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The Turncoat Mon Apr 26 2010


the_turncoat.jpgDuring the summer of 1969, that fateful summer the Chicago Cubs had arguably the best team in their history yet still failed to make it to or succeed in the World Series, my father was 12 years old. He was fortunate enough to attend many of the Cubs home games that season. Back then, Wrigley had not yet established itself as the overcrowded den of inequity in high demand it is today. A neighborhood kid, such as my father, could get into Cubs games easily -- go to a game, help sweep the aisles afterwards and get free tickets to the next one.  In doing this, he was not only able to obtain a first hand account of a monumental season in the history of his favorite ball club, but also establish himself, in my mind, as one of the greatest sports fans any team could be lucky enough to have. He has always been a true fan, honest and dedicated, regardless of how poorly his team performed or how difficult it was to root for them.  He has always been there, as much a part of their history as they were his. More then anyone else, he deserves to see them win.

Growing up with this man as my example of what a Wrigleyvillian embodied, it was a long time before I could ever fathom the idea of someone not liking Cubs fans.  All the man wanted in exchange for his fanaticism was to see his team win. He isn't a bleacher bum and he isn't frat boy, he is just a great guy rooting for the wrong team.  Based on the wrongful assumption that all who attend Cubs games are a lot like him, it only made sense that A) people who don't like Cubs fans are in small number and B) those who do not are dismissible crazies. Well, it might come as a surprise to some of you, but a lot of people just don't like Cubs fans.

After spending last Sunday at your ballpark , I think I can help shed some light on as to why not. The lady friend's parents were visiting from out of town and wanted to see a ball game. "A Sox game?" I prodded. No, they wanted to see the landmark. So, being the two people I am most concerned with impressing on the planet, they were able to convince me with fairly little effort to bottle up disdain and throw a Bears sweatshirt over my bitter little heart, and it was off to Wrigley Field. This was my first trip into the neighborhood as a defector. I began to see your culture in a whole new light. Given that many of you were drunk enough to have sex with Ralph Nader despite the fact "Meet the Press" was still on, this new perspective came easier than you may think.

Now I'm not saying I don't like you. Some of my very favorite people are Cubs fans. Plus, I used to walk amongst your ranks, proud to wear the blue bear cub with his injured little paw, surrounded by his big red "C" as if someone were generously grading this franchise. I am just suggesting, after seeing your world through the eyes of someone who no longer cares about your team, that I might understand why some people may find your lifestyle objectionable.

The first thing you need to understand is that there are a lot of you. This might seem inspiring, since you have your WGN-beget nation of loyalists infesting every town that has a National League team, but the reality of it is, to outsiders you are very, very irritating. Just consider this for a minute: you, the Cubs fans, not only have your own ballpark, but your own neighborhood. You have a park that holds just over 41,000 people. When you're done packing yourselves in there like overenthusiastic disappointment-junkies, you then overflow into the surrounding streets, bars and rooftops for miles around and turn half of the Northside into Mardi Gras just because the baseball team you like is playing one of its many, many home games. "Wait!" you protest, "This is because we are the greatest fans ever! We treat every game like it's a playoff game!" that's possible. But consider another perspective.

Believe it or not, I understand the concept of loyalty. I get that many of you are just enthusiastic for your Cubs because you truly love them and you want to encourage them every step of the way.  But when you turn Clark and Addison into the nexus of the world's largest drunken swap meet, you begin to resemble something other than sports fans. You have to understand, for many people, it is hard to understand this level of fervent fanaticism for a team whose closest glimpse of success in recent memory was the infamous "Bartman Game." To people who don't like your team or get why you're so excited about them, Wrigleyville begins to take on more of a subcultural atmosphere. To an outsider looking in, you're not sports fans; you're a cult.

Let us pretend there hasn't been a new Star Trek movie in a very long time. In this analogy, there hasn't been a TV series about the Enterprise or a film about boldly going where no man has gone before in, say, 100 years. Star Trek, you could then argue, hasn't done anything to justify a fan base in over a century. Now imagine if Logan Square had a reputation for catering to people who are obsessed with Star Trek, almost in defiance of there not being any reason for anyone to care about it. Imagine not being able to take the Blue Line through this neighborhood during a Star Trek convention without being crammed next to dozens of people all dressed like Jonathan Frakes circa 1991 and all speaking Klingon. Imagine, god forbid, you had something else to do in that neighborhood besides giving reverence to Gene Roddenberry's fictional future utopia. Can you picture wandering around Milwaukee and Logan crowded by Vulcans and Borg? Everywhere you turn there are Captain Kirk bars and Mr Spock rooftops. Now imagine this happens 81 times a summer. You would call them losers, yes, but lovable?

Now I know Wrigleyville isn't the only place in the world that exemplifies this stereotype. I have been to Yawkey and Brookline, and it resembled Clark and Addison in many ways. Red Sox fans are even treated to a Dixieland band and a man on stilts for some reason. There is just as much fanfare, but at least they have been given something to celebrate. I spent a lot of time, before and after the Cubs blew that game to the Astros last Sunday, wondering how so many of you could still care. I just couldn't fathom how so many of you could not only muster up so much excitement for a team that has been so cruel to you for so long, but also feed money to an organization that has ripped you off pretty blatantly. I don't get it, and other people don't either. Maybe, like my father, you are just better sports fans than I.

Also, I think I am being kind comparing you Star Trek fans. To the non-sci fi geek, I think Star Trek is the most relatable franchise.  If I were going to make a more precise analogy, based on the fact that most don't get why you make such a big deal out of a team that performs so poorly, it should probably be a nerd convention most people can't fathom interest in. Something like this.

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