Friday, November 11, 2016

Short-Suffering Fandom

I never really liked the Chicago Cubs until this season began so I didn't fully get 108-years-of-futility mantra diehard fans bemoaned all the time.

Sure, I was aware of their history. Like any baseball fan, I knew the highlights of many teams' histories. I watched the Bartman Ball game on television in October 2003, but I was more entranced then by the New York Yankees since my father had grown up in New York and instilled a love of the Bronx Bombers in me at an early age. Just a few days before Bartman's mishap, the Yankees' Aaron Boone belted an 11th inning home run in Game 7 of the ALCS to beat the rivaled Boston Red Sox.

I was also knew about the black cat episode in Shea Stadium in 1969. I even interviewed former Cubs shortstop Don Kessinger in 2003 for a newspaper story about how a cat scampering across the New York Mets' field jinxed the Cubs into blowing an 8-game lead in the National League East Division late in the season. Kessinger, by the way, denied that the cat caused that run of bad luck back then.

When I lived in Minnesota, I was a Twins fan. The National League was out of my focus at the time. Plus, the little brother of my best friend, who was an obnoxious twerp then, was a huge Cubs' fan. It had a Pavlovian effect on me: See the Cubs, remember the kid. I moved to Arkansas later in life and, although I'm not embedded with the culture, this is St. Louis Cardinals' country. The Cubs are not well loved down here.

I didn't actually feel the struggles of being a Cubs' fan until I became enamored with my Illinois girl last year. She had been a life-long Cubs' supporter and lived through the disappointment of the 1984 season when the San Diego Padres beat Chicago in the NLCS after the Cubs took the first two games of the five-game series.

She warned me that this team could break my heart. We began our relationship late in the season of 2015; I followed the Cubs' playoff run only to be disappointed by the Mets in the NLCS.

So, the Cubs' fandom became part of our courtship in a sense. I was with her at a Waukegan laundromat washing quilts when Addison Russell hit a home run in the eighth to beat the Cincinnati Reds in Chicago's home opener in April. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Blatant name-dropping ahead) I e-mailed former Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene about a piece he wrote on traveling to the grave sites of Harry Carey, Jack Brickhouse, Ernie Banks and Ron Santo to tell them the Cubs were in the Series for the Wall Street Journal. In mentioning the season, I referred to seeing Russell's home run amidst the rinse cycle of the North Green Bay Road laundromat in lovely Waukegan. I've corresponded with Greene, my only real writing hero, for more than a decade, so writing about that was natural. He wrote back today saying he really liked the idea of me “being in a laundromat as the Cubs took their initial step toward the championship."

I'd keep Holly updated on scores during the season and, since we lived apart during the first half of the season and she didn't have cable television, I'd on occasion give her play-by-play over the phone when Chicago was playing on ESPN.

She moved down here in June and the Cubs kept playing, and winning. We'd watch games together and then, when they made the playoffs, we changed our nightly routine to watch each of the contests.

And she kept warning me of their potential for upsetting fans. She'd preface the Series opener by saying that if Cleveland won, at least Chicago made it to the championship for the first time since 1945. I began understanding. When I was in northern Illinois a lot this year, I'd see people wearing Cubs' shirts. They all had looks of confidence, but hidden underneath was an underlying sense of fear and apprehension.

In Game 7 of the Series, I finally understood what that 108-year mantra was about. The Cubs were up 8-6 in the eighth inning when Rajai Davis hit a two-run homer to tie the game. Davis drove in another run in the 10th, and that Fear became a reality. Could the Cubs lose again? Was there about to be another Bartman incident? Was there a goat bleating somewhere in a farm, miffed that one of his relatives was shunned from being in Wrigley during the 1945 Series?

But finally, finally, the Cubs had their championship when Kris Bryant fielded a Michael Martinez dribbler and tossed it to Anthony Rizzo on first.

In a sense, it was easy. Follow a team for the first time, basing it more on the love for a fan than for the team, and watch them win the World Series. I wish that concept would work with the Twins.

1 comment:

  1. It was a feel good story, but i am a Cardinals fan when it comes to the NL and I hope the Cards win the central next year.