...the Chicago Cubs, of course!
Before my daughter came home from Arizona for a short visit this past weekend, she requested that we go to a Cubs game one day while she was here. Being the wonderful mother that I am, I found three tickets, paying triple their face value, and planned our outing. We drove three hours to Chicago (plus another hour stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Dan Ryan Expressway) just for the game on a very hot and muggy Friday. But as any Cubs fan will tell you, it was all worth it for the chance to make the pilgrimage to this shrine of Major League Baseball.
For anyone who is not a baseball fan, a little background is in order. The Chicago Cubs are known throughout baseball fandom as "The Lovable Losers." They have not been in the World Series since 1945 and have not won a World Series in 100 years. No other Major League baseball team can make this dubious claim to fame. Because of this dismal lack of success, many legends have arisen that have grown to mythic proportions. The most famous superstition involves the curse of the billy goat. According to this story, a diehard Cubs fan brought his pet goat to the ballpark in 1945. Near the end of the game, the fan was asked to leave because his goat "stank." As he left, he was heard to mutter, "The Cubs ain't gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field." Sure enough, the Cubs lost the Series, and many Cubs fans believe the curse still exists.
That isn't the only story of superstition about the Cubs. Any fan my age or a little younger remembers all too well the collapse of the Cubs in 1969. The Cubs had a 9-game lead in the National League late in the season and looked to be a shoo-in for the World Series. But on September 9 of that year a black cat ran onto the field during an important game with the New York Mets. He circled around third baseman Ron Santo and ran off the field. The Cubs immediately went into a tailspin and eventually lost the pennant to the Mets.
Nearly every baseball fan, though, remembers the most recent evidence of the curse against Chicago. In 2003 the Cubs had one of the best pitching staffs in all of Major League baseball and were two wins away from reaching the World Series--finally. But in a playoff game against the Florida Marlins, a fan reached out to catch a foul ball that should have been caught by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou. The Marlins went on to score several runs and beat the Cubs, not only in that game, but the next, and went on to win the World Series, while the Cubs could only "wait until next year" once again. The hapless fan, Steve Bartman, became the most hated person in all of Chicago, and it is said he had to change his name and move away. In all honesty, I never thought his action caused the Cubs to lose the playoffs. But for many Cubs fans, his name has gone down in baseball folklore as further evidence of the curse.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Cubs' last World Series title, and since the pre-season the Cubs have been favored to win the pennant and possibly the World Series. So far, they have lived up to expectations, staying in first place in their division since the beginning of the season. My family watches nearly every Cub game on television, but there's nothing like a trip to see a live game, especially if this should be the year the Cubs actually win it all.
There are few places that symbolize the rich tradition of baseball like Wrigley Field. Built in 1914, it is the second oldest baseball stadium in the country. Did you know that Wrigley Field was the site for the famous "called shot" by Babe Ruth, when he supposedly pointed to an area in the outfield and hit a home run for a dying boy? The stadium has undergone a few changes over the years, the most notable one being the addition of lights in 1988. Before that time, the Cubs were the only team in baseball to play all their home games during the day. But other than the addition of lights, nothing has disturbed the historic appearance of the stadium. There are no food courts or swimming pools or trains in the outfield. There are few "bells and whistles"--while there are some small electronic scoreboards, the main scoreboard is still manned by someone who places the numbers by hand at the end of every half inning. Unlike other cities that build new billion-dollar stadiums every 20 years or so, Chicago's Wrigley Field has stood the test of time and represents baseball in its purest, original form.
Our seats on Friday were in the upper deck, but even then we had a good view of the playing field. The roof overhang provided us shelter from the sun, and the cool breeze blowing off Lake Michigan kept us comfortable.
One new addition outside the ballpark this year is this statue of Ernie Banks, known fondly to all Cub fans as "Mr. Cub." Ernie, now 77, played for the Cubs during the 50's and 60's, including the great '69 team. He epitomizes all that is good about baseball. The inscription on the statue reads "Let's play two!" This was one of Ernie's favorite sayings and represents his enthusiasm and love of the game. He was always ready to play another game. Unlike some of today's athletes, you wouldn't have found Ernie holding out during spring training for a higher salary, even though he undoubtedly made less in one year than most major leaguers make in one game today. I have vague memories of the first Cub game I ever attended as a young girl, but I do remember Ernie hitting at least two home runs on that day. He was an MVP twice and won many other awards, is on many records' lists, and was named to the Hall of Fame. His career 512 home runs all came without the benefit of steroids! Ernie came to the majors from the Negro Leagues and no doubt endured incidents of racial discrimination, yet no one remembers him complaining. His cheerful optimism and genuine love of baseball have endeared him to all baseball fans, not just Cubs fans.
My father, who will soon turn 83, has been a Cub fan all his life and often says, "It's not easy being a Cub fan." How true! It takes a special person to be a Cub fan. A true Cub fan is loyal, as evidenced by one of the best attendance records in the Major Leagues, no matter whether the team is winning or losing. Cub fans cheer for great plays and give standing ovations to players who have given their all in a game. They have even been known to give standing ovations to opposing players who have performed well. Of course, they're not perfect--occasionally they will boo a bad performance by a player, but I prefer to think these fans are the exception, rather than the rule. A true Cub fan realizes that life has a way of taking unexpected turns and that disappointments are bound to happen. Rather than agonizing over the what-ifs, a true Cub fan remains eternally optimistic; his favorite saying at the end of each losing season is "Wait till next year!" I think there are some life lessons to be learned here.
As a true Cub fan, I'm not counting on the Cubs to make it to the World Series this year, let alone win it. I will wait until October before I get too hopeful. But if you do see the Cubs successful in late September, you might want to get your affairs in order . . .the end of the world might just be near!