Sunday, November 2, 2008

A celebration of baseball, the Cubs and Wrigley Field

"Don't worry about it! Enjoy it! Enjoy it! Don't worry about it! There are no holes in this team! This is the ball club!"
--Ron Santo, talking about the Cubs, in August

As it's now the offseason, and this is Gary Smith writing in Sports Illustrated after all, we feel it acceptable to do this without needing to apologize to Cubs fans...

These are excerpts from the story "Are you ready for a howling, pagan, YouTube Oktoberfiesta?", from the Sept. 29 issue, on a subject so good (and pure (as to transcend winning and losing)?) that it forced the writer to deploy the word "walkingest":

Excerpt 1:

On this team's worst days, the bleachers at Wrigley were the best place in sports; I was itching to see what they'd be like on the Cubs' best days. What sort of winners were the Lovable Losers, I wondered. What happens to a victim when his victimhood, in its 100th year, turns to dominance? Or so it seemed....

The Cubs were entering this series playing at a .721 clip at home, owned baseball's best record and sat six games ahead of the second-place Brewers. Could God be that heartless? Could this all be another cruel joke?

No. It couldn't be...

Excerpt 2:

"...I know I should be expecting doom, because I always have before, and if you don't, you're not a real Cubs fan. But I don't this time. I just don't."

Excerpt 3:

But Lynn was sure Ronnie Santo was right. "We're used to devastation," she said, "but I just don't have that feeling this year."

SI ran the cover story just before the playoffs, and per format, the letters in response to the story were printed three weeks later, some bemoaning the cover curse ("I speak for all Cubs fans when I ask you to please never put us on the cover again. In fact, don't even mention us in the magazine at all. When the 2009 baseball preview comes out, pretend we don't exist") and others having fun at the team's expense ("I have finally figured out what Cubs fans meant by their constant proclamation, It's Gonna Happen. They were obviously referring to being swept out of the postseason in the first round"). The last two were especially good: a reference to the Phillies and "the 1989 movie Back to the Future Part II."

If that isn't enough to get you to click on the story link, understand this: ultimately, Gary Smith's story is a naked, unreserved, unabashed celebration of the Cubs and baseball -- and a part of us which is intrinsically human -- and my point in linking to it isn't to provoke Cubs fans still smarting from last month's loss but to remind them that there is something intrinsically good about being a baseball fan in general and, yes, a Cubs fan in particular, and that if you think about it, there's only a shade over three months' time until pitchers and catchers report, and only a few weeks after that when spring training begins, and a month more when the game we love rises again like a quiet sunrise to reveal the spring bloom in its all-American splendor. Comfort in the tides of time, which roll forth regardless of your wanting its acceleration or delay; peace in the coming of days.

The heat was savage. Today's was an afternoon game. Here was Wrigleyville broiled to its essence, young men and women pouring from the surrounding bars into the bleachers, pausing on the outdoor concourse to purchase a pair of 16-ounce plastic cups of beer, double-fisting them to an unclaimed patch of bench, stripping down to bare chests and bikini tops and settling in for a four-hour house party, the scents of suntan lotion, hops, barley and baked flesh inseparable by the bottom of the second. Marvelous multitaskers, able to eat, drink, text, troll, couple and clamor for the Cubbies all at once.


"I've been all over the world," Fred continued, unperturbed. "I've scuba-dived the Great Barrier Reef and motorcycled the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies, and, yes, they're both
beautiful. But I realized when I first came here 45 years ago that this ballpark on a sunny day was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen, and that it still is today. So the bathrooms smell like piss? So Larry Craig wouldn't like our men's room? Well, I don't watch the ball game from there. This ballpark doesn't need a damn thing. Winning or losing stopped making me happy or sad years ago. I just love to be here."

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