Friday, May 26, 2006

Why I am a Cubs Fan (if that even matters)

On Monday April 6th, 1987 my future as a baseball fan would be determined. I returned from school after a tough day of finger painting and spelling in the 1st grade. My father was watering the plants when I came home. He worked the night shift as a postal worker in Carol Stream, and therefore, he was off during the day.
"Sox are on," he told me.
"Sox are on?" I thought. Why the hell would my father ask if I wanted to watch the White Sox? I was a kid from a community north of Chicago, and I had just memorized the entire Cub roster all the way down to Manny Trillo! Why in HELL would he ask me to watch those ugly, disgusting, and despised Chicago White Sox?!

My dad wanted to give me a chance. One last chance to get out of the hell I was about to inherit.

After passing my father, on my way to the inside of the house, my thoughts and feelings were locked on the Cubs' home opener of 1987 against the Cardinals. Harry had a stroke, and the Cubs were using guest announcers. Hopes were high for a healthy Rick Sutcliffe, a young staff, and some healthy big sticks across the field (sound familiar?).

My thoughts were with the Cubs that day because I was an impressionable young man. My father became a Cub fan in 1967, which wasn't popular seeing as he was a South Side Irish kid. But the next year his family moved up to Hoffman Estates, where he would be around more Cub faithful. My father would tell me stories of how he saw Ernie Banks win a game with a 3 run homer against San Diego, or how Billy Williams was robbed of the MVP award by Johnny Bench.

Growing up in the 1980s with Harry Caray, daytime games, all games on WGN, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, Keith Moreland, Rick Sutcliffe...the Cubs were easy to like. I would adopt them into my daily life much like a monk adopts prayer into his chores.

I was hypnotized by the green grass, the smell of the all beef hot dog, scoreboards that required addition skills, pennants that told standings, day baseball, and the nameless jerseys of the pinstriped team.

At this time in early '87 though, these feelings were locked to only pictures on a screen in a small ranch home in the northern suburbs. I only knew the guys from the back of baseball cards, or inside my sticker book. They weren't real to me at the time. I had, in my mind, made them as legendary as my Optimus Prime fortress inside my closet.

They would gain reality on June 5th, 1987. My first trip to Wrigley Field: Cubs vs. Cardinals. The Cubs came into the game two games back. They had come together through Dawson's furious first half, Sutcliffe's solid pitching, and good power numbers from Durham and Moreland.

I can vividly remember walking up the ramp, seeing the field being watered, holding my father's hand, and wondering what all those blasted Cardinal fans were doing at the game. My Cubs and my season! Together at last! The pictures on the cards could now match the real movements up close. My fantasy world and my perfect Cubs (who were going to win their first world championship in 79 years) were together at last.

It's almost TOO fitting that my first game was a part of a season that had begun with so much hope, and ended in such a drizzle. The Cubs would lose the game to the Cardinals, lose 3 of 4 in the series, and spiral into last place at season's end.
Gene Michael would be fired, Frank Lucchessi would be hired, and my first Cub summer would end in demise. The only question was if Dawson could reach 50 homers in the ladder portion of September.

That summer was filled with two hopes: 1. Could younger Cub pitchers like Maddux break through, and 2. Would the Cardinals EVER stop losing.
Neither would happen.

Watching the season waste away, I was left to ponder what might have been. The whole proposition did not make sense. Why was I wasting my time on a team that seemed to not get it right? (and yes, I was thinking these things at 7)

My problem was that I was sold on the bright spots of 1987 to the youth of 1988. Vance Law was going to solve third base. Mark Grace was the next Cub young stud. Dunston had just finished going through the rough spots of his youth. Dawson was JUST hitting his prime. Rafael Palmeiro was a future star. Greg Maddux was starting to hit his spots.
"Everything is coming together Johnny, you can see! The Cardinals are banged up, and the Mets are all in rehab, WE CAN DO THIS!"

And so it begins. Year after year, more replacements, more answers, more hopes held by very little fact value, all because of freak years like 89, 98, and even 2001 give us that dumb Telemaco-Pico-Noce hope.

It's not a coincidence that this passage has been written to Tom Waits' 'Closing Time' being played in the background. Wrigley has become a barren barroom of lost dreamers, has-beens, and no-goods.
Like the sketchy bar, it is the home to the schemer, the peruser, the unqualified stockholder.

Waits' music on this album seems to resound lost dreams, missed cut-off men, failed squeezes, and bad decisions.
With all the pain, why am I still here?

Loyalty does not exist anymore. It is as dead as chivalry. Stomped out, beaten down, laughed at, and scorned in public.
Yet loyalty, for all its absurdity in modern times, matters.
I am loyal to my family. I am loyal to my team. I am loyal to my fiancee. I am loyal to my friends. I am loyal to the drunks, the addicts, and the no-goods. I am loyal to the USA.

And, for some unforsaken reason, I am loyal to the Chicago National League Ballclub.
On April 6th, 1987 I made a decision. And however stupid that decision may wind out to be, it's mine. These are MY guys. I picked them.

This doesn't mean that I have to go to games, give the Trib a dime, or wear my Cub paraphanelia.
It just means that I'm not going anywhere. Loyalty matters to this guy.

The trade-off is coming. Kal Daniels tripping over a sprinkler will be replaced by a pennant winner.
Bartman will be replaced by a World's Championship.
It will happen. (I think)

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