CHICAGO – Keith Schram had one request when his wife suggested moving to the city after his retirement in 2003.
“I said, ‘As long as we’re within 10 blocks of heaven, I’ll do it,’ ” Schram said.
Care to guess where heaven is?
Here’s a hint: Schram, 68, is an usher there. (Yes, apparently, heaven needs ushers.)
Tens of millions of long-suffering Cubs fans are experiencing something incredibly special. Something made possible by the team’s players, coaches and front-office staff.
For the first time since 1945, the Cubs are going to the World Series.
But what about the hundreds of other men and women who also work at Wrigley Field? Maybe they don’t wear blue-and-white pinstripes or have their names beamed on the scoreboard, but they devote countless hours as ushers, vendors, concessions workers and other personnel to serve fans.
This moment is for them, too.
Schram works in the upper deck, behind Section 409 and in front of the press box.
“I’m telling you, this is the greatest job in the ballpark,” Schram said as he looked out over home plate toward the center-field scoreboard. “It’s really a privilege to do this. The best part is meeting people.”
As gatekeeper to the press box, Schram is on a first-name basis with Cubs broadcasters and other franchise icons. He grew up cheering for Ron Santo as a player and befriended Santo as an analyst. When Santo died in 2010, Schram helped to carry Santo’s casket from the hearse to the church on the day of the wake.
Schram has stood guard as a slew of celebrity guests have arrived to sing during the seventh-inning stretch. One day, he might say hello to a Supreme Court justice. The next day, it might be Meat Loaf.
Before he became an usher, Schram spent 33 years as a high school math teacher and basketball coach. He started at Lemont High School before moving to Peotone High School for the bulk of his career.
It is not uncommon for a former student to recognize Schram as he or she walks through the concourse. Once, a woman turned to him quizzically and asked, “Mr. Schram?” Turns out, he was her teacher in 1971.
So much has changed since then, but not Schram’s love for the Cubs.
“I was a Cub fan from the time I can remember,” said Schram, whose twin brothers were 7 years older. “My dad was a Cub fan. My brothers were Cub fans. It was just part of the family.”
Schram’s dad has passed away. So has his mom, who died last month at age 100. Both brothers are gone, too.
A World Series win would be for them as much as it would be for him.
Schram still gets chills when he arrives to the park. It’s the same stadium where, as a teenager, he scored a ticket to the 1962 All-Star Game.
On that day more than five decades ago, he and a pal found a spot along the third-base line to watch batting practice. Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees ripped a foul ball into the seats.
“I’d like to say I caught it,” Schram said. “But, really, I chased it down.”
Cool moment, right? Keepsake of a lifetime.
Except Schram dreamed bigger. He decided to mail the ball to the Cubs and ask to have it autographed.
“My parents and everybody else said, no, don’t do that, you’re never going to see that ball again,” Schram said. “But I had all the confidence in the world. So I sent it in.”
A few weeks later, the ball returned in the mail – signed by all of the Cubs.
Schram carries the same unflinching confidence that the Cubs will win the World Series this year.
How could you doubt the man? After all, he works in heaven.
“I have a feeling that if we win the World Series, there will be a lot of people that retire from this job,” Schram said. “Not me. I’m going to stay here as long as I can.”
• Tom Musick is a contributor for Shaw Media.