A fan of any team has a story of how they became a fan. A parent or grandparent who was a fanatic and watched every game on TV, an uncle who took them to their first event, or even just following the community or their playground friends by cheering for the local team. Everyone has their story, many have posted it to their social media feed after their team won a championship, and even fewer, but still a great many of writers have used their regular platform to tell an audience of strangers a story no one asked them to tell.
This is one of those stories and I’ll add it to the clutter of me toos not because I’m a Cubs fan, or a writer, as I’ll admit I’m mediocre at both. No, the world may not need another story of a fan, let alone a Cubs fan so soon after their first World Series win in 108 years, but some in the world need to hear a story that isn’t so dis-similar to theirs. It’s always nice to feel validated when the world has you down.
There’s a great many more Cubs fans now than there were last year, and probably more than next year. But I’m not upset by that. Many of them aren’t fans, many never went to Wrigley, or could name a player until last week, but their joining in the festivities is welcomed by me. It’s like any festive celebration. After all, it’s Chicago, they dye the river green for St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve seen and celebrated it first hand, and I’m not Irish. Or from Chicago.
In Fremont, Nebraska, I didn’t grow up around a major league team. As a family we made frequent trips to Rosenblatt to watch the Omaha Royals, the minor league team of Kansas City. In parks and rec I did an unmemorable stint playing soccer and went through t-ball up to kids pitch in fifth grade when, during practice, I got beamed in the eye by a line drive due to my lack of paying attention while in right field. I usually got to base on balls, advanced on passed balls but was too afraid to slide.
Besides the minor league games and parks and rec, sports didn’t really make their way into my family’s living room. We never watched football, not even the Huskers (yeah, that’s how devoid of sports our television was), I wasn’t even aware of hockey, and basketball was just something I did in our driveway before high school.
I may not have played baseball well, but I took up the baseball card craze of the late 80s, early 90s. My first baseball cards were from a neighbor boy, some 1986 Cubs cards. I would eventually work towards collecting complete sets, having my mom take me to garage sales with a checklist to find the cards I needed, eventually realizing I could save up and buy a whole set at once.
I’d organize the cards by team and as I watched a game on TV bring them out and read the stats. We had basic cable growing up, 13 channels, frequent games televised on WGN and TBS. I probably could have just as easily become a Braves fan except for the fact that even after Wrigley Field got lights, the Cubs continued to play an excessive number of day games.
I’d wrap papers for my afternoon paper-route while the Cubs game was on, listening to Harry Caray, watching Mark Grace, Andre Dawson, and Ryne Sandberg play. While others took the number 23 to signify another Chicago player, I made it my own as Sandberg, the second baseman for the Cubs, became my favorite. Later I would be thrilled when I was handed the license plates for my first car: 5-B6323.
In fifth grade I didn’t really know what the World Series was, or that the Cubs hadn’t ever won one in the lifetime of even my grandparents. That year, in 1989, the Cubs gave me the first taste of what a Cubs post-season was—as they lost to the Giants 4 games to 1. At least it wasn’t a sweep. As retribution I began to cheer against the Giants in the famed Bay Series, rooting for the A’s as they swept the Giants even after an earthquake delayed the series.
Soon after I read the fictional novel Murder in Wrigley Field by Crabbe Evers for a book report and that began my interest with Cubs and Wrigley Field history as the novel was packed with historical details.
My seventh grade year I was hospitalized after being sick much of the school year. I spent two and a half weeks at a hospital in Omaha as doctors ran tests and tried to figure out what was wrong. It was still pre-season, so no games on TV, but I began my obsession with cutting out newspaper and magazine articles about the Cubs and Wrigley Field. Among some of the gifts I received while in the hospital was a troll doll wearing a Cubs jersey.
It was pre-Internet, pre-Wikipedia, and I don’t know how I got my hands on all the information I did, but I compiled as much as I could about the history of the team and the ball park. When they began treating me for Crohn’s Disease (a chronic disease in my colon) and I was well enough to go back to school I brought the Cubs with me. I hung stickers, pictures, and articles in my locker.
I was officially a Cubs geek.
I had Cubs caps, a jacket, hoodie, and t-shirts as I had discovered mail order and my parents allowed me to peruse the “Vineline” and “Bricks and Ivy” magazines and catalogs. I was too young to care about what I wore, and wasn’t aware enough to allow the words, “Cubs Suck,” to hurt me. However, when I became a teen it began to sting and I started to hide some of my Cubs pride.
I wasn’t a strong kid, even before my sickness reduced me to 70 pounds in seventh grade, I was an easy pick for jokes. I was shy, non-athletic, interested in trains and computers, and knew little about the things that interested other kids. I was also (and still am) socially awkward and introverted, struggling to make conversation, anxious at gatherings, and uncomfortable making eye contact with strangers. I also live with this unsettling feeling that striking up a conversation with someone imposes an unnecessary burden on them. I can be so lonely even when surrounded by people.
As a teen that leads to massive self-esteem issues in which being a Cubs fan didn’t help, even if it was sports. “Yay! Sports! I can talk baseball! How about those Cubs?” Didn’t go well for me.
I couldn’t even tell you if anyone outside my family knew I was a Cubs fan in junior high or high school. Yeah, I sported a red and blue golf bag when I played on the golf team, but I was just as easily a weird kid. My family knew how much of a fan I was and they supported me as I followed the “Lovable Losers.”
My first major league game was actually in Minnesota the year after the Twins won the World Series. We had watched the series against the Braves as a family—first time—and even though the Braves were a National League team my 7th grade English/Social Studies teacher was a Twins fan with Homer Hankies hanging on the back classroom wall. So for a year in junior high I rooted for the Twins alongside the Cubs.
When we went to Minnesota it was a true Kluck family vacation, by car, planning every sight along the way, covering as much of the state as we could in seven days. After watching Kirby Puckett and Chili Davis in the Metrodome we made our way as far north as Canada, crossing over the border to say we made it, before coming back into the states.
Before my junior year in high school my family and I began planning our first trip to Chicago and Wrigley Field. Then, a mere week or so before were set to head out I was in the living room of my grandparent’s house when the news came on the television. Ryne Sandberg was announcing his retirement. I was heartbroken I wouldn’t see him play.
Despite the setback, I still looked forward to the trip. We loaded up the car, headed into Iowa, stopped in Dyersville to see the Field of Dreams, and then on into Chicago. I was finally in the city I had studied up on, from railroads to the great fire, and beyond. It was a dream come true. I felt at home, like I had been there before, but now made real. And then, when we took the red line up to Addison Station, and I caught my first glimpse of Wrigley—for the first time in my life I was in awe.
We walked around the perimeter of the stadium, saw the brick walls, the scoreboard from behind, and the famous red marquee over the front entrance. Inside, we went up the ramps as we made our way to the seats somewhere along the first base line in the upper deck. I remember coming out of the concourse and seeing the field for the first time. Amazing.
I don’t even remember who won, or who they played, but I was at Wrigley. I sang along with Harry and the crowd during the seventh inning, I saw Mark Grace and Shawon Dunston play, I had a pretzel, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Maybe it was the next summer we again loaded up the car and headed to Colorado, touring four states but not before a stop in Denver to see the Cubs play the Rockies in the brand new Coors Field.
I’d return to Wrigley a dozen more times. Once after high school graduation while taking a road trip with three of my friends, another time with my family, and several more while in college in Saint Paul. Many of those trips my parents didn’t know about. I did two games in one trip once, and even went to Chicago alone for St. Patrick’s when there wasn’t a game scheduled. I still felt at home in Chicago, able to take the El’ where I needed, navigate the bridges and streets, see everything I could but never there long enough. A friend who came along with me on one of the spontaneous college trips called it the “1999 Whirlwind Tour of Chicago.”
In college I was able to bring out my Cubs geekery again. In the seminary I found that even though there were rivalries no one shamed me for being a Cubs fan as much as they shamed—and prayed for—me for having a well-stocked liquor cabinet in my dorm room. I hosted viewing parties in my room and in the floor lounge, and when inter-league was introduced, took several friends across the river to Minneapolis to watch the Cubs play the Twins.
Quite honestly I didn’t let prayer and studies get in the way of watching spring or fall baseball. I frequented Twins games and followed the ever-frustrating Cubs post-seasons. I stayed out or up later watching baseball than I should have. It probably contributed to my later leaving the seminary and being put on academic probation. When I lived at an Omaha parish I frequently walked to the old Rosenblatt for minor league games, especially when the Iowa Cubs were in town.
But hey, at least I wasn’t spending my college years partying.
I had just entered the seminary when Harry died. I dealt with death before, having lost three grandparents in the span of six months, one even by suicide, but I had never been mature enough to reflect upon death. Writing and reflection was something I had only truly discovered while in college, finally a way to express myself, share my thoughts with those around me in a way they, and finally I, could understand.
I stayed up late that February night and wrote my own eulogy for Harry Caray and after each sentence was carefully crafted and stained in tears, I printed out a copy and posted it on my door in the hall.
One thing I learned while in the seminary was that friendships are a shared experience. It didn’t matter if the people that you surrounded yourself with ever rooted for your team before. When they were with me they were a Cubs fan because I was a Cubs fan. They cheered and cried with me. They found a happiness talking about baseball with someone who was also happy talking about baseball. They were fans, or became fans of baseball, and it just so happened that baseball in my life was centered around the Cubs. They could have just as easily been Tigers or Mariner’s fans, as there was a group representing each, but in my presence Cubs talk was spoken.
And even after seminary studies ended, and some went on to priesthood while others went on to have families, I know that even though they aren’t true, die hard Cubs fans, they are Cubs fans just the same because as I talk to them even now they have fond memories of watching those games and sharing those experiences with me. Something about the Cubs and being at Wrigley Field invokes memories. There’s a spark that lights up when someone recalls a trip to Chicago, an aunt or uncle, or grandparent that lived in Chicago and was a fan. A friend that they met in college who lived and died for the Cubs.
When you’re talking Cubs, and it elicits good feelings inside, consider yourself a Cubs fan.
Cubs fans are unique, a culture with its own Latin phrase—Eamus Catuli—humor, nostalgia, traditions, superstitions and curses. The culture is so storied and still living and breathing as it grows, that it is hard for any one fan to be knowledgeable of it all, even if they are a die hard. Even I still learn new stuff about the Cubs every year.
Though as I began to take care of a family my love for the Cubs hasn’t died. I watch very little baseball on television anymore, staying with the articles and box scores, play by play updates on my phone, really only pushing my schedule aside to dedicate myself and sit down and watch post-season action.
I and my family finally made it to Arizona this year for Cubs spring training, a first for all of us. And what a start to a year!
My Minnesota born and raised son will probably grow up to be a Twins fan, but last week as I saw him proudly don the Cubs shirt he received at spring training I know a piece of him will always be a Cubs fan. He’ll remember watching the Division, National League, and World Series with me, asking me the next day who won if he fell asleep beforehand. He’s usually too cool to show an interest in what daddy likes.
There’s a bandwagon for sure, but there’s also that spark, that interest that gets stirred up within those that don’t normally pay close attention to the Cubs. And I’m fine with that. As a kid I was bullied for wearing a Cubs cap. Even at 38, after the Cubs clinched the NL Championship this past month I endured remarks from a group of strangers commenting that I was “one of those fake Cubs fans” as I walked into a bar with my family. I instantly had the same level of self-esteem I had in high school. I felt vulnerable and weak.
Some of what we perceive as fans are actually people cheering for the Cubs fans in their lives. I’ve been told many times, received text after text, of people happy for me. I did the same for a friend rooting for the Yankees in ’96. We are experiencing a time of Cubs pride and shared celebration, and as with any rally as time passes, supporters will wane but for those of us who shied away from attention, keeping in the shadows, hiding our affinity for fear of rebuke, we can come out and be proud. Our interests have finally been recognized. We have an answer for when the Cubs will win the World Series, Back to the Future II was only off by 1 year. How can you not marvel at coincidence with such a small margin of error? (Forget the fact they were supposed to be playing Miami, and that the series ended mid-October.)
Going to Wrigley Field once in your life or even sharing in a first World Series win in 108 years is a lot like going to Disney. You don’t have to be a fan to come away with an experience, a spark of happiness.
We like to see the impossible possible. The Yankees of 1996, the Red Sox of 2004, and perhaps the Indians of 2017. This year it was the Cubs of 2016.
Both teams fought hard and had their own legions of temporary supporters as the Cubs beat the odds allowing Cleveland 3 wins before coming back and pushing Game 7. An early lead in Game 7 was quickly diminished until the whole series was again a tie by the 9th. Of course we’d have to wait longer, of course it would go into extra innings. And, of course, as if we needed a biblical sign, it rained before the Cubs could end their 108 year drought.
In the end there’s only two teams left and everyone favors someone. Everyone picks a favorite, a side almost at random. That’s the World Series, that’s the Super Bowl, that’s any competition where we come down to two.
And yet some people are upset at temporary fans.
Maybe I’m more accepting because I myself have looked for acceptance.
Do we need to be reminded that some of the players already played for World Series teams elsewhere? That they too only recently began donning a cap and jersey for a World Series team? Loyalty is relative.
Note: Though I am open to constructive criticism and debate in most of my posts, this post is deemed a sanctuary. Please be respectful of not only me but others who gather here. All disparaging comments will be deleted.