More Confessions of a Born Again Cubs Fan (Bottom of the Ninth)

27 Feb

Bill MurrayI hate baseball.

In the beginning of Spring it teases me with promises of autumnal joy. Sometime in May or June my team suddenly looks good and my heart explores the notion of hope again. And then the baseball gods pull the rug out from under me. If they are kind they do so before the All Star Break, and I can go about my summer without expectations that this October will be any different from the past hundred or so. If those gods are cruel they will bring me to within a few innings of bliss, and then, with a cunning honed over decades, they will punch me in my face and tell me I had it coming. Because, you know, I hoped too much.

I discovered baseball for the first time in 1984. (Check out this post for that.) I lost it ten years later during the strike, but it was given back to me with the 1996 New York Yankees. Come 1998 I was rewarded again with the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase. Then the Cubs made the playoffs, which they promptly lost. In 1999 I moved back to Chicago. Those were lean for the Cubs. They ended in last place in both 1999 and 2000. But by that point I had already escaped back to New York from a hometown in which I felt more and more like a tourist. Not that I was ever particularly happy in New York. But my unhappiness there at least felt like it had meaning.

In our minds New York, like baseball, is not what it is but what we wish it were. It is easy for some of us to forgive the 1994 strike or to rationalize the steroid era in baseball, to claim that it didn’t tarnish the game. We can similarly look at New York and see only the bright lights, the glamour, the Horatio Alger rags-to-riches go-getterness that our fictions ply us with, the romance known only from the movies, and the corned beef which really is the best in the world. New York can always be Friends or Sex and the City or Upper East Side Woody Allen flicks. We don’t have to see the poverty, the abuses of power, the corruption or the indifference of the haves to the have nots. We ignore the rats, the heaps garbage on the street, the pervasive smells. We are blind to panhandlers. We become used to exorbitant rates for cramped apartments. After a while we become ignorant of our own wretchedness, oblivious to inescapable loneliness, and contented with simply getting through the day without being pushed onto the subway tracks.

But despite all that, we stay.

9/11 cemented my love of New York. If I had stayed in Chicago, if I had not been in New York on 9/11, I would have always regretted it. New York is my city, and if I were absent in her time of greatest need, the shame of my abandonment would have haunted me my entire life. Chicago may be my hometown, but New York is my home.

That October the city experienced one of the greatest World Series in living memory. And the Yankees lost. But my adoration for that team was at its peak during those games. They were not a baseball team but a limb of the living, breathing city of New York. And I was as far away from the Cubs as I had ever been in my life.

***

I hate baseball.

It fools me into thinking that it is charitable, but is only a two-bit carny trying to con me out of my childlike hopes. After a while baseball no longer needs to break my heart, for I will oblige it with that action myself. I know for a fact that the odds are against my team winning, but I still watch, still care, still give a damn about a team that has never done me a lick of good.

Let’s hit the FF button on the remote. Summer 2003. I was back in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I had new friends. I was moderately happy, or at least I thought I was. One day in mid-June I was reading through the sports page and saw that the Cubs were in first place. Well, that’s nice, I thought, better than crapping out in May like we usually do. I didn’t think about the Cubs much more throughout the season; unbeknownst to me, however, they were shuttling between first and third places for most of the summer. By the end of September, the only time that mattered, they were in first place.

And then I started watching those playoff games. I watched in a Mets bar in Park Slope, where most of the regulars were rooting for the Cubs. I can go into minute details about those games. Game 1 of the NLCS was on my birthday, and Sammy Sosa hit a two run homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game (which we would later lose). Aramis Ramirez hit a grand slam in Game 3. I drank Guinness and ate wings during every game. I wore my Cubs hat wherever I went (except work). We went up three games to one, with one more win needed to advance to the World Series. I tried not to think of this fact, tried not to get my hopes up.

But I did get my hopes up. I got them up to such a point that in Game 6, just before the top of the eighth inning, I called my mom and said, “I think we’re going to the World Series.” My mother chastised me. “Don’t ever say that again. It’s bad luck.” I still think of what came next as my fault.

We lost that game, and the next one. We lost the series in the most ignominious, heartbreaking, devastating, mass-suicide-inducing, gut wrenching, nerve wracking, public weeping, sucker punchy, God denying, cataclysmic manner possible. And because that series hurt so much, I can’t even go into specifics about what happened to fuck us over. I literally cannot write the words. If you are reading this, you probably know, but if you are a novice when it comes to baseball lore, read this.

One day after the Cubs were eliminated, the Yankees defeated the Red Sox in typical motherfucking Yankee dramatic fashion to go to the World Series. Which they lost. And I didn’t give two shits about them losing.

And that’s when I realized that I had been and always would be a Cubs fan. Not only did a Yankee loss not affect me as much as a Cubs loss, but even the high I would get from a Yankee win was nothing compared to the low I got from the Cubs losing. The Cubs resided in a place in my heart that could never be excised. Every time I denied them I denied part of myself. I was born again by the blood of one of the worst losses my team had ever experienced. I was re-baptized into that small community of fans of the most pathetic team in the game. And no matter how hard I would later try, I would never look back.

***

I hate baseball.

But no matter how much I hate it, when February rolls around and that magical phrase “pitchers and catchers” is spoken aloud, I get a little giddy. When my fantasy draft gets closer, I feel the itch of anticipation. Opening Day and maybe just maybe it is a clear blue day with highs in the 60s, baseball’s version of a White Christmas. Soon I am craving some peanuts and cracker jack.

Since 2003, the Cubs have gotten to the postseason twice. Their overall record in those games is 0-6. And if you count the final three games of 2003, the Cubs currently have a nine game postseason losing streak. That, however, is only the sixth longest in baseball history. (Thank you Boston Red Sox and Bill Buckner.)

Three days after the final loss in 2008 I was sitting in my therapist’s office. I had never cried to her. But that day I did. I wept in front of her. Not about mother issues or relationship problems or any of the other myriad difficulties your humble blogger may possess. Here’s a rough transcript:

Jacob: Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!

Dr. H: This must have been pretty tough on you.

Jacob: Waaaaaahahhhhhahahaahahahahaaaaahhhaaaaahahaahahha!!!!!!!!

Dr. H: Were you just crying or laughing?

Jacob: No, that’s just how I cry. Look…..sniff….hmph…..waaahaaa…look, let me tell you something. I don’t want the Cubs to win for me. I’m young. But there is some guy somewhere in Chicago who is going to die in a couple of months. This is his last season. I want them to win for him. I want the Cubs to win for all those old men and women who have watched this team for seventy fucking years. When we win, it will never be for me, it will be for them. When I celebrate, I will celebrate for those people, for the fans who spent their lives rooting for a lost cause because even lost causes can be noble. I want them to win for the people who never gave up hope. That is why I still vote. Because no matter how shitty my country may sometimes seem, I still believe in America. And I believe in the Cubs.

Dr. H: Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of your system, do you want to talk about that weird sex thing we were discussing last time?

Jacob: Um….

***

Football may be America’s favorite team sport, and basketball is perhaps its most athletic. Baseball, however, is the National Pastime. What does that even mean? National Pastime? Pastime? The dictionary says that it is: “an activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work; a hobby.” I like to think of it in a slightly different manner – not past time, but pass time. It is that which we do to pass the time. Baseball is a reflection of the virtues of slowness and patience. It is the antithesis of the hustle bustle of the cities just outside the stadium. Baseball rewards stillness. It is, after all, a game in which more Nothing happens than Something.

And it means that I must be patient. It means I will have to sit in the stands and watch as the pitcher shakes off signs. I will wait through five useless pick-off moves and three eighth inning pitching changes. I will wait through the batter calling time and adjusting his gloves.  Wait for the beer guy to show up again. Wait through three hour rain delays. Through commercial breaks. Through meetings on the mound. The pitcher shaking off signs. The batter selecting a new bat. Foul ball after foul ball after foul ball.

I wait through November. And December. I wait through January. I wait through the Super Bowl. I wait through the wilderness of Winter, knowing that Spring will come again. And then I wait through Spring. And Summer. I wait through catastrophic losses. I wait through the first 100-loss season since 1966.  I wait through another October in which I am told to “wait till next year.”  I wait, and I am patient. Because that is what baseball is. It is the small outburst of awesomeness in the midst of the humdrum of life.

And so I try to be patient and to wait for the day I can forever stop waiting, the day I can stop hating baseball. 

No comments yet

Leave a Reply