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.