry lifted his middle finger at him as he drove past, and when I ask whether he's sure, he bristles that he knows the difference "between a GM and a janitor."

  Another favorite story of his involves an old Hungarian immigrant who used to work as a manager at the fast-food restaurant he works at. It was the 2006 baseball season, and the Sox blew a huge lead against the Royals in Kansas City. The headline on the sports page said something about the Sox blowing a 6-0 lead to the Royals, and the manager asked Rat what that meant. "That means that, at one point, the Sox led 6-0 but they didn't win. They lost." The old man took a moment to consider it and then gasped. "But Kansas City!? They SUCK! That must mean White Sox suck even more." Rat also likes to impersonate celebrities, but he mostly does Simpsons characters, like Moe the bartender, Barney the drunk, or Krusty the clown. It can lead to awkward moments. Sometimes he will tell a story and halfway through ask if you've ever heard his Moe Syzlak voice, share it ("The Springfield Police tell me that you 6 guys are responsible for 91% of all traffic accidents that occur in Springfield") and then continue with the story he'd been telling or dump it wordlessly for another one. He does just this during our conversation. "Did I tell you about the guy I saw at a liquor store who was asking people if they wanted a 'Josh Hancock dinner special?'"  

It isn't a pretty story. Josh Hancock was a long-reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals when he crashed his car into a tow-truck that was in the left lane assisting a different car in the middle of the night last spring. He was drunk and text-messaging when the accident that took his life occurred. Rat says that he heard a guy at a liquor store tell customers to "Get your Josh Hancock dinner special here!" when he went in to buy a pack of cigarettes as a birthday present for a friend. He is greatly amused by this story, but I find it reprehensible and tell him so. "Hey, I didn't make the comment," he says. "I just think it's funny." And then he farts loudly.

  "Ah, that was a nice release of gas."  


The game is going to start in twenty minutes, and Rat is assaulting me with story after story about baseball players he does not respect and politicians he does not care for. If you talk to him about anything political, he will mention Fidel Castro and the American government's inability to kill him. He claims that we've tried to kill Castro a grand total of 638 times and failed with each attempt. I always tell him that I don't care where he got that number from, it is wrong as hell, and it doesn't "prove" anything about "government" even if we do believe that somehow the CIA would fail at its job 600+ times. "Whatever," he says, his standard response to criticism. We had gotten on the subject of "politics" because he mentioned the World Baseball Classic and Cuba's winning the Classic triggers thoughts of Fidel Castro, and Castro triggers "Operation Abajo Fidel," the plots to kill Castro, and that makes him think about universal health insurance. From there, he starts to talk about a professor he once had who he swears is an "idiot" that knows "nothing" about history (he mumbles incoherently when asked what makes this man "an idiot"); he rants about a Sox fan who said that Gavin Floyd is a better pitcher than Carlos Zambrano; and then he explodes when he talks about the people with whom he works. As far as he is concerned, all of his colleagues are idiots (especially one fellow whose ambition it is to own his own local franchise in the chain), but no one gets Rat angrier than his customers. "I take more garbage than anyone else, because I usually take orders over the phone." One time, he says, a customer called with a private number and was told to use a phone number that was not private because they don't take delivery orders without a working number. The man refused, so Rat said, "when you decide to give me a working phone number I'll give you a pizza." He had someone call and order a Big Mac despite the fact that he does not work at a McDonald's. His all-time favorite was an old woman who called to ask about the concept of "tax" on a product. "Someone really called to ask about the concept of 'tax.' Not what the tax rate is. That's a fair question. But 'what's tax' because she got her bill and didn't know what this 'tax' was." He growls, and then groans out, "idiots!"  

We sit in silence for a moment and he suddenly, inexplicably says "I hate Ned Flanders. I'd like to tell him, 'Shut up Flanders!' and he'd say 'Okellydokelly.'"

"Where did that come from?" I ask him, but I notice his eyes are wandering and I see the object of his attention. It is a child, six or seven years old, wearing a White Sox shirt. "Don't do it," I say to him, but he takes a deep breath and yells out "White Sox suck!" The kid looks at him, nods his head and says, "Yeah buddy, thanks." I ask if he isn't just a little embarrassed by that. "No. This stadium's full of drunks who talk on their cell phone all day." What that has to do with him yelling at a child, I don't know, but he starts to rant again about something and I interrupt him. "Excuse me.  Excuse me... are you having a good time?"  

He stops to think about it for a short moment. It is the longest he will be silent tonight. "It's a good time. It's a great time. I love watching baseball. Even if the Cubs aren't playing. What I love most is coming to Wrigley, watching the hotties, and getting fat. Nothing beats a ballgame. Now, the truth is, I love watching people I hate fail miserably. I take pleasure in trashing things. Most of my anger comes from my family and the idiots I work with, and that's the best way to get rid of it." He is interrupted by the opening ceremonies - by the Star Spangled Banner - and we stand with our hands over our hearts. The person to his left attempts to get past him but Rat tells him to respect the flag and wait until the anthem has been sung. "Welcome to the first minor league game at Wrigley Field!" booms the public address announcer, and the game starts after Ryne Sandberg is introduced and given a standing ovation from the fans. As the game goes on, it becomes clear that the Peoria Chiefs pulled out all the stops to make this game a successful, entertaining one for the fans. Every minor-league game features some humorous dancing, someone singing, a mascot fight or race, or something different but just as eclectic and minor-leagueish. This game features all of that, as "BirdZirk," a bird from Lexington, Kentucky, comes out, steals the third baseman's glove and throws it into the left-field bleachers; one of the umpires does backflips and handstands while dancing with BirdZerk; there is a mascot race between Homer, the Chiefs' mascot, and the Kane County Cougars cougar; halfway through the game the crowd is introduced to "The Zooperstar" mascots, including Nomar Garciaparrot, Clammy Sosa (who comes out to Weird Al's "Eat It" and swallows a man alive), Mia Hamster, Nolan Ryno, Pee Wee Geese and Whale Gretzky. Through all the shenanigans, the teams would play to a 6-6 tie that would go unbroken due to a sudden rainfall, but Greg Dowling, Rebel Ridley, and Brandon Guyer all go deep in what will likely be the highlight of their young careers. From the time the game started until the moment when the umpires called it off in the bottom of the ninth with runners at 1st and 2nd, 1 out, and a 1-1 count on the hitter, due to the rain, Rat can only cheer, say thank you, and say goodbye.

Gregory Pratt is a political science and history double-major at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His political commentary can be found at the Office of the Independent Blogger, and he can be reached at