Sunday, June 8, 2014

While the Sun Shines

In a few minutes, the Cubs are set to take on the Marlins at Wrigley. They are going for their 6th straight win. If they get the W, it will be the first time Chicago has won 6 straight since July of 2012. I was told I should blog while the Cubs were winning--presumably so a hopeful, cheery tone breaks up the scenery around here.

Right now Jake Arietta has struck out 5 over 5 innings and it's scoreless in the 6th.

What's it like to be on a winning streak as a Cubs' fan? Well, it's weird. Being on pace for our third straight 100-loss season, it's both titillating and nerve-wracking to hit a lucky spell. I try to pretend I don't care, and more specifically, like I'm not madly hoping they can pull off just one more. I suppose pretending that you don't care about the wins makes it's easier to pretend you don't care about the inevitable loss that is waiting at the end of this and all streaks.

Alas, I *do* care. Just like my dad, I harbor hopes that this group of lovable losers is better than they've performed thus far. Post-season play would be a dream I dare not of (this year)... but maybe .500 ball? If they got *really* hot? These are the feverish ambitions that I find hardest to surrender. I can accept not being very good, but for some reason, it's pretty tough to concede being really, really bad.

Still, I want this post to explain to the world *why* I'm a Cubs' fan, and why (God help me) I actually enjoy it. So, in honor of the Cubs entering the 7th inning of this game with a 2 run lead (Woohoo Nate Schierholtz!), let me explain. No, it is too much. Let me sum up*:

1. It's who I am.

Just as I'm a Mormon, a Californian, a wife & mother... just as I am a teacher... just as I have a sweet tooth and crooked smile.. just as I need to travel and be social... I am a Cubs' fan. It feels right. It's not just because my dad is a Cubs' fan, either. Dad is also a Rams' fan, and even though he *wanted* me to grow up and marry Jim Everett, I am a Niners' girl through and through. Being a Cubs' fan is both a calling and a curse, and in that complex dichotomy is a distinctive, sincere identity. Winning teams earn new fans all the time, but they also lose them just as easily. When you're a Cubs fan, chances are, you are sticking around. And most likely, you mean it. No one decides to "try out" loving a terrible team on a lark.

2. My Dad.

Okay, yes- I just finished insisting that I wasn't a Cubs' fan because of my dad, but I should amend that to say that I'm not a Cubs' fan *just* because of my dad. It's still a large part of the equation. Being able to talk baseball with my dad is one of the joys of my life. Sharing in his happiness when they're playing well, and commiserating in his grief the rest of the time is just one of those things that draws me closer to my father. I like it that way.

3. WGN/Harry Caray.

I grew up listening to a drunken old man happily slurring through the names of baseball players on a basic cable channel that is best known for America's Funniest Home Videos reruns. Though his years and inebriation suggested differently, Harry loved baseball the way a child does: always excited with the prospect of the next win, always rooting for the team, and always in high spirits (and not just distilled ones, either). Harry was the perfect example of enjoyable homerism. He never condescended or belittled the opposing team and fans, and he didn't sour in the face of crushing defeat (something I see happening to the current WGN broadcasting team. Hmmm. "Souring" might be too strong. "Wilting," maybe). The man was just plain lovable, as evidenced by the impressions of him that are going strong 16 years after his death.

4. The city of Chicago.

It's a beautiful, fascinating, irresistible place. Chicago is the home of iconic architecture, political intrigue, and some of my favorite fictional stories. John Dillinger, Walt Disney, Ferris Bueler, Stephen Colbert, and Oprah all hail from Chicago. I love its strong tradition of music, art, literature, and show biz. In addition, my genealogy runs through The City of Big Shoulders--my genealogy and many others like me: Outside of Krakow, the highest population of Poles lives in Chicago. My paternal grandfather's family were Polish immigrants, and he became a Cubs' fan at an early age. It's unclear, however, whether or not he was a fan yet at the age of 3, when the Cubs' won their last World Series. What is clear was that the North Side was his home for 50 some-odd years, before moving his family to California.

5. Wrigley Field.

In my first post, I gushed over Wrigley, and I won't rehash the entire love letter... but let me suggest this: The "new" baseball stadiums (those built in the last 15 years) strive to recapture everything special and charming about the game, as found in early stadiums like Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and Wrigley Field. It's not that Wrigley is a museum, as some have suggested. Rather than a trip back to yesteryear, a visit to The Friendly Confines is simply a stronger, sweeter catalyst for the pure joy of baseball. The ivy, the bricks, the scoreboard, the W, the organ... Sorry, sorry; no more gushing.

For what it's worth, the Cubs' lost today. It was one of their patented come-from-ahead losses in the 8th inning. It hurt a little, but Nate Schierholtz did hit a triple, and that was fun. From first pitch to last strike, there is a lot of baseball to soak up before a winner and a loser is declared... being a Cubs' fan compels you to savor that time, if nothing else.

*Thank you, Princess Bride and Ignigo

Sunday, May 18, 2014


My best friend and I don't argue about much.

And then there's baseball.
We have a few classic disagreements. Kat enjoys the advent of the Designated Hitter, whereas I believe the DH is a corruption of an otherwise elegant game.* This makes sense- I grew up watching the Cubs in the National League, and Kat's teams were and are of the AL distinction. In my experience, your league allegiance heavily influences whether you think the DH is innovative and exciting or an abomination to the intended rhythm of the game.
(We have similar disagreements about day games. She says players don't want to play for Chicago because they have so many early games, and I say they should shut their stupid faces and play baseball the way God intended: when it's light outside!!)

We also disagree about Pete Rose. I plan on writing about the all-time hit leader at some point here. SI featured a great article about the Rose Dilemma recently, it's a complex situation. As for Kat and I- I say, let the man into the Hall of Fame. Kat says NAY. For 12 years we've batted around this subject, and neither of us has budged a millimeter in our respective stances.

So sometimes best friends disagree. I think we're both fine with that. In fact, even though we disagree about these things, we've rarely let our opinions makes us hostile. There was an exception, though.. and I think it's mostly my fault.

See... Kat's a Yankees' fan. Now, don't get me wrong; I don't HATE the Yankees. They're actually quite enjoyable if you're into winning and talent and pizzazz and whatnot. I find most of that loathing-another-team-business silly (unless you're talking about the White Sox, in which case- EW. Why would you talk about the White Sox??). No, what makes it hard to be baseball buddies with a Yankees' fan is their comfortable and easy relationship with winning. The Yankees have won roughly one in four World Series. That would be an average number, if there were, say, *four* teams in MLB, instead of 30.

So the Yankees win. A lot.
And as a Yankees' fan, Kat expects her team will win, and most of the time, she is on point.
That's frustrating as hell for me.

As a Cubs' fan, you want to win. Ohhhhh how you want to win.

Of course, the Cubs have not actually won it all since 'ought-eight. Nineteen 'ought-eight. I feel it's important to mention that they last won the pennant the year my 67 year old father was born, in 1945. In 84, when I was 6, I remember the jubilant celebration when Rick Sutcliffe and Ryne Sandberg won their way to the NL Championship. My dad was THRILLED. I don't remember more excitement in my house than watching the entire team storm onto the field and lift Sutcliffe in the air. In '89, they earned their way to the NLCS again, and lost. Again.

In 2003, I remember being sure THIS was the year. The Cubs had the best record in baseball, and the hottest pitching by far. My boys in blue were 2 outs away from going to the World Series, and no one was playing better. We were going to win. We were GOING TO WIN.
It's still extremely painful to write about that season, and I'm not sure how much I will refer back to that cataclysmic collapse, but I bring it up now to point out the last time the Cubs had a shot at the World Series.


I guess what I mean to say is that wins are precious in my world. Valuable. If you are a Yankee's fan, winning is just something that you do. It's part of your identity, like clean shaves and tight haircuts. Without a shred of sarcasm or malice, I admit that such an identity must be very nice. If you're a Cubs' fan, however, winning is complicated. There is no expectation, only hope so blind it is both shapeless and immeasurable. It is a dirty hope, that has the taint and expectation of failure.

Cubs' fans cope with this dirty hope in divers ways. Some, like my husband, keep their distance. They try their best not to follow the team, and seldom watch games. Some, like my dad, become delusional, and refuse to see the team for what it is. They believe the team is always better than the record shows, and is sustained by the excitement of an individual play or home run. Some fans turn bitter and watch every game in order to confirm their criticism of the team. These guys seem the saddest to me, but maybe the most satisfied.

Most like my dad, I tend to cope by taking enjoyment in the little victories that are everything but victories... a good bunt, a double play, a nice strike out to end the inning. The earlier in the season, the more potent that dirty hope is, and the more I compensate through celebration of the small.

It was the first week of the season two years ago, and Kat and I were in Ashland,Or. for a theatre trip. We were eating lunch in the only sports bar in town. It was Opening Week in baseball and I cajoled the owner to turn the TV to the Cubs game. I was watching and cheering, and I admit I was animated to the point that I was probably confusing strangers. At one point, a pitcher managed to get out of a dicey inning without allowing a run and I whooped loudly. Kat glared at me, and I believe there was a comment like, "calm down, it's the third game of the season."

I was upset, because I felt like I was being told I couldn't enjoy the little victories... or that it was stupid to get enjoyment from them. I responded gracelessly, and it was awkward, because not only were Kat and I in public, but we had a third person in our party (one who didn't even follow baseball!).

It was a sad moment for me, because it reminded me how different Kat and I are when it comes to baseball. We both like it, and we enjoy it together often.. Occasions like this remind me, though, that our experiences as fans are very, very different. Kat would never whoop loudly for an inning-ending out in April, because her team just DOES those things as a matter of course. And yet, if I can't get *too* excited about that stuff, how will I survive my season? How will I live through August and September if I don't live it up while hope is still alive? How will I keep from becoming completely embittered and sad?

The thing is-
Until her team has been absent from a championship since before her father could walk, she won't know what it feels like to cling to the little things because they're all you have.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

100 Years of Baseball Heaven

She's my all-time favorite Cub.
Oh, I love Ernie Banks and Ron Santo. Even though I never saw them play, I was raised with an appreciation of them the way I was taught to respect past presidents and other dignitaries. Growing up, I followed my dad's lead and cheered loudest for Ryne Sandberg. As I became my own fan, I fell in love with pitching, and the likes of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. And even with his fall from grace, I can't help but think fondly of Sammy Sosa. In recent years, I've hung my hopes on the fresh faces, so it's been Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo.

They all have a place in my heart, but eventually... none of them stay. They get traded or retire, and in the end, they move on.
Not Wrigley.

Wrigley Field endures.

100 years ago, she was built as "Weeghman Park" in a league that would soon after fold, for a team that no longer exists. After Boston's Fenway Park, Wrigley is the oldest stadium in MLB, and easily the prettiest. Yes, okay- I concede my bias, but I ask you to survey her finery: the ivy and brick walls, the hand-turned scoreboard, the grand red marquee, and the gorgeous Chicago skyline. Now tell me who's prettier?
(You know you want to...)

As as a West Coast Cubs' fan, most of my visits to Wrigley have been courtesy of WGN and my living room tv. Harry Caray was my ambassador and taught me to watch the flags for the way the wind was blowing off Lake Michigan. It was Harry who narrated the peeks at the crowds that gathered on Waveland Avenue when Sammy Sosa starting hitting the first of all his impossible home runs. Harry's voice will always exist inside my head at a pounding volume, since my dad would turn the speakers up to maximum during every 7th inning stretch. When I reached my seat for my first game at Wrigley in 2007, I quickly located the press box and could almost see Harry swinging his microphone at us while belting out "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

I remember years before, walking in San Francisco, and seeing a panhandler with a Cubs' hat and a sign that said, "Will Write Songs for $$$." I gave him a dollar, and he smiled at my husband's hat and t-shirt. "You ever been to Wrigley?" he asked. When I said we had not, he gave a small gasp. "You have to go!! It's like... it's like... *baseball heaven.*" Then he strummed a few chords on his guitar and sang a few monotone lines I don't sharply remember about the ups and downs of being a Cubs' fan. "Baseball heaven," on the other hand, stuck.

It might seem like a team who hasn't won a championship in over a century couldn't possibly know what heaven is like, let alone act as celestial hosts to the rest of the baseball world. It's a fair assumption, since most people see heaven as the ultimate reward, home to the King of Kings, with mansions of gold, etc. Baseball heaven might then be in the Bronx, I guess.

It's not in the Bronx.
It's on Chicago's North Side.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3.
Our championship treasury empty, the evidence is clear: Jesus is a Cubs' fan, and Wrigley Field is baseball heaven.

Loving the Cubs demands a poor spirit, a humble heart, and a meek tolerance of trials. It's not easy. We have no player who's won us titles, and every heir apparent we pick has fallen short. It's a seemingly endless experiment in patience and disappointment. Our balm, our reward, is Wrigley... a place where baseball is joyous- not because of the win, but because it is baseball.