Thoughts on Being a Cubs Fan Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
In The Great Gatsby, when Jordan Baker asks if she is missed in Chicago, Nick Carraway says, “The whole town is desolate. All the cars have the left rear tire painted black….” Well, today the whole town is ecstatic, and the tires are all blue. People are weeping for joy at the drop of a hat, breaking into tears in public places and on public airwaves recalling granddads and first games and lost bleacher friends and decades of memories. The sports talk hosts have just opened the spigots and let the catharses flow.
Actually, that was yesterday. Today the whole town is relieved. Our long ordeal is over and our shame is gone. Yes, shame. I’m not sure we knew we ever had it, but we sure know we don’t have it anymore.
Now the question is, what are we going to do without it? That’s because with the shame came all the character building stuff: self-deprecation, an ability to laugh at ourselves, an inability to take ourselves too seriously, both pleasure and joy of a wry, ironic sort, and the clear, definite knowledge that “it’s only baseball.” After all, with struggle and hardship come wisdom and humility, and without struggle and hardship…well, look at Donald Trump.
Once when I was living in Mexico City in 1974 watching the washed-out Cub Adolfo Phillips play center field for the Mexico City Tigres, I saw a pudgy American tourist in a Cincinnati Reds ball cap approach two well-dressed Mexican teenagers who were leafing through a Sports Illustrated article on Cincinnati’s juggernaut Big Red Machine in the newsstand of the Hotel Camino Real. “Hey,” the tourist said pointing at his hat, “I’m from Cincinnati! That’s my team!” He beamed at them as if they would be impressed. They weren’t. His wide-eyed gung-hoism embarrassed me. Maybe for the first time I was proud to be a Cubs fan.
Now I am again, but in a new and different and not entirely comfortable way. I mean, we’re winners! Little ol’ us! The Little Blue Machine! The woeful, pathetic Cubbies! The team that has tried to win public sympathy as loveable losers as in, “well, at least we play day baseball (no longer so true), and the average guy can still afford a seat (no longer true at all) and we have a cute ball park.” Cute! Great arenas where epic battles are waged cannot be cute.
So what are we left with? There is the relief, yes, and that morning-after feeling that Peggy Lee sings about in “Is That All There Is?” And there is a hole in our identity, one that used to be filled with the knowledge that unlike the soft, spoiled cities, we didn’t need winning or success to feel whole, that we didn’t need sunshine and palm trees to go outside, that we didn’t need warmth to put our tops down on the first day of spring, that we had survived “The Blizzard of ’79”, “The Winter of ‘14” and Cub fandom, that we were strong enough, tough enough and just cynical enough to live in Chicago and be Cubs fans.
And we are left with a lot of questions. After this season, this World Series, that seventh game, can there ever be others? Was that the end of baseball? Can I ever go out to Wrigley Field again on a cold April afternoon with a thermos of coffee and a good book and read my way through a bad game? Will I ever again care enough to go to bed with my ear Abuds in to listen to a game from the West Coast? Is there still hopelessness for humankind?
And may I please take some time off now? I am exhausted!
-- Peter Ferry, author of Travel Writing and Old Heart