I am a Cubs fan, but not necessarily a baseball fan. Not in the true sense of the word. I don’t care about stats or averages. Pitching speed and curve balls don’t impress me. Don’t even get me started on the concept of errors.
Cubs baseball, though, is beautiful to me for so many reasons. It’s the absurdity of parking in the Cubbie’s classic Chicago neighborhood, Wrigleyville. The hawking and shouting and fan-jammed sidewalks. It’s the site of shuffling diehard Cubs fans trudging up the ramps to their nosebleed seats. The look of gleeful anticipation on the faces of the very young and very old, and everyone in between.
Once the game begins, it’s the crack of the bats, the smell of sweat and beer drenched fans, the heat of a blazing summer sun on the skin. It’s following the Harry Carey tradition of singing the seventh inning stretch song. Shifting on a hard-as-nails bleacher seat for hours, sharing Cubs jokes with other fans. Through a warm beer haze, it’s watching the long shadow fingers spread across the field and the iconic Wrigley ivy as the game lingers on into extra innings.
Most of all, the beauty of watching a Cubs game is the thrill of seeing the audience’s mood swing from widespread pathos to euphoria in the course of an afternoon. Seeing the alternating looks of victory and defeat wash across the faces of my husband and my son. A range of emotions Cubs fans have been proudly enduring for decades.
I love underdogs so I cannot help but love the Cubs. However, no matter the game or team, I focus on the underdog that needs my support the most. I choose these players based on their names. Ludicrous, ironic, unusual names. Names that make me go, hmmm, wonder what he or she is all about. Pokey Reese, for example, was once one of my picks, for obvious reasons. I also liked the basketball player Muggsy Bogues because, in addition to having a qualifying name, he was one of the shortest players in the game. I knew he needed some support.
This year, my favorite Cubs player is Ben Zobrist. In fact, I may be his number one fan. Long before he started showing his myriad skills on the field, I chose Zobrist based solely on his name.
“Zobrist. What is that, Russian?” I thought to myself.
I had to find out. I was on a Russian kick at the time, having recently found out through an ancestry site that I had Russian relatives. If the Zobrist surname was Russian, this was going to be my guy. Heading to the internet, I learned, alas, that the name Zobrist is most often connected to people who have Swiss German ancestry. However, I did find a chart that indicated there are also a number of Russians with the name Zobrist.
Bingo, I was in. Ben Zobrist became my guy for the year. (Later, I learned Ben had grown up in Eureka, Illinois. An undeniable sign I had chosen the right underdog this season.)
My husband insisted on buying me a Zobrist jersey, which I love.
I’m guessing I may have been the only person wearing a Zobrist jersey when the season began. Since then, he risen above his underdog status. He is, in fact, outperforming all my expectations. I’d like to think I had a little something to do with that.
But there’s another reason I am a Cubs fan: Steve Goodman.
A legend in Illinois, the singer songwriter Steve Goodman went to my high school, Maine East in Park Ridge (his younger brother was in my class).
I was (still am) a huge Steve Goodman fan. Wherever the musician/composer of City of New Orleans was playing, my friends and I were there. His songs were melodic stories of ordinary people observing and navigating life. Train conductors, traveling salesmen, a young widow of a fallen Vietnam War soldier (Penny Evans), and the people towing cars in Lincoln Park. Goodman’s songs are rich with heart, empathy, humor, and tragic consequences. His tribute to his father, My Old Man, still makes me cry. A diehard Cubs fan, Goodman also wrote Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request.
Sadly,Steve Goodman died in 1984 at the age of 36. He had been battling leukemia for 15 years. That year, he was commissioned by the team to write the popular Cubs anthem, Go Cubs Go. That same year, Goodman was set to sing the Star-Spangled Banner after the Cubs clinched the 1984 Eastern Division title in the National League. He died eight days before that happened. His friend, Jimmy Buffet, filled in for him and dedicated the game to him. Steve’s ashes are scattered over left field and home plate.
Earlier this month, my son stopped in town for the weekend from Colorado. I had one day to spend with him and the choice of what to do was predetermined: catch a Cubs game.
The day was spectacular, the Cubs on fire. I was wearing my Zobrist jersey, although he wasn’t playing that day. But it didn’t matter. I was having the time of my life. The best part, though, came when the game ended. With pure glee radiating across his handsome face, my son stood up and started belting out Go Cubs Go with the crowd. I joined in, choking back tears. When he asked me what was wrong, I tried to explain what hearing that song, with him, meant to me. He got it.
Another moment baseball and Steve Goodman gave to me.
Just this past weekend, my husband and I were at dinner with friends. The conversation drifted from the election to terrorism to family war stories. At some point, someone said, “Hey, let’s change the subject.”
All agreed. The new topic?
The Cubs, of course.
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