The Chicago Cubs are on the Air, Even Across the Pond: Pt. 1

The Chicago Cubs are on the Air, Even Across the Pond: Pt. 1

I think everyone knows that the Chicago Cubs have a far-flung fan base. Whether the credit lies with the team's age, Wrigley Field, or WGN and summer day games, the results are pretty undeniable. But while we typically think of the Cubs as a North (and maybe Latin) American phenomenon, the seeds of fandom are truly intercontinental.

I've had some contact from Ryan Ferguson (@PrentoniaPSV), a freelance journalist from Britain, in the past regarding his Cubs fandom and how his allegiance to our hapless team came to be. Despite living across the pond, this young man gravitated to the Lovable Losers somewhat recently, at a time when their losing ways had rendered them less than lovable by even some of their most tenured supporters.

When Ryan reached out to Tom and me recently with the tale of his baseball baptism and Cubs conversion via the gospel of baseball on the radio, we wanted to give him an outlet. So often, we take for granted the myriad options through which we can access games, lamenting those few times we're unable to view it in our preferred format (like my recent gripe that a game was on The U).

If you didn't already know Ryan's whereabouts from my earlier statements, the King's English in his writing will surely drive it home. But it's not just the style; Ryan's got a different perspective of the game and how he experiences it. Thus, we bring you the first in a series of posts that tell a unique love story with baseball serving as the soundtrack.

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A stressful day yields to another night of warming baseball. I fetch my coat, attach an earphone, walk out the door. An initial blast of fresh wind rushes about my head, as the pumping pre-game soundtrack of WGN commands attention. The street on which I live is narrow and quiet, accompanied only by the rustle of trees in the early evening hour. Pat

Hughes, ever the chirpy optimist, intones live from the ballpark: “Chicago Cubs baseball is on the air, from Wrigley Field in Chicago...” Then, I can relax. All worry seeps away, all anxiety subsides, all uncertainty is answered by the steadfast regularity of baseball.

I take a left turn onto the slightly busier main road which weaves through the heart of this neighbourhood, consuming all the while those rich baseball noises. The thud of a mitt. The crack of a bat. The gentle susurration of an assembled crowd. For all intents and purposes, this could be Chicago. But it isn't. Rather, I walk the streets of Bromborough, a medium-sized village nestled lazily in the north-western corner of England, Great Britain.

I listen to games through a neat mobile app, fret over every pitch, and allow the intangible miasma of baseball to transform my mood. Here, we see the enduring power of radio baseball. It's a survivor of generations, a proven relic of entertainment, a treasured family heirloom. It drives through different time zones and extends across oceans, all whilst preserving an innate ability to tell stories, paint pictures, pass time. In every way, radio baseball is adequate therapy.

I grew up watching baseball on television, with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan enlightening many a British night with their twice-weekly broadcasts on ESPN via Channel 5. I quickly became obsessed, reading and watching and thinking and writing as much baseball as can be crammed into an adolescent life. I was born into a generation of saturated TV and, therefore, viewed baseball on radio as a decidedly-romantic notion at first. Sure, I read the work of George Vecsey and Joe Castiglione, who described it as the most enchanting of human experiences, but accessing baseball games on British radio was a task beyond the kin of any eleven year old.

Eventually, however, every baseball fan matures to a point whereby they naturally intuit this game. Suddenly, you know when a pitcher should bounce one in the dirt; when an infield should play in to prevent a run scoring in tight situations; when a suicide squeeze is in order. A developed understanding of why baseball works on radio, and why it inevitably becomes a favoured medium for following games, is just part of that process.

It suddenly dawns on you. The ambiance and pace and subtlety of sound; the pauses and breathes and implorings of relaxation; the tireless upholding of tradition. All are shared by baseball and radio. We're attracted to both in an almost elementary manner, marveling at how they mirror life and convey humanity. When listening to radio or watching a ballgame, we feel comfortable.

Thus, magic occurs when both pastimes are combined. We get Harry Caray yelling “Holy Cow!” We get Vin Scully soothing us with anecdotes of Jackie Robinson. We get Mel Allen and Bob Uecker and Ernie Harwell capturing finely the glorious trappings of summer.

It's an intangible satisfaction.

I became a regular baseball listener last season, following a reluctant purchase of MLB TV. The accompanying At Bat app affords me the opportunity to dip in-and-out of different games throughout an evening. Due to the obvious time difference, British baseball fans rely on MLB day games for survival. Typically, a 1:20pm first pitch in Chicago translates to a 7:20pm start here, allowing many to enjoy a ballgame between dinner and bed.

Of course, I still watch important games and flick through highlights over breakfast, but radio has become a primary outlet. There really is no greater way to fill those long summer evenings. I often relax with a crossword puzzle or light poetry book, soaking in the tranquil sense of baseball as the world passes by. It clarifies my mind, aids my contentment, inspires my creativity.

As a regular listener, I'm familiar with many announcers plying their trade throughout Major League Baseball. By tuning in to their broadcasts, we're invited to have opinions, about accents and styles and attitudes; knowledge and bias and dialect; warmth and humour and description. For instance, I still adore the work of Jon Miller, whose cashmere baritone punctuates Giants' radio; but loathe the corporate seriousness of Yankee functionaries on WFAN. I commend the life-and-death excitement of Cleveland's Tom Hamilton; but find the Padres' Ted Leitner largely insufferable.

But Pat Hughes, the long-time voice of Cubs baseball, stands alone as my favourite announcer. In my journey across the baseball wavelengths, I'm yet to encounter a more welcoming, enlightening, informative broadcaster. When listening to Mr. Hughes, one can completely relax. He's adequately prepared but won't bombard you with more stats than can be mentally computed. He'll teach and inform through cheerful debate rather than egotistical diatribe. He paints an effortless image in a listeners mind. Indeed, no work is needed when listening to the Cubs. Rather, one can sip a beer and merely enjoy the game. No pressure. Just baseball and companionship.

Follow me on Twitter: @PrentoniaPSV

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  • He did clarify that he got it through a radio app. However, most of what I got through actual WGN720 was Pat waxing on about how the frozen yogurt machine dumped its load on Ron. In fact, I wonder if he had the app during the years of Pat and Ron. I don't think there is even an attendance game or "back to back jacks" anymore.

    BTW, I was once in a fitness club locker room with Pat when he was negotiating some endorsement deal over the cellphone, at a minimum of $20,000.00.

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    In reply to jack:

    I think you'll find more about timing and such as the tale continues.

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    As an Australian I also consume Cubs games largely through radio both for practical reasons (they are usually on - if not over before I wake up - while I'm getting ready for work/travelling to work/at work. I only generally WATCH the games that are on weekends for me) and just because I like the whole ambience of the radio better. I don't know if Ryan is a cricket fan but I think its also to do with growing up listening to cricket on the radio, where because of the pace/length of the game the commentators are real personalities who have to command the silences and pauses, similar to baseball so I really feel at home with the radio guys. I saw the two Dodgers/Dbacks MLB games in Sydney this year, but I must admit I was most excited about the fact Vin Scully came out!

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    In reply to Amanda:

    Wow, thanks for chiming in, Amanda. You're further proof that baseball and the Cubs aren't just a local, regional, or even national phenomenon, though I'm not sure "phenomenon" is the best word to describe the team right now.

  • There is no question the baseball radio experience is something special. I also have been inspired by Ryan to listen more while doing other things like he mentions. Great stuff.

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