Tuesday, October 11, 2005

OFF BASEBALL

The City of Chicago has got it all. We've got culture and dining and entertainment - even a corrupt mayor to wrap it all up in a shiny clean package. Hell, we've even got TWO baseball teams. Do you know how wickedly cool that is? Unless you live in New York or L.A., you couldn't possibly. Here's how it works.

In Chicago, when you are born, the hospital administrators ask your parents which team to put on your birth certificate, and from that day forward you are either a Cubs or White Sox fan. The choice is no more yours than the color of your eyes. For better or worse, I was born a Cubs fan...and sworn enemy to all those forced to support the White Stockings.

Local sports radio over the years has made a big deal over the marked difference in the fanbases of the two Clubs, largely because the Cubs have no problem filling seats - even when they put a crap product on the field. The White Sox, on the other hand, have always had attendance issues, due in large part to the area they call home. Let's compare. The Cubs have charming Wrigley Field, a historical landmark nestled in amongst the 3-story brownstones of a bustling, residential North Side neighborhood - while the White Sox had Comiskey park (Now Cellular One Field) off of the Dan Ryan Expressway in an area of the city you wouldn't want to be caught alone in at night. Nevermind the team on the field, which stadium sounds like more fun on a Friday afternoon? I'll make this easy - the White Sox don't play on Friday afternoons.

The rivalry is real here, mostly because White Sox fans insist on hating Cubs fans for being, well, Cubs fans. Most Cubs fans could give two shits about the White Sox and don't really care one way or the other whether they win or lose. Sox fans on the other hand are always hoping something dreadful will befall their overprivileged northside counterparts. I have a lot of friends who are White Sox fans and I forgive them for hating me. It's been as central to their lives as their middle name.

This week, a mass e-mail got started amongst some friends because the White Sox made the playoffs and the Cubs, LOW and behold, did not. The gloating was surprisingly creative; one guy asked what time the Cubs game started tonight. Ouch. Then the argument was made that Cubs fans are a bunch of drunk yuppies and spoiled kids who don't care about baseball as much as they do getting a tan. While not entirely untrue, I took great offense. We were even called "fair weather" fans by another Sox junkie. Can you believe that? How do you call a Cubs fan "fair weathered"? That's like calling Richard Simmons straight. I needed to intervene and stop the madness. My contribution is posted below for those who have nothing better to do than read the types of things I take time out of my busy day to address.

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Dear friends:

I don't think you well-intended gents disagree on what it means to be a "fair weather" fan - I think you're disagreeing on what it means to be a "fan."

I've been digging around online for a list of qualifications that make someone a fan, but haven't found one. So at a minimum let's agree that it's fair to say a "fan" must take pleasure in the success of "their" team. I'm sure we could come up with a more complete list, but most of us have jobs, and of those who do, some would like to keep them. So let's keep this simple.

Instead of there being a black and white definition of what it means to be a fan, it seems to me there are gradations of "fanity," and we all fall somewhere on that continuum, from vacuously vapid to wildly rabid. I know a lot of Sox fans who are hard core baseball junkies and watch every game. I also know more than a few who are casual fans - they like their Sox, but they're not going to lose sleep tonight if they lose. All teams have fans of varying degrees of fanaticism. That's how fanity works.

As for all this talk regarding the quality of the fans, this too seems to me to be a measure of fanity. As a Cubs "fan," I can and will admit that more than a few of the people with whom I share the bleachers on gameday fall into the vapid category. They spend more time talking on their cell phones about the girl/guy they're meeting at Murphy's after the game than paying attention to the on-field product. That said, I don't think the number is 60%. [As had been suggested by one Sox fan, and armchair statistician]. In fact, the majority of the people at the games I've been to this year were very much in tune with the on-field action, as well as the up-and-down drama that marked their season – an emotional rollercoaster that took us from optimism early to disappointment to hope to more disappointment. Sure, plenty of those cats couldn't tell you the ERA of every starter in the rotation, but given a few beers they cheer just as loud. My point is that there are some people who go to the game just to have fun – but as long as they're rooting for the Cubs when they're in there, that's fine by me. They're not hardcore fans. They're not fair-weather fans. Maybe we call them fans of opportunity. Regardless - they contribute to the energy and excitement of going to a Cubs game, and why the Cubs are so popular. It's like being proud of your college because it made Playboy's list of top party schools. It's not exactly something you ought to be proud of, but you are.

I would definitely say that more of the people at the Cell [Cellular One Ballpark] are what I would consider your harder core "fans." You'd almost HAVE to be to make up for the difference in atmosphere. But I guess that all depends what you go to the ballpark for. In addition to rooting for the Cubs, I also like laughing at stupid drunk people while sitting on a weather worn bench in front of a scoreboard you have to wind up like an old watch. There's something about the character of the ballpark that contributes to the appeal of the experience. I don't think the same can be said of Cellular One, which offers a markedly different experience. An experience I didn't mind so much, incidentally – I just wish it weren't so damn clean. I felt guilty dropping my peanut shells on the ground. I also didn't see nearly as many fights in the stands as I had been expecting. That was a bummer.

News Flash: The Cubs blew it again this year - didn't even come close to meeting expectations. And they'll sell a ton of tickets again next year regardless of the team they field for the simple fact that Wrigley Field is a fun place to spend the afternoon. I wish it weren't so fun so we could send a message to management that the team's success matters. On second thought, no I don't.

What would be the fun in that?

5 comments:

Schmidty said...

One question on the post-season...who does a Cubs fan root for IF the World Series comes down to the White Sox and Cardinals? Do we all just turn the channel to hockey? :)

AYNtK said...

I do not believe God would be so cruel, my friend. Such a World Series match-up is less fathomable to me than a Cubs appearance in the big series.

Schmidty said...

You mean less-likely than every 60 years? :)

AYNtK said...

I have a very short memory. If it didn't happen in my lifetime, it didn't happen.

What's all this crap about a walk on the moon???? Mularkey!

barnyardfriend said...

It's obvious that you should support the Cardinals. You only have to put up with their taunting 16 times next year whereas the Sox fans would remind you of their glorious victory 365 times. Plus, you would feel better after rooting for the team that actually won the series.

I SEE YOU!