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Shades of Blue: Bleeding for the Cubbies...and the Brewers

By Jeff Burd

I possess a dual baseball citizenship that triggers many sideways looks when I announce it. My fellow baseball junkies don’t understand how I can cheer for both the Cubs and the Brewers when they are division rivals. Some dismiss it as a result of living in Gurnee, which is almost the midpoint between Wrigley Field and Miller Park. The truth is that my burden can be traced back to a moment of transcendence I experienced in Milwaukee on July 5, 2004.

I was in my fourth season as a fan of baseball and of the Cubs as I settled into a seat behind home plate that day. I loved the Cubs, and had a pretty easy tenure with them up to that point. They had been a playoff hopeful my first season, a miserable mess the next, and then ran deep into the playoffs nine months previous.

Matt Clement was on the mound for the Cubs. He was one of the remaining starting pitchers saddled with keeping the team afloat until Kerry Wood and Mark Prior returned from their residencies on the DL. Ben Sheets was pitching for the Brewers. I was concerned about his status a Cub killer; he had compiled a 5-2 record against them in three seasons.

I blanched when “Jose Macias” flashed on the scoreboard as lineups were announced. He and his anemic .260 batting average would supplant Moises Alou in left field and bat second. Slugger Aramis Ramirez had been replaced by .262-hitting Ramon Martinez and the frustratingly inconsistent youngster Cory Patterson was batting fifth behind Derrek Lee. It wasn’t the first time that season I was questioning Dusty Baker’s judgment; in fact, it felt like it had become instinctual to do so since the Cubs’ failure in the NLCS.

The Brewers’ struck quickly when Craig Counsell unwound his corkscrew stance and popped a pitch over the fence in right center to grab a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. The Cubs missed their first chance to strike back by stranding Macias on third the next inning. The same happened with Todd Walker the next inning, and they managed an early-game hat trick of wasted chances by leaving Michael Barrett on second base in the 4th.

Nothing changed by the top of the 8th, courtesy of the twelve Ks Sheets hurled to help the Brewers hold on to their 1-0 advantage. Clement was lifted for a pinch hitter as the Cubs faced Sheets’ relief. Dusty put his faith in Tom Goodwin’s .214 BA instead of turning to Alou and his reputation as a feared clutch hitter who could deliver in critical situations.

As I watched Goodwin dig in, I thought about the game up to that point. The Brewers' solid play impressed me. They did all the little things you need to do to win games. Ned Yost had his team playing like a highly disciplined squad in the mold of Arizona, Anaheim, and Florida-- teams that had won World Series championships since I started following baseball. It was like they had planned this game as their coming out party to announce their legitimacy to the dismissive Cubs fans.

Goodwin struck out swinging. Walker did likewise. But then the Cubs rallied and had a runner on second base. Had Alou batted, it was likely that he too would have been on base or would have scored during the rally. When Lee struck out, wasting the Cubs’ fourth chance to score, Brewer Nation roared. I sank into my seat, shook my head, and sighed. Like all the other fans Cubs fans. Dusty leaned against the dugout rails throughout the inning, shifting his toothpick from one corner of his mouth to the other.

Dusty didn’t try to manufacture any more opportunities for the Cubs. He could have called on Alou with two outs in the ninth, but instead allowed Macias to hack futilely at the first three pitches he saw to become the seventeenth Cub to strike out.

I muttered a stream of profanities as I walked among jubilant Brewer fans in the parking lot. They were singing the praises of Ned Yost. His team played tough defense behind their pitchers. They made a single run stand up, despite striking out eleven times and managing only three hits. They were easily the best team on the field. It was all true; I realized that the Brewers were playing the type of ball I loved to watch. They had won my respect by doing so.

As for Dusty, he did nothing more than confirm what Chicago sports writers had been saying. He couldn’t manage tight games. He didn’t preach fundamentals. His players had no plate discipline. He wore out his pitchers. He couldn’t develop young talent. I had no respect for him, but could no more abandon the Cubbies than I could a close friend who had made some poor decisions. I decided that if I wanted to be happy watching baseball, I would have to do what most sports fans would consider unthinkable-- especially Chicago fans in regard to Wisconsin teams-- and adopt a division rival. Respect trumped my regional obligations, and that was enough for me to make my decision.

*

I’ve cheered for both teams with equal enthusiasm the past four years. The tension that would seem to naturally evolve because of my dual citizenship has been non-existent, probably because the teams have never slugged it out with something at stake late in the season. That is all going to end over the next two months. When the Brewers inked CC Sabathia as a summer rental, they elevated what had been a tepid regional conflict into an arms race in which the Cubs immediately fell behind, despite the addition of Rich Harden. If he is able to impact the Cubs the same way Sabathia already has the Brewers, then my teams will be engaged in a full-blown divisional war late this season that could rival the intensity of Bears-Packers.

My friends have grilled me about what I’m going to do since the Cubs and Brewers will play ten more games before all is said and done, including four this week and three the last weekend of September at Miller Park. They dream up scenarios involving bean balls and take-out slides and extra-inning grinds and the possibility of the rivals meeting in the playoffs. They press me for answers in emails and text messages and during phone conversations and at parties and over beers as we watch games. They don’t understand that there is room enough for me to love both teams, that I don’t consider my baseball allegiances to be a monogamous marriage from which I can never stray or even be divorced, that I never stopped loving the Cubs and that I’ve been as happy as every other Northsider to see them return to playing winning baseball. I know they won’t cease their assault until I tell them the truth: if it comes down to game seven of the NLCS, I’ll be cheering wholeheartedly for the Cubs. Of course. You never forget your first love.

Jeff Burd works as a high school Reading Specialist when he is not writing and watching baseball. He is in the Master of Creative Writing program at Northwestern University.


Posted on Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 09:47PM by Registered CommenterLovable Losers Literary Revue in , , | Comments52 Comments

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