I'm concerned about my son Calvin. He was spitting up onto Cubbie blue before he had even learned to fall, which, as a Cubs fan, is a skill he'll need for life. Should I teach him that the best record in baseball means nothing for Cubs fans but the anxiety of another historic fall ('69, '84, '03,…)? Does my sweet bobblehead boy, my carefree Thomas-the-Tank-Engine-loving boy, deserve the disappointment that comes with being a Cub fan?
Up to this point he hasn't had a choice. Through gifts and hand me downs, he has accrued Cubs onesies, Cubs floppy hats, Cubs booties, sweatshirts, jerseys, socks, bibs, towels, infant stuff that he outgrew before he could really wear it since the Cubs season ended in May in '06. Last season--his first full one--he went 2-0 as a Cubs fan.
Ninety-nine years of history and my bittersweet experience tell me that it's not going to get any better for him. Should I stop taking him to games altogether, ending his career on a high note like no Cub player I can remember--even Sandberg--or should I continue his sad initiation into being a fan of the all-time biggest loser in the history of professional sports?
He's learning to say Cubs but it's prefaced with goddamnit.
OK, I don't think he's been ruined yet. The roar of the crowd, the hubbub of the vendors, the littering of the peanut shells appeal more to him than anything down on that strange green field. Like his old man, he's awed by the experience of a ball game at Wrigley.
And Calvin owns nothing in black and white.
In the name of fairness I should hop the red line down to the South Side, at least introduce him to what goes on down there. If losing is a life lesson that can be learned from the North Side, as Newsweek columnist George Will pointed out at the start of this season, then Calvin can learn ugliness from whatever they call that place on 35th Street--The Joan, is it? After all, Sox fans have raved to me about the family-friendly atmosphere, the fireworks, the food, the cheap and plentiful seats. Maybe we'll even catch a ball game. Whatever the case, the only loyalty I'll show is to fathers, sons and baseball.
The first Chicago baseball memory I have is of piling into Grandpa's truck with my dad, brother and male cousins to go to Comiskey Park--not The Cell, though the name is fitting. Distant Wrigley memories involve cars driven by the older brothers of those ephemeral summer baseball friends, of scorecards and first sips of beer, of sunburn, hot dogs and hot chicks. I remember the winning days of Rick Sutcliffe and Lee Smith, Ryno and Andre, and winning ugly with Greg Luzinski, Ron Kittle, and Harold the first time.
So, looking at Calvin in his Cubs bib with his Cubs spoon and his Cubs sippy cup, I wonder how I ended up rooting for the North Siders. The only link I see is coincidence. For years, living in an apartment behind the Taco Bell, my income as a Wrigleyville bartender fluctuated with the Cubs success. There's something about the Cubs experience, though; Old Style, Pat and Ron, Hebrew National dogs, legends and curses, the neighborhood, of course, and the incomparable Friday day games. The Cubs are uniquely Chicago and the fans epitomize the spirit of Chicago, hopeful despite the obvious, confident though dogged, and through it all, loyal to a fault. Cub fans are lifers: no other team draws as many fans when they play on the road. The Cubs, like Chicago, make me proud despite their flaws.
Should Junior have the same opportunity of coincidence, to be able to choose? If he had his choice he would eat freezie pops for every meal, read Goodnight Moon every goddamn night, and show his penis to every kid on the playground. He needs guidance. Of all the decisions my wife (who thinks I'm ridiculous) and I must make for him--whether to breast feed or bottle feed, preschool or no school--the Cubs versus the Sox will shape his life more than any other. Just like a Union father refusing his son to sympathize with the Confederacy, I must play a heavy hand to prevent a family divided. Calvin's bedtime lullaby has become "Go Cubs Go".
As a promise to my son and to baseball, I will take him to the South Side for a Sox game. If not this season, there's always next year.
Robert Duffer likes the Cubs like he likes Old Style but they both give him gas.
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