CHICAGO -- His name may not be familiar, but regular fans in the center-field bleachers know Fred Washington's face, which they've seen peeking out from one of the inning openings in the Cubs' linescore of the manually operated Wrigley Field scoreboard.Washington, 66, is hoping for eight more Cubs wins before
CHICAGO -- His name may not be familiar, but regular fans in the center-field bleachers know Fred Washington's face, which they've seen peeking out from one of the inning openings in the Cubs' linescore of the manually operated Wrigley Field scoreboard.
Washington, 66, is hoping for eight more Cubs wins before he has his retirement party. Chicago opens the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers at home on Saturday (8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT, FS1).
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A member of the grounds crew, Washington started working at Wrigley on April 1, 1984, as part of the security staff. In 1990, he was switched to the grounds crew, and he now works with Darryl Wilson in the dark and dusty interior of the scoreboard. However, this season is Washington's last.
"The highlight has been being there," Washington said. "Every game, no matter what's going on, you have a perfect seat. Part of your job is watching the game, and you can't miss much."
Washington has seen plenty of bad Cubs teams, including the 101-loss season in 2012. Besides being cooped up in the scoreboard, which is not air conditioned or heated, what's the downside?
"When your team isn't doing well, that's the low light," Washington said.
This year has been a thrill.
"When they clinched this year, I started to sing ["Go Cubs Go"], and I got all choked up in my voice," Washington said. "I told Darryl that I was up there trying to sing and I got choked up. He said, 'Man, I was down here crying.'
"It's such an emotional thing when you've been suffering with them all these years, and they've done so well, and you're so proud of them. I just recently learned what crying tears of joy means."
The Cubs players most likely don't know Washington. He's simply part of the crew that keeps Wrigley Field manicured, helping with watering the grass, raking the infield, whatever is needed. Everyone knows his or her job, and it's carefully choreographed.
At game time, Washington climbs the ladder into the scoreboard.
"I'm very endeared by the fans in the bleachers," Washington said.
There are regulars who keep an eye on the inning-by-inning updates, which Washington and Wilson used to get on a teletype machine. Now, they have a computer.
"They're very helpful," Washington said. "We have that human element, and we can make mistakes. They'll point and try to explain what's going on, but we can't hear because of the crowd noise. They're very helpful and knowledgable."
Washington has seen it all and knows the devotion Cubs fans have for their team. There was one man who shaved a perfect Cubs logo on his chest. Another day, he spotted a woman with a perfect tattoo of late Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray on her right arm.
Washington's favorite photo is very grounds crew-related. They have a saying, "feeding the chickens," which refers to how they spread a substance called "Turface" on the mound.
"I've got a perfect picture of a puff of this Turface before it hit the ground," Washington said. "I think that's the best picture I took in my life."
So, what's next for a man who has had one of the best seats at Wrigley for 26 years?
"I really don't know -- I haven't planned that far ahead," Washington said. "The years, they sneak up on you. Me retiring reminds me of a death in the family. If somebody notifies you that a loved one has passed, you acknowledge it, but it doesn't hit you now. I'm on such a 'Go Cubs Go' roll, I don't look at retiring. For me, that's almost like a negativity, because it will take me away from all this. This season has been so exciting -- you want to stay here."
Washington has seen everything but a World Series. Do the Cubs need to do that this year for him to retire a happy man?
"I would suggest -- I would demand it," Washington said. "I'm looking forward to it."
On Saturday for the start of the NLCS, Washington will be in the scoreboard, watching.
"All season long, if the Cubs play anybody, they should win two out of three," Washington said. "It's just natural for the way they've been playing. It's just like these young players, their confidence is growing -- and so is mine -- with this team. I've suffered with them for so long, and now I'm reaping the benefits.
"It's like raising a kid and he goes to school and does well. You want to pat them on the shoulder, you want to hug them, and that's how I feel about this team. My retirement is not going to happen until everything is totally over with. I put my retirement on the back burner, and I put the Cubs first, because that's where they belong."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.