|« Cubs Weekly Round Up||Vernon Hills, Palos Workday, Monsters »|
The Turncoat Mon Apr 19 2010
Sports, like politics, religion and pop culture, attracts fanaticism of a very vicious nature. When there are rivalries involved, the typical sports fan can regress from jovial enthusiast to belligerent maniac. Anyone who has been a Gapers Block reader long enough to remember the comments from Ramsin Canon's "Hate, Hate, Hate the White Sox" column (comments now rendered even more hilarious since the Sox did eventually go on to win it all) will note that not even the classy denizens of this website can abstain from ad hominem attacks and personal insults regarding the other side's sexuality, socio-economic status and level of education when defending their team. Even though Chicago is easily the greatest city in the world and stuffed to the condos with admirable people, we tend to turn pretty barbaric when the Packers come to Soldier Field, the Red Wings visit the United Center and, most of all, when the Cubs and White Sox are compared in any capacity what-so-ever.
So it is with that in mind, that I leave you with the following warnings: if you are a Northsider with a perpetual dislike of Sox fans, you will come to loathe me. If the thought of someone scribing preference of the White Sox and The Cell over that of the Cubs and Wrigley Field is a notion that angers your blood, then you will most likely curse my name to your grandchildren. None of this is my intention of course, I am not picking a fight. I am merely examining the facts of this city and my own life. For you see, I used to be one of you, but my taste in baseball has since matured. I used to be a Cubs fan but I now root for the White Sox. I am a turncoat.
One of my earliest childhood memories is the Cubs "1984 Eastern Division Champs!" pennant hanging in my bedroom. I was only five years old in 1984, so I don't remember much of that season or the inevitable heartbreak that followed. I just knew, even as a young boy, that there was something about that pennant that made my father very sad. The men in the portrait on that particular keepsake had failed to do something very important, and the end result was my father looking very depressed whenever he came within its vicinity. This is the life of a Cubs fan: even our earliest memories of this team are tarnished with failure and sorrow.
Cubs fans often wear that fact on their sleeve. The longer you have endured this disappointment, the more true-blue and die-hard you are, and this in turn makes you a better baseball fan. Somehow self-abuse is the most admirable quality a fan of the sport can have. This is a notion I have since come to find ridiculous, but I am getting ahead of myself.
I suppose part of the draw to this mentality is that someday it will all have been worth it. If the Cubs ever do win it all, just think of what an investment all those previously blown opportunities will have been! How will the memories of the collapse of 1969 and the infamous Bartman Game have appreciated in value after finally seeing the Cubbies celebrating with champagne and passing around 20XX World Series Champs hats? This is such a seductive thought, that for many true fans, it would be ludicrous to ever turn away. Look what you would be missing out on!
Aside from a strong family allegiance to the Cubs (a family that I am on the verge of being disowned from for being such a traitor as their love of the Cubs is best described as reckless), it was this fear that kept me on board with them for over three decades of misery. I couldn't bear to turn my back on them because they just might win it all someday. So at what point does it make sense to walk away? For me the answer is when you have been disappointed and heart-broken to the point where no number of victories will ever matter again. It is the point where your team has been humiliated and annihilated to where not even the concentrated joy from the victories of Lucas, The Miracle on Ice and Kirk Gibson's home run could ever make you care about your team again. For me, that moment was the 2008 Divisional Series.
Make no bones about it: the Cubs were amazing in 2008. Throughout most the season, they had the best record in baseball. By the last game of the season, they had a run differential of 184 runs, 50 more runs than the next highest team. Everyone was hitting well. They were consistently at the top of ESPN's baseball Power Rankings that summer, a website not often known for showing our dear town any love.They had a great rotation ably backed by Carlos Marmol and the affable Kerry Wood. It seemed like every other week, they were scrapping together comeback wins from massive run deficits. They even clinched the NL Central against the hated St. Louis Cardinals. This was not the Cubs of our forefathers, this was a team in the midst of one of those rare, magical seasons that graces fans from time to time, like '85 Bears or the '04 Red Sox. Clearly, if this was not the year IT would finally happen, IT would never happen.
Of course, IT didn't happen. Not only did IT not happen, IT didn't happen in the worst way possible. The Cubs didn't just lose that series against the Dodgers, they were decimated. High hopes were washed away quickly after James Loney's grand slam in Game 1. If you were foolish enough to not recognize that swing of the bat as the door slamming early, the following day's massacre as a result of the Cub's sloppy defense on their own field would spell it out for you: Nope. Not this time. Probably not ever. They couldn't even win one lousy game. They couldn't even lose any of the lousy games without humiliating themselves.
I spent a lot of last summer angry at baseball. The Cubs had shredded any optimism I had left, leaving me bitter and despondent. The thought of sitting in Wrigley for one more game with a bunch of tourists and rowdy dipsomaniacs so we could all watch a squad of overpaid has-beens and underachievers filled me with too much anxiety. My relationship with this horrible team had to end. I needed a new team if I was ever going to care about this sport again. Certainly there was no point in caring about the Cubs, who had empirically demonstrated that failure was their only destiny. But where to turn?
I like the Red Sox a lot. I went to school out East and was lucky enough to live in central Massachusetts when they showed the world what overcoming decades of failure can look like. That 2004 ALCS will forever be burned in my memory as one of the greatest moments in sports. I know many Red Sox fans and I think they're pretty great guys, I so would theoretically have people to cheer with. I like Fenway Park too. It is like what Wrigley Field could be if you toned down the urinal element and the majority of the fans in attendance actually cared about the game. Rooting for another city's team seemed strange though. You could never really go to any games and the emotional element just wouldn't be there - it's fun when you're cheering for your team from your city. Clearly there could be no long distance relationships in baseball.
That only left one option. There was only one other team in this city, but could I root for them? This is the team I had been programmed to hate since that pennant hung in my bedroom. Someone, I don't remember who, got me a Sox hat to piss my dad off when I was very young. It worked - I was forbidden to wear it and I am pretty sure he threw it away. Growing up, friends who came to my parents' house wearing Sox regalia were often turned away at the door. They were my natural enemy; my family's allegiance to the north side was generations deep.
However, if I now hated the Cubs, and I still do, what did I have against the Sox? Wasn't I now in the same position as 99% of all the people who call U.S. Cellular Field their home, looking north with disdain at the lovable losers and their loyally delusional fans? The enemy of my enemy was the answer to my team-less conundrum. I began to look south, tempted by the dark side. The allure grew stronger as the summer went on. They had a great pitching staff led by Mark Buehrle. Steve Stone was their color guy, and god knows his departure from the Cubs didn't help my love of the north side any. Plus they had all around good guys like Jim Thome and Paul Konerko bringing fireworks to the fans on a regular basis. All I needed was a little push, something monumental to really make me want to root for the White Sox with sincerity. Something like...
A perfect game! My soul was sold. It was over. How could anyone not want to be a White Sox fan? They brought a World Series title to Chicago for the first time since Tsars were an official title and now this? Even if you hated the Sox, you had to love the fact that a perfect game was thrown here, in our city, by one of our teams. Clearly I was a man who needed to rearrange his baseball priorities. Sure rooting for the Sox would allow people to question my character, but baseball could be fun again.
So this is it. 2010 begins my own personal Year One. No longer will I romanticize futility and revere an uncomfortable, decaying ballpark. No longer will I sit and hope for a glory that will never come, getting heart-broken in October as the Cubs march towards Year Infinity. No longer will I neglect the talented baseball team in this city just because it is 9.5 miles south of where my family pledged its allegiance. From now on, I would be a rotten traitor, a true Baseball Benedict Arnold worthy of derision from most, but I would enjoy baseball a hell of a lot more than I used to. Go Sox.