So as you may have noticed if you’ve been following my Twitter, I’ve become a baseball fan again this year. In actuality, it was a very deliberate decision — late in the football season last year, I started listening to a local radio show that talked sports occasionally, and that really sparked my interest in the Bears. I would follow them from week to week, learning the players’ names and following their interviews and press. By the end of the year, I knew what was happening on every down, and when I went out to watch the games with friends, it was much more enjoyable.
So this year, I decided to watch a baseball team again — I used to follow baseball way back when, but haven’t really paid attention since around high school. And since the Bears had worked out so well for me (because I live in Chicago, all of their games were on TV here, and all of the local media were covering the team), I decided to go local again. Very local, in fact — since I live about five blocks from Wrigley Field, I decided to follow the Cubs.
But of course, if you know me, you know there’s an issue. Because I’m from St. Louis. Since a very young age, I’ve been a Cardinals fan. And though, as I said, it’s been a while since I’ve actually followed baseball, back in the day, I really followed baseball. Ozzie Smith was my hero. Jack Buck still is one of my heroes. I remember a newscast one night after the game in St. Louis that called Vince Coleman and Pedro Guererro “lightning and thunder.” Because the first could steal bases faster than you could see, and the second could crank home runs for the Redbirds. My family always claimed that since the Herzog name was somewhere in my Grandmother’s family tree, we were somehow related to Whitey Herzog. My brother and I would sit in our living room on hot summer evenings, listening to Jack Buck, the roar of the crowd when the bat cracked, and the crickets humming outside at the same time. I’m a die hard St. Louisan, and I was a die-hard Cardinals fan.
So when I started tweeting about the Cubs, you can imagine what happened. Everyone I know in St. Louis felt I’d betrayed them, couldn’t see how I could follow the blue team when I’d always been a fan of the red. And for a while I thought it wasn’t a big deal — I could still be a Cards fan and just watch the Cubs because they were local and here. They were the only team I had every game in high definition on the TV without having to pay a bunch of money to MLB. All the papers followed them and every one of my neighbors knew what was happening in the games. I could enjoy Cubs baseball without actually cheering for them. And yet I couldn’t — the very first inning that the Cards and Cubs played this year, the Cardinals grabbed a Cub-hit ball headed for the outfield, got it to first base for an out, and I swore out loud, before being shocked at myself. I’d become a Cubs fan.
Still, a month and a half into the season, I’ve come to the realization that I’m not really a Cubs fan. Yes, I’m watching the team — home games are at Wrigley, and I’ve really gotten to enjoy hanging out with the announcers Len and Bob, and I like singing the stretch at the seventh inning. And though there are still things about the Cubs I hate — their fans are real jerks, those win flags are annoying, and that end-of-game song bugs that heck out of me (even though it gets stuck in my head when they win) — I am enjoying following the team, and celebrating with them when they win, and feeling the disappointment when they don’t. So why am I not a Cubs fan? Because I don’t really care about the Cubs. I care about the players.
Kosuke Fukudome is such a great guy — when he steps up to the plate, he doesn’t brag or show off. His movements are methodical and effective, both batting and in the outfield. Theriot and Fontenot are the two Oh twins in my mind, providing solid defense with the occasional great hit. D. Lee has won me over — he had a rocky start, but his grand slam the other day made me a fan. “Fonzi” Soriano was another guy I had to come around on (he’s had a reputation that he hasn’t quite lived up to yet), but after he got off the DL I started liking him, too. Carlos Zambrano is a ton of fun to watch pitch, and when he steps in at pinch hitter of all things, I imagine he’s having his own ton of fun. And even Lou, the manager, is a rough and tumble veteran that you can’t help but like. He’s the engine behind Cubs’ fans constant denial — when they lose and all of the fans ask for something to change, he says, “Don’t worry, they’ll get there.” And everyone whines but they believe him anyway. I don’t like the Cubs, I like these guys on the field and in the dugout. I have gotten to know them, I’ve seen them at their good and bad, and when they win, I feel happy for them, not some old franchise stuck in a crumbling stadium.
You may argue with me if you happen to be a baseball fan — maybe you believe that loyalty is loyalty, and when you come from somewhere, you stick by that team until you die. But look at even these players — they have less loyalty to that team than anyone else in the stadium. Players switch teams whenever there’s a bigger paycheck to be had, and teams have even less loyalty to their players. Ozzie Smith, my hero, and a veritable St. Louis icon? Tony La Russa made him fight for his job, and when he did well, still got rid of him, and as a result, he’s distanced himself from the team ever since. Vince “Lightning” Coleman left St. Louis for the Mets not long after I stopped following baseball, and later got in trouble for saying, “I don’t know nothing about no Jackie Robinson.” And Pedro “Thunder” Guererro was arrested, probably ten years after I saw that newscast, for trying to buy 33 pounds of cocaine from an undercover federal agent. (Apparently they later let him off the hook, saying his IQ was too low for him to have even understood there was a drug deal taking place.) They didn’t have any loyalty to the Cardinals, and the Cardinals didn’t have much loyalty for them, either.
So no, I’m not a Cubs fan — I like the guys on the field, and since I’ve seen almost all of the games so far, I’ve come to know them enough to cheer for them and feel some disappointment when they lose. But when I head off to Los Angeles later this year, maybe I’ll be a Dodger fan. Or maybe I’ll watch hockey, and try following the Kings for a little while (I used to follow the Blues, but that was way back when Brett Hull was skating for them). I haven’t abandoned St. Louis — I love that city, I’m part of that city, and I’ll never not be a St. Louis fan. I like the Cardinals, and I love Busch Stadium and all of the memories I’ve had there (well, the old Busch, anyway — the new stadium looks nothing like that place I used to go). But the Cardinals aren’t the Cardinals I knew as a kid. And I’d rather cheer for a team of guys who work right down the street from me than a group of guys I’ve only read about in the paper, no matter what logos they wear.