With regrets from a former Cubs fan

Don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Chicago Cubs have made it the all the way to the World Serious. That news would have been cause for great celebration around my house fifteen or twenty years ago. I didn’t really even follow baseball until I started watching Cubs games in the afternoons around 1980. I’d get home from work at 3 o’clock, and Theresa wouldn’t be there until after five. So with no kids to tend  and nothing but soap operas and the Cubs on TV, I started watching Milo Hamilton, Vince Lloyd, and Lou Boudreau on WGN.

After a few years I became a big enough fan that I half-seriously tried to talk Theresa into naming one of our sons after Andre Dawson. He’s still one of my favorite players of all time, signing a blank contract for one year with the Cubs, then going out and clubbing 49 home runs. Now THAT’S believing in yourself.

On several occasions I made the trip north with my Dad (and sometimes my brother) to catch a weekend series. Tickets were easy to get, and it was fun to sit in the sunshine and watch a game. Over the years, I took my sons up a few times. Once I missed three Dawson homers because I 1) took Sean to the nurse’s station for a bee sting, 2) took Andrew to the restroom, and 3) fetched beers for myself, Dad, and Dad’s friend Rudy.

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One of these scoreboards is not like the others.

Eventually, I drifted away from the Cubs. I started covering AAA Indianapolis Indians games on a semi-regular basis, and when players were promoted to the big leagues, I’d keep following their fortunes. It helped that most of the future Pirates seemed to be good guys. When my sons Conor and Eamon were Indians’ batboys, Eamon once accidentally dumped Gatorade all over Andrew McCutchen. Cutch just laughed and told him it was no big deal. One player offered to pay for the boys’ tuition at his baseball camp. Another time we were in Pittsburgh for a game, and Virgil Vasquez and Garrett Jones had just been called up to the major leagues. We happened to see them in the hotel, and they remembered Conor and Eamon from Indianapolis and chatted with them for awhile.   

I’m also a Diamondbacks fan, but have no heartwarming stories about them. I just went to a lot of games one summer when I was working in Phoenix.

See? Not heartwarming at all. Told ya.

Despite leaving the Cubs for other teams, I thought I’d always love Wrigley Field, no matter what team I was rooting for. Besides the hole-in-the-wall taverns and restaurants that surrounded the place, it’s in a real neighborhood. As much as I love PNC Park in Pittsburgh, you’d have to walk thirty minutes to find an occupied residence. Around Wrigley, there are actual urban houses four times as tall as they are wide, with front porches where a guy can sit after work with a cold one and the newspaper. Right outside the left field wall is a fire station, and I remember radio broadcasts being interrupted by sirens. I always felt like Wrigley, more than any other ballpark, was woven into the fabric of the city, and had been for a hundred years.

This September, on a sunny, cool day, I met up with my sons Sean and Andrew to take in a Sox-Cubs doubleheader. First, we took the red line train down to U.S. Cellular Field to watch the White Sox against Cleveland. With the Sox out of contention, great seats were cheap. The beer selection was outstanding, and we lucked into a compelling 2-1 game with Chicago plating the winner on a walk-off hit.

Then we took the train back to the North side, where the Cubs were playing a night game with a chance to clinch the Division. We got there about an hour before first pitch and waded into blocked-off streets choked with pedestrians. I’m pretty sure the average blood alcohol level approached double digits.

A lot of the small businesses – bars, souvenir shops, restaurants – have been cleared away by new construction. My Chicago-based son told me that Cubs, Inc. had been aggressively buying up property around the ballpark and plan new offices and a “plaza”. I was disappointed, but not especially surprised. There’s no law requiring team owners to be less avaricious than your average ticket scalper.

We entered the ballpark to jam-packed concourses and long lines for concessions and restrooms. Again, nothing new. It’s an old ballpark. Fans didn’t expect swimming pools and playgrounds at a baseball game (or rather, in the vernacular of the time, “base ball”).

So I wasn’t annoyed at narrow-gauge seats (some with a partially obstructed view), crowded concourses, and cramped restrooms. But when I get all the old-timey inconvenience, I expect the object of attention –  the field – to continue the theme.

Instead, what I got was two gaudy, low-definition video boards with muddy sound. I don’t even think the primary purpose of Cubs, Inc. was to enhance fan experience. They just wanted to block the view of people who own the high rises across the street.

The beer selection was unworthy of a college wood-bat team. Budweiser, Miller Lite, and Blue Moon were about it. Unless you consider Old Style a craft beer.

So Cubs, Inc. apparently finds itself bound and gagged when it comes to giving fans a better experience. But when it comes to wringing more cash out of this nostalgia business and running everybody else out of the neighborhood to increase ROI, they’re freewheelin’, hard-chargin’ entrepreneurs. The Cubs lost to Milwaukee that night, but backed into the Division crown when St. Louis lost a few hours later. Which seems about right.   

So congratulations to all the Cubs fans, and good luck against Cleveland. I hope the Cubs win, but only because of my long-held resentment against the abomination that is the designated hitter rule. The team lost me through no fault of its own. Wrigley lost me by trying to be two things at once, and doing neither particularly well.  

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Cubs fans rising in anticipation of another beer.

Speaking of shameless commercialism…I have a couple of book events coming up:

Book release party….I’ll be signing (and, hopefully, selling) copies of Thirty-Two Minutes in March at Fountain Square Brewery, 1301 Barth Ave, Indianapolis on November 9 from 7 PM-9 PM. Buy a copy of the book and I’ll buy your first pint of tasty craft beer. Or, just come have a beer, listen to some jazz and make it look like I have friends.

Indy Author Fair….on October 29 at the Indianapolis Central Library I’ll be joining dozens of other Indiana writers from 12 noon – 2 PM, signing and selling books. There are also a lot of talks by successful writers and writing workshops, all for free. See http://www.indianaauthorsaward.org/indy-author-fair for details.

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