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The Turncoat Tue May 11 2010
I have to admit that I have been playing to stereotypes a little in this column. Normally I would feel guilty about that sort of thing, but we're dealing with baseball fans -- namely, the hard drinking party-guy Cubs fan, less interested in the number of runs on the old, green scoreboard than the number of pink Cubs hats in the bleachers and the bitter but noble, baseball -savvy Sox fan, hunched over his score card ready to boo the hell out of under-performing players -- not the United Nations. It is more in the interest of fun than any attempt to be mean spirited. I would much rather share some laughs than pick a fight. I do this partly because it makes my job easier, but also because sometimes these stereotypes have a few thousand grains of truth to them. But, to be honest, when it really comes down to it, the disparity between the North and South sides of our city are probably not that great. I am sure there are plenty of frat boys at U.S. Cellular and I am also sure if I really spent all weekend with a team of super detectives at my disposal, I could round up a few Cubs fans capable of explaining the Infield Fly Rule. Probably.
There is however one aspect of Sox fandom I have yet to touch on, and that's because it is a more sensitive element in the gamut of Chicago baseball sociology. It is an especially delicate facet for me to talk about, since I am new to this particular side of town, figuratively speaking. It would seem unwise to take an entire subculture to task while simultaneously asking them for acceptance. In the interest of maintaining honesty though, it is probably something I should address since I have already made my case for the silliness of Cubs fans. So since I am a fair guy, always willing to look at all sides of a pointless issue, I am now forced to deal with the specter of whether or not Sox fans are A-Holes.
My own personal experience says, yes. Yes they are. In my first article for this site, a commenter questioned the validity of any actual rivalry existing in this town. He claimed that it was more a fabrication than anything else and that we're all just part of the same baseball family, obnoxious fans being the minority. When I think back to my trip to U.S. Cellular in 2005 for the first game of the Cubs/Sox series that year, I wish that commenter was correct. Sergio Mitre (Remember him?) was the starter for the Cubs, and by the 5th inning he had gotten lit up for seven earned runs. That was only the beginning of my personal hell for that day. As the bullpen went on to allow five more, the Cubs offense was shut down handily by Freddy Garcia (Remember when he was good?). The entire time this prime example of a game gone wrong was happening, my family and I were being jeered, shouted down and harassed by just about every Sox fan in our section. Apparently a lot of people didn't think we could find the scoreboard and were happy to show us where it was. It started as good old fashioned, sportsman like jabbing but quickly escalated to pretty aggressive taunting. We got to watch our team get crushed while simultaneously having our sexuality questioned in an open forum. It was a great afternoon.
Apparently, I am not alone in my tales of finding fault with my now comrades. Family, friends and coworkers alike all had the same reaction when I came clean about my switching sides in the eternal battle of blue and black. A coworker had similar stories about a trip to the Cell in Cubs apparel resulting in affronts as well. My mother was incredulous upon hearing I would be rooting for the Southside from now on, asking, "how could you want to hang out with those JERKS?" Red Sox fans, from over 1,000 miles away, often complained to me about Southsiders and their cruelty. Sox fans, you have not made a good impression on a lot of people, especially Cubs fans.
As I have already mentioned in this space, even my lifelong friends, guys I would do anything for, transformed into sadistic comedians during that fateful October series against the Florida Marlins in 2003, feeding on my misery. In addition to collecting Marlins gear for Halloween, they actively watched each game, rooting heartily against the Cubs while coming up with clever names for the bullpen. (Bonus points if you can guess who "Six Finger McF***tron" was.) And of course, after the inevitable collapse, it was impossible to get a beer with them and not hear about the Cubs failure until roughly January of 2006.
I went to my first game at the Cell with the intent of rooting for the Sox last Monday. It was bizarre going there as a friend, rather than a foe, but it was what a baseball game should be. It was one of the three games the Sox won on this last homestand. The weather was perfect and Jake Peavy looked like his old self. My friends and I got fireworks courtesy of Alexei Ramirez and again after the Sox won. We had a great view of the plate on a crisp, clear, perfect-for-baseball evening. The row in front of us was lined with charismatic old timers who watched every pitch intently. All the fans were at the game before the first pitch, knew where they were supposed to be sitting and fought the urge to wander around aimlessly every five outs. I didn't have to pee in a gutter. As everyone knows, my food and drink choices weren't limited to sickly milk-colored hot dogs with a side of Gulden's and Budweiser. In short, I had a great time.
We were also treated to group of guys who yelled "Hey Pods, yer wife has CRABS!" every time the wayward lead off man, Scott Podsednik, took his place in left field.
So maybe Sox fans are jerks. But it is different when they're your jerks. Look at A.J Pierzynski. Just about everybody hates this guy. Even his own manager, with whom has he won a World Series title, has pointed out he has less than appealing personality traits. When the otherwise useless Michael Barret buried his fist in A.J.'s face, people all over baseball cheered. It seems pretty well accepted that he isn't well thought of by many people. But when he is standing in that batter's box with a man on second, and you're both wearing the same color hat, you love the man. You love him like you love all the other jerks sitting around you. Sports is about fraternity. If you were unable to look past the faults of your fellow fans, regardless of how obnoxious they are, Philadelphia teams would have roughly six people at every game.
Besides, like I said, there are jerks everywhere.