Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Glorious and Irrelevant Wrigley Field Scoreboard

It has been regrettably easy to lose sight of the Cubs in the three years since I moved to Dallas.  While my favorite franchise in all of sports has been sucking wind, I have been trying to justify my flirtation with the suddenly successful Texas Rangers.  Essentially the Rangers are the sexy girl you meet in college, with the Cubs playing the role of the high school sweetheart back home, who - between you and me - isn't helping matters by gaining weight and talking your ear off about the same stupid bullshit.  You're STILL hanging out with Alfonso Soriano?  You're closer STILL walks in the losing run in the ninth?  Jesus, are you ever going to grow up?!?  Whatever, I gotta go.  What??  No, it has nothing to do with the Rangers, we're just friends...

The Rangers and I have had some good times.  They've let me ride along to Division Titles, AL Pennants, and back-to-back World Series appearances.  The only problem is as fun as these successes have been to witness, they aren't mine to celebrate.  I am just a Cubs fan, living vicariously through another long suffering franchise that finally figured it out.  Being a Cub is woven into my DNA, but my son was born in Dallas in a time when the Rangers are the class organization in all of baseball.  He has the chance to cheer for a perennial winner, provided his father doesn't do something asinine like get him hooked on a team whose best shot at the big prize was derailed by a guy in a green turtleneck nine years ago.

Society would be outraged if an obese parent disregarded their child's natural affinity for vegetables and forced Twinkies on them to cultivate a common ground on which to bond.  So why on Earth did total strangers shower me with approving smiles as I carried my three-month-old son into Wrigley Field with a freshly purchased "My 1st Cubs Cap" atop his precious little Texan head?

There are plenty of insults lobbed at Cubs fans from the other side, and nearly all question the fundamental way in which our minds process the game.  South-siders marginalize our historic stadium as The World's Largest Singles Bar - an environment void of genuine passion and fundamental baseball knowledge, replaced by stacked plastic cups previously full of Old Style Beer and the carnal desires that accompany shirtless summertime day-drinking.

The most hurtful criticism, though, is not the one lightly veiled in truth, but backed up by a startling undeniable trend - that it is entirely likely we will spend our natural lives waiting for a championship which will never materialize.  That generations of Cubs fans - generations, plural - have suffered such a cruel fate.

With that harsh reality heavy on my mind, I stood at the street entrance of a parking garage on Addison with my son strapped to my chest, facing away from me, looking onto the diverse madness of Wrigleyville on a gameday, and my hand started to shake slightly.  Not the familiar brew-shakes from standing in line for a tallboy at a packed Murphy's Bleachers, but shakes caused by the question ringing in my head - am I about to condemn my innocent son to a lifetime of miserable heartache?

A comforting answer would reveal itself over the course of a typically beautiful day of predictably ugly baseball.  The results on the diamond are secondary to Cubs fans, at least to this particular family of Cubs fans.  Not second to the pursuit of hook-ups and hangovers, but second to the creation of life-long memories and shared experiences that transcend age, geography, and lifestyle.

The Ron Santo statue at Wrigley Field

We were a regular Chicago street gang making our way from the parking garage to the stadium.  Assuming, of course, intimidating Chicago street gangs consist of babies, toddlers, a pregnant woman, and the gang's patriarch documenting the whole thing on his Blackberry.  I married into a tight-knit nuclear family.  This Cubs game was an aggressive attempt by my in-laws to recreate memorable past outings with their children, with the addition of spouses and grandchildren.

Like many Wrigley Field experiences, this one went by too fast.  I fed my son, held him while he napped, held my niece with my free arm when she decided it was my turn in the rotation, and engaged surrounding fans in conversations about families, hometowns, and which Cubs players were due for a big hit, glancing momentarily at the field to see said players on their way back to the dugout.  Cubs players tend to stay "due" for weeks at a time.

But the lasting impression I will take away from this game was not the home runs the Cubs gave up or the runners they left stranded.  My attention repeatedly drifted back to my in-laws, who may have actually seen less of the game than I did.  They always had a grandchild in their arms, and spent a fair portion of the game smiling at the people in the row behind them when told, once again, their family was beautiful.  There is a look of pride a person gets when congratulated on a job well done.  Those looks pale in comparison to the look my in-laws wore throughout this game.

The question as we left the stadium was not whether or not this was the best experience I've ever had at a ballgame.  It was, and by such a margin I couldn't tell you which game is second place.  As I watched my father-in-law standing under the Ron Santo statue with his granddaughter and walked into the frame with my wife and son, I knew this was among the best days of my life.

Those of us lucky enough to have a comfortable deathbed will likely lay in it watching the Cubs lose while a new generation of opportunistic WGN cameramen lens-bang a new generation of busty 20-somethings who sip beer and occasionally glance toward the field of play, advancing the myth of the party superseding the love of the team.  But then our sons and daughters will take their children to Wrigley Field and share special moments not unlike the memories we created.  It won't matter whether it's been three years or 153 years since the last World Series title because the unique love we share in this beautiful ballpark never has to wait til next year.