Monday, April 25, 2005

HEY CHICAGO WHAT DO YOU SAY

There is something special about the Chicago Cubs. Not just special, though, because special is the close cousin of different, and though the Cubs are certainly different there is also something quite magical about them. Not magical like Dragonslayer magical, but magical like when you were in high school hanging out with your buddies in a cornfield drinking whiskey from a bottle and a deer emerges from the stalks, walks 20 yards in front of you and looks at you, stares at you, then turns around and walks back into the corn and all you can hear is the rustling of the dried stalks brushing against its hide. Anyone who has lived in that part of the country knows what I'm talking about: the Mythology of the Midwest. The summer nights on a lake, drifting on a pontoon boat; the driving through a thunderstorm while it's still sunny; the backcountry roads with their run-down bridges and bait-shops. Michael Martone calls it the flatness, but whatever it is, it's about losing the anchor of time. It also involves, if you're me, the Chicago Cubs.

The devotion and allegiance found in Cubs fans is, I guess, most akin to that of Boston Red Sox fans, though there is also a great difference between the two, and I think it mostly comes down to the fact that Cubs fans are wholly Midwestern and largely rural. This may not seem significant to some of you, but what this means is we don't expect the Cubs to win, or even compete, year in and year out like Red Sox fans do. In fact, if the Cubs ever did perform well, we would be both prideful and ashamed, because success in the Midwest is always tempered with a pinch of guilt. There is also, dare I say it, a great religiosity to the Cubs. My grandparents, farmers, relied on the weather to dictate the success of their crops. Through time, they developed a great patience in general and a great reliance on God in particular. Being a Cubs fan involves these as well: great patience through slumps and streaks, but also, when at the end of the season they fall short, as they do every year, an acknowledgment that perhaps it was my fault, that perhaps if I weren't so selfishly thinking that they could win the pennant this year, they might have had a chance. Like when the farmer finally believes that that storm in Illinois will make its way east and end the summer's long drought, but ultimately, when it doesn't happen, placing the blame squarely on his own shoulders for not more humbly recognizing his ignorance of God's will.

When I was twelve, my father purchased cable. He purchased it for one reason, and that was so we could watch Cubs games on WGN. Since both of my parents were schoolteachers, there were many summer afternoons spent mowing the lawn, tending the garden, or picking up branches after a thunderstorm, only to be interrupted so we could watch the last few innings of a Cubs game. Later, my father purchased a Walkman with a built-in AM dial so he could listen to the games as he mowed the lawn or, in the fall, raked the dry leaves into a formidable pile. Driving to aunts or uncles or grandparents' houses, we listened to Ron Santo on WGN, talking already in the middle of the season about the improvements the Cubs needed to make in order for them to compete in the next one - next season, of course, was when they really were going have a shot at the pennant.

I don't know what, if anything, could make me stop being a Cubs fan. A large part of the Cubs mythology is Wrigley Field, but I don't see it lasting more than another 10 or 15 years. Structurally, it's crumbling. It's also not designed well (heaven forbid paying $20 for a seat then getting stuck behind one of those huge pillars), and it doesn't seat that many people. I'm not sure what the organization plans on doing when the city finally condemns the place, but my suggestion would be to raze it and build an exact replica, with a few minor improvements, on the same plot of land. When my father was 11, the house he lived in burned to the ground, and my grandfather decided to build the same house over again on the old foundation. In the Midwest, there is a precedent for such stubborness.

I know that if the Cubs won the pennant or the World Series, I would still be a Cubs fan. If they won ten World Series in a row, I would be a Cubs fan. Their mystique does not derive from their moniker as the Loveable Losers, even though they always lose and they are loveable. Being a Cubs fan is more like being a fan of baseball itself. Sure, sometimes you've got more time to watch or listen to the games, and sometimes the investment you put into a season is greater than the last. But driving past a little league game at night, watching the mosquitoes and flies swarm around the artificial lights, is part of being a Cubs fan. Watching a little kid with an oversized helmet, choking up too much on a bat as large as his thigh, hoping more than anything he just makes contact and gets to run up that firstbase line, pointing his head down and churning those little legs as he tries to outrun the throw from the shortstop - that is what it is like to be a fan of the Chicago Cubs. You want to see them do well, but more than anything, you just want to see them, you want to know they exist, you want to know that when you drive by that little league diamond on a Sunday night in August, you'll see another little kid, in another oversized helmet, looking over at his coach for advice, then stepping into the box with thoughts of a home run, or at least a single, hoping to get the ball out of the infield but hoping even more just to make contact, to run up that line, to get on base, and wait for his teammate to do it all over again.

2 comments:

Danny Fisher said...

As a loyal Cubs fan and a Midwesterner, I applaud this beautiful, truthful post.

Awbnid said...

Well said. As a fan of another club who's history of losing is only a part of the permanent stamp they put on every summer and fall-- the Fightin' Phils-- I feel a kinship to your Cubbies.