Thursday, August 27, 2009
Many of my friends here in Iowa know that I am a lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. They attribute this to the fact that I spent my childhood growing up on Waveland Avenue in Chicago. I was fortunate that I had a Grandfather who was a Cub fan, and often took me to games at beautiful Wrigley Field. As a boy, the only present I wanted for my eighth birthday was an autographed baseball from Hank Sauer.
My friends, and even my family, often tease me about the fact that I was born in September, 1945, the last year in which the Cubs appeared in a World Series. While I have waited my entire life of 63 years to see the Cubs in a series, the fact that it has been 101 years since last they won a World Series is beyond a topic suitable for teasing.
But the long wait for me to see my team play in a World Series is not the main topic for this piece. Rather, it is to discuss why I have raised all five of my now adult children to be Cubs fans. While only two of the five were born in Chicago, all of them root for the Northsiders. I happily instilled in them a love for this benighted team, not out of nostalgia, or a misplaced loyalty to my boyhood idols, but for very practical reasons. Please let me explain.
Raising my children to follow the Cubs, rather than another baseball team, has allowed me to provide two separate and distinct advantages to each of my offspring. Any person raised as a Cub fan is automatically imbued with life lessons which will help them deal with the challenges they will face as adults, and instill in them a faith in the system of American values which have enabled us to become the greatest nation on earth. And before you write me off as a complete lunatic, please bear with me.
First of all, being a Cub fan is not easy. Traditionally, Americans tend to favor winners. It is easy, for example, to root for the New York Yankees. Their record over the decades, and the super stars they have fielded, makes it easy to admire them and claim a share of their glory. But the truth is, most teams, and most people, will never achieve the level of success that the Yankees have produced. Rather, we do the best we can with the skills and abilities we have, and with a bit of luck we will reach a level of success that is commendable, while not record setting. In other words, our expectations are more realistic, and our goals are achievable. A life lesson well learned.
The Cubs often have a player of superior ability, but he remains a rose among the thorns. A single star, while attaining personal success and adulation, can remain an also ran in the race for a World Championship. Baseball is indeed a team sport, and despite an individual of great talent, the team will only rise to the level of its collective skills. A co-worker of mine had a sign on his desk that read, “It is hard to soar like an eagle when you work with a bunch of turkeys”. A lesson learned that while you do your best, not all of those around will equal your effort. That is a fact of life that Cub fans understand all too well.
In life, we all face disappointments, and deal with failure at some point. For those who are well balanced in their outlook, failure and disappointment leads to renewed efforts to overcome adversity, with some degree of eventual success. Cub fans are realists when it comes to immediate expectations, but have an undeniable optimism about the future. While the fans of other teams wait with bated breath about the final outcome of their team’s season, Cub fans often look toward next year by the mid-season All Star break. While others bemoan the collapse of their chosen team’s standings in the last month of the baseball season, Cub fans have the anticipation of next year long before the current season ends.
The “three player” rule is another advantage of being a Cub fan. We spend months agreeing that the Cubs are only three players away from a World Series team, but can argue for hours about which three players we need. Some teams may need various numbers of players to improve, and that number changes from year to year. For us, we know it only takes three. A cynic might say that the three are the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, but we know the three specific players that need to be acquired.
For Cub fans, despite over a hundred years of disappointment, hope springs eternal. The American spirit of never giving up, or giving in, is a mainstay of the psyche of Cub fans. We know that next year will be different, and things will be better. The failures of this year do not deter us, and there is almost nothing that will dampen our enthusiasm for our team. This is more than a lesson, but rather a guiding principle that can be applied to every aspect of our lives. I think forgiveness may also play a part in this. Again, we don’t hold grudges about mistakes made in the current season, but seek ways to overcome these setbacks.
Americans have always prided themselves on inventiveness, and originality. In less than two hundred and forty years, we have come from a small group of disorganized colonies to the most free, powerful, wealthiest and successful nation in history. In that vein, I think it beyond argument that the Chicago Cubs have found more unique and original ways to lose ball games than any team in history. This may be the factor that makes the Cubs so beloved of their fans. In them, we see all the foibles, miss-steps, lost opportunities, mental lapses and inadequacies we all fall prey to from time to time. Yet despite this, we fans remain true to their cause, and ever hopeful that next year will be “The One”.
Let me close by saying that I have no way of knowing how long it will take for the Cubbies to appear in a World Series, let alone win a championship. What I do know is that I will remain a fan for the remainder of my days, and like my children, will always have hope for the future. Let the games begin, and it’s never too early to say “Wait til next year”.