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Everyone is a Cub Fan (whether they know it or not)

By Sean DeLauder

When I first discovered the Chicago Cubs on a foldout table at the flea market their futility was already legendary. Almost 80 years had passed since a championship. I didn’t know that.

19842.jpgThe whole team was wrapped up together, a family bound in a tight block of Topps baseball cards, enclosed in a plastic case held together by a thick rubber band. Every team in Major League Baseball lay before me in similar fashion like kittens in a pet shop window.

I scrutinized them at length, bringing all the baseball acumen I’d gained from PBS to bear, confused by the absence of teams from Brooklyn and Washington, and found myself drawn to the Cubs. Maybe because my father brought a Frisbee home from a business trip depicting the Chicago skyline, the Sears tower jutting out of the city like a triumphant fist. Maybe it was the white-on-blue of Lee Smith’s uniform. More likely it was the fact that this set was more expensive than the others, and my keen 6-year old mind deduced if one wanted the best, one paid for the best. I parted with my dollar and returned home to examine my new love.

19841.JPGRyne Sandberg would win the MVP award that year, but the Cubs would be eliminated from the playoffs by Steve Garvey and the Padres, as they had been eliminated each time for 40 years. My research, for which I used a 1982 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, informed me that twice as much time had passed since they had won the National League title. (I also learned, to my astonishment, the Brooklyn Dodgers and Washington Senators relocated years ago.) But I was patient, even then, and this was a good start.

My father died a year later, a man who had little interest in organized sports, but never the less left behind the bridge he’d unknowingly built between myself and the Cubs. When my father left, the Cubs stepped in, and I threw myself into their bewildered arms.

It wasn’t always a happy relationship—there were flashes of hope, but mostly disappointment. I watched Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Mark Grace perform with loyal futility through the 80s and early 90s. I watched the Cubs groom Greg Maddux into the best pitcher of the decade—for the Atlanta Braves—then return, briefly, as a shadow of himself. I was a close witness to the slugfest of ’98 between Sosa and McGwire, thrilled that everyone in the country shared my infatuation, and equally crushed when I discovered it had all been a sham. I watched the meteoric rise of Mark Prior, and still feel the crater from his impact when he crashed. I watched wunderkind Kerry Wood rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall once again, the whole of Cubs history encapsulated in the exhilarating zeniths and disaster-ridden nadirs of his career. He was the prodigal phoenix who, like the hope of all Cub fans, rises in the spring and burns up in the fall, only to be reborn again next year despite a destiny weighed down by its past, confronted by an impassable mountain amassed from the ashes of lost seasons.

It has been a dramatic, frustrating, but not fruitless 25 years. It has not bred confidence, but has enhanced longing; it has brought joy only when accompanied by keenest agony; it has taught that luck is fickle, luck is the enemy, and turns sharpest when all seems well. A lack of pennant has created a deeper, more sympathetic love of the Cubs, and for the game itself—those moments of greatness are all the sharper for their rarity. Those are the things I wait for, that Cub fans wait for. It is the sense of anticipation, of potential, of putting off a great thing until just the right moment. We are passionate, reluctant, and hopeful, and when good things come along we scarcely believe them, though we want to believe in them.

To be a Cub fan is to be special. To be so closely associated with defeat makes victory that much more astounding. As a species we judge things by their uniqueness, by their rarity: gold, supernovas, the Triple Crown. These are the things we cherish and the things we remember. It is for this reason I don’t mind waiting, I simply enjoy the anticipation. Because when it happens, this year, or another hundred years, the event will resonate with the extraordinary. Then everyone will realize they are a Cub fan, and after all this time, through the tanked ground balls and fan interference, in the face of goats and ghosts and inexplicable misfortune, despite finger pointing and muted mockery, as much as they delighted in a misery that seemed unshakeable, they will come at last to an amazing conclusion. This revelation will bring them to their feet in slow astonishment, an overwhelming sense of relief will cascade over them in a chill wave, and finally there will be a glorious exultation—and in the moment of silence that follows they will understand, more clearly than they have understood anything before, that all this time they’ve sought something spectacular, and realize, no matter which team they chose from the flea market table, like us, they’ve been waiting, too.

Sean DeLauder, whose work has appeared in The Circle Magazine, Toasted Cheese and Wild Violet, is a Guest Loser. Sean has been a staff writer at the Findlay Courier, a receptionist, night guard, and cook. A Cubs fan to the core, when Sean sees the cup is half-empty, he looks for a smaller cup.

Posted on Tuesday, April 15, 2008 at 09:36PM by Registered CommenterLovable Losers Literary Revue in , | Comments10 Comments | References6 References

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