Sunday, June 27, 2004

Random Thoughts on the Weekend

From a t-shirt I saw on a Sox fan walking down 31st Street Saturday Morning:

They: Have LaTroy
We: Have Shingo
They: Shingo Who?

This is always the most tense time of the year in my beloved Bridgeport. Cubs fans flood the neighborhood en masse to fill the stadium formerly known as Comiskey Park to watch city baseball bragging rights get settled. The past twenty years has seen a quantum leap for Cubs fans that all started with the 1984 team, Harry Caray and cable television that's resulted in neighborhood around Wrigley Field becoming a giant frat house with extended public transportation service.

The White Sox were keeping pace until the strike shortened season ten years ago that robbed the team of legitimately contending for a World Series. Things just haven't been the same since. Even thought the White Sox have fielded better teams, fans are staying away from the park. They will remain removed from the team until owner Jerry Reinsdorf sells his share of the team. Which is a shame, because Comiskey Park really has it all over Wrigley Field as far as amenities are concerned. Better seats, better food, better choices of beer, the field looks more plush. As a Cubs fan it almost hurts to admit that the "ball mall" ten blocks from my apartment is a better ballpark than the Friendly Confines of the boys in blue. I am, however, an objective Cubs fan.

It isn't a stretch to say that if you're born in Chicago you have to pledge your allegiance to either the Cubs or White Sox right after you've drawn your first breath. My first ballgame was a Cubs game in 1977, and I immediately fell in love with the park. It was a rainy July afternoon (there were no lights in the park then) and my brother and I sat with a couple of our uncles in the right field upper deck. Jesus, it was cold that day. Between the atmosphere, the ivy on the walls, and just seeing this game being played that anyone could basically play, I swore right then to be a Cubs fan.

This disheartened my family, as they were dyed-in-the-wool Sox fans. Back then Bill Veeck owned the team and pulled every stunt possible to bring fans to Old Comiskey Park. He installed a shower stall in the Center Field concourse for fans to cool off. His broadcast team was Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall, who managed to offend nearly everyone in their wake. The most infamous promotion of them all was Disco Demolition Night. My stepfather took my brother and me down to Comiskey Park just for the ballgame that night. It would wind up being the last.

The crosstown classics mean more here than they do in New York, Los Angeles, or the bay area. I think it's because there's so much more at stake here (and not because both teams are contenders this year.) At its heart Chicago is a small town, a cowtown. We're working class people who really get behind our sports teams. To Cubs fans, White Sox fans are "blue collar trash" who don't know how to act in public. Conversely, White Sox fans consider Cubs fans to be fair weather bandwagon hoppers who'll jump off as soon as the Cubs show signs of becoming a bad team.

There's a little bit of truth in each statement. At the Cubs home opener this year I struggled to stay awake while battling the flu, clinging my robitussin like a hobo hoards his wine. Two rows in front of me I heard a man scream "Don't swing at pitches in the dirt, uh, what's the third baseman's name?" Then he took a cell phone call and wouldn't shut up for ten minutes. As I mentioned earlier there are Sox fans who won't forgive Jerry Reinsdorf for adopting a hard anti-union stance in '94, or Frank Thomas for pouting his way through the late 1990's, or former manager Jerry Manuel for not going to the bullpen sooner.

My friend Whitley From Ravenswood (a devout north side White Sox fan) once summarized it this way: "A Cubs fan is someone who thinks he knows something about baseball, which is simply ludicrous. A White Sox fan thinks he knows everything about baseball, which is an equally risible notion."

Indeed, Go Cubs Go!!

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