News Article Details

For World Series ring bearers, being a Cubs fan is only part of the story

Chicago Tribune - 3/8/2017

March 08--It's no wonder Amy Liss is such a fan of Cubs manager Joe Maddon. They share an affinity for positive affirmations.

The Downers Grove native will see Maddon's "Don't let the pressure exceed the pleasure" and raise him a personal motto of her own: "Live each day with an attitude of gratitude."

Liss, who has cerebral palsy and can't live independently, falls back on that mantra every day. The 34-year-old throws herself into her work -- motivational speaking and mentoring children -- and her favorite pastime, the Cubs.

She's one of 20 fans, each with a unique story, who won a contest to present the team's 2016 World Series rings to players and coaches during a ceremony April 12 at Wrigley Field. The Cubs face the Dodgers that night in the second home game of the season, two nights after their Wrigley opener.

More than 1,500 videos were submitted via Twitter with the hashtag #CubsRingBearer. Cubs front-office personnel judged the entries, and the team announced the winners Tuesday.

Ring bearers range in age from 13 to 90 and include a woman with spina bifida who plays baseball for the Miracle League Cubs; a man who saved a bottle of champagne from 1984 and used it for a World Series toast; and a cancer survivor.

Here are three of the winners' tales:

Amy Liss, 34, Downers Grove

Liss said she loves to go to her "happy place" -- her room, a Cubs shrine decked out with red walls, bobbleheads, stuffed animals, an autographed Harry Caray poster and a bat Ryne Sandberg handed to her during spring training in 1993. She likes to look at the ceiling, where her dad, Tom, placed the words "attitude of gratitude" and Cubs stickers on the ceiling fan.

Liss was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was 5 months old, and her type, spastic quadriplegia, impairs her mobility and causes her muscles to tighten when she gets excited. She calls her family and friends her "team" because they provide constant support for the wheelchair-bound Liss, helping her travel the country to speak to college teams and businesses or handle duties closer to home such as mentoring children for Easter Seals, at Hillcrest Elementary School and at a soccer camp run by former U.S. national team great Julie Foudy, a longtime friend.

She could be down about her condition, but she looks at people like Foudy and Maddon for motivation.

"He has a spunky personality," Liss said.

Liss can be spunky herself, like she when was watching Game 7 of the World Series and the Indians' Rajai Davis hit a game-tying two-run home run. Liss became tearful and "livid" (a rare occurrence, mom Kathy said). After the Cubs rallied to win the championship, "it took me a month to recover from the emotion and excitement," Liss said.

Liss has been a fixture at Cubs Conventions for years and most recently met Anthony Rizzo and David Ross and got a hug from Addison Russell. Kathy Liss said Caray and Ron Santo saw Amy so often at conventions and spring training that they knew her by name.

"She just has a winning smile and personality that makes people want to remember her," Kathy said.

David Morimoto, 55, Joliet

It was Morimoto's video entry, a team effort by coworkers, that helped the ophthalmologist stand out. Surgical tech Paula Schorp delivered a rap parody of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" that fell somewhere between delightfully awful and brilliantly campy.

"See the shirt he's wearin' / and all those girls are starin'

Ooooh Cubbies, he wants to get with ya / and take your picture

Those Sox fans tried to warn me / but Wrigley really warms me"

"When I saw it, I was just rolling on the ground," Morimoto said.

Morimoto's receptionist, Samantha Arce, had the idea to nominate him, and optometrist Jeff Harris helped give the video the feel of a late-night local TV commercial. Harris submitted it to the Cubs and broke the good news to Morimoto.

"When he told me last Tuesday, I went through the roof," Morimoto said. "I just couldn't believe it. Apart from Game 7 of the World Series, it was like the greatest thing in the world."

The season had special meaning for his family. Morimoto took his 86-year-old father, who moonlighted as a Cubs physician in the late 1950s, and his mother to separate World Series games at Wrigley.

"He's going to be my guest at the ring-bearer ceremony," Morimoto said of his father.

If Morimoto had his choice, he would present a ring to Javier Baez.

"I love watching him in the field and the magic he performs fielding," he said, "but you know what: I wouldn't care who it would be. Just to be able to congratulate those guys for giving us fans something we've been waiting for all these years is thanks enough for me."

Lauren Klein 13, Peru, Ill.

With kids, you get honesty.

Klein said one reason she loves the Cubs is they're "an unpredictable team -- you never know what you're going to get." That and her dad, Herb, being a lifelong fan turned her into one.

So about 10 days ago, Klein couldn't figure out why her father was filming her.

"When he told me I won (the contest), I started jumping up and down," she said. "I ran to my brother's room screaming: 'Matthew, I won. Matthew, I won.'"

Matthew, 16, had helped make the video. Mom Jill had looked for a twist to make the video special, something beyond typical jerseys and memorabilia to show how devoted Lauren is to the Cubs.

"I went back through all of her school stuff since she was in kindergarten, and I pulled out everything," Jill said. "If she wrote a letter to Punxsutawney Phil, it was about how she didn't want him to see his shadow so she could go to see a Cubs game. On St. Patrick's Day, to the leprechaun, it was about how she wants to find a pot of gold so that she can go to a Cubs game.

"Everything since she was able to write and talk has been about the Cubs."

For years, Lauren has worn Cubs gear on the first day of school. Girls usually dress up on picture day in October for Washington Junior High School's yearbook, "but my daughter walked out of her room that morning and she had a Cubs jersey on," Jill said. "And I went, 'You do know it's photo day today.' And she said, 'Yeah, Cubs are in the World Series -- what better to wear than this?'"

Lauren even gets into the rivalries, talking smack with a former elementary school classmate who was a Pirates fan.

"They used to rib each other, even back in second grade when she was so little, with back and forth about who's going to win," Jill said.

For her 13th birthday, she had some of her travel softball teammates -- Cardinals fans, mostly -- pose with her under a cardboard cutout of the Wrigley Field marquee.

Cubs players aren't spared from her cheekiness either. Herb remembers how, at a Cubs summer camp in 2012, Lauren asked Anthony Rizzo, "Why'd they wait so long to bring you up from the minors?"

plthompson@chicagotribune.com

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