For the Love of the Game

By Lloyd Graff

Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4 in game four of the National League Division Series at Wrigley Field. Associated Press.

My Chicago Cubs have been berry berry good to me.

I know many of you are not baseball fans, but bear with me for awhile as I write about my baseball season rooting for the Chicago Cubs and how I feel today after my team was swept in four games by the New York Mets on Wednesday.

I have loved baseball since I was 5 years old. My Mom was a fan. She grew up near Wrigley Field and could easily walk to games, though I think she seldom went even though her father was an avid follower of the Cubs. When she married my Dad at 19 they moved to the Southside of Chicago where he was from, a huge culture shock for her in many ways. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, usually defined by ethnic and racial backgrounds, but also by one’s baseball team preference. She moved from the urbane, wealthy North Lake Shore Drive area to an upwardly mobile Jewish ennclave on the Southside, surrounded by Irish Catholics and African Americans who were devoutly tied to the White Sox.

So I grew up amidst rabid Sox fans who ridiculed me for rooting for my Cubbies.

But I have held to my Cubs religion all these decades. I would drift away at times as the team was generally awful. The Wrigley family made billions in the gum business, and Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley coined money broadcasting his team on WGN TV whether they won or lost. The Cubs were usually a laughing stock but they usually had excellent radio and TV broadcasters, and stars like Ernie Banks to keep interest alive.

Occasionally a good team would come together like in 1984 and 2003, but they did not have staying power and quickly disintegrated into mediocrity or worse. But finally, after all the depressing decades, a new regime running the Cubs has built a team of talented, extremely young players with a brilliant manager in Joe Maddon to mold them into a winner. Management did not overhype the new players, but if you followed the team you felt something good was actually going to happen soon. Maybe not in 2015, but pretty soon.

From the beginning, this season felt quite different to me. It was apparent from Spring Training that Maddon was cerebral, comedic and psychological. He is a baseball lifer who seems to have absorbed the essence of the game in his bones and still loves it like a kid. He is not a jock, but he totally understands jocks and respects their talent. He is also unafraid of the players or of being wrong. He was free to make controversial decisions like replacing incumbent shortstop Starlin Castro with rookie Addison Russell (he moved Castro to second base), and batting the pitcher eighth.

I watched all this with utter fascination from the first game in April. The Cubs virtually had a whole new team by May from the 73-win team of 2014. Joe Maddon was loving it. The players were improving every week and they were winning a few more than they were losing. Maddon brought in a magician one day, had a pajama party on a night flight from California, and brought in party dresses and hairdressers as they dressed up like girls going to a prom. The kids were having fun – and winning. As a fan I could feel it. I was devouring baseball articles every day, learning esoteric sabermetrics and listening to Maddon deliver management treatises after games.

Players who had been decent became very good and some showed true greatness. Jake Arrieta transformed into a legitimately elite pitcher in the second half of the season with a dominance comparable to that of a Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. He averaged less than one run a game over his last 20 starts, an absurdly low number. When he pitched the players knew they would win. And they did.

For a fan like me or my son Noah, it felt like the great days of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. Coming to our beloved Wrigley Field, it was magical, amazing and just so much fun. And the beauty of it was that I could savor it. The season felt like a blessing that I was privileged to have. After almost dying seven years ago, every game with this team felt like a gift and part of my reprieve from death.

My daughter Sarah who lives in California came in with her husband and three girls and insisted we go to a game. It turned out to be the pivotal game of the regular season as the Cubs swept a four game series against the Giants, their rival for the wild card slot in the playoffs.

And the beautiful thing is that her daughters were becoming Cubs fans like their parents, grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents.

During these playoffs at least six of us, composed of friends and family all over the country, group texted during the games, everybody adding pithy comments during our highs and lows. My seven-year-old granddaughter Chava texted about her team, spelling words phonetically, as she watched and cheered the Cubs in front of the TV in Palo Alto. My wife Risa, who had always been indifferent but tolerant of my love for the Cubs, finally became an avid fan herself, swearing liberally when the Cubs goofed up or the other team scored. The circle had closed for five generations, and it felt so good.

We were all frustrated by the Mets sweeping the Cubs in the National League Championship Series, but I was not heartbroken. After all these years, I had my best season ever rooting for the Cubs! The playoffs were all gravy.

My wonderful granddaughter Chava summed up my feelings in her last text Wednesday night, “Let’s get excited for next year cuz thats when theyll win it!”

That’s my payoff for all these long years of being a Cubs fan.

Question: What is your sports religion?

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4 thoughts on “For the Love of the Game

  1. David

    I changed my religion from football to baseball in 1980 when i moved from Green Bay (where the only sport is the Packers) to New York. There are many football fans here but somehow the Yankees and baseball seemed like the closest thing to Vince Lombardi and the Packers. Winning is the only thing and all that…

    I am truly sorry that the Cubs didn’t make it this year. I admired Maddon when he managed the Rays, they always gave the Yankees a hard time with a much smaller payroll and no fans at all. The sport needs a World Series at Wrigley. I hate to say it but I think the Cubs will probably make it before my Yankees.

    And since I am a New Yorker (and the Cubs are out) Lets go Mets!

  2. Steve Schneider

    Root, root, root for the home team and if they don’t win it’s a shame………..
    As a kid who grew up in Cincinnati in the 60’s, I was fortunate enough to have a dad who had a love of baseball and I was able to visit Wrigley Field’s sister, Crosley Field on several occasions. My love of baseball grew with the Big Red Machine in Riverfront Stadium as it was easy to root for a team that had such great players and so much success. I fondly recall my dad pulling the car to the side of the road and getting out just to watch just a few innings of kids playing knothole. On game day, you were never fashionably late to a Reds game because you knew Pete Rose was going to hit a single and turn it into a double. I’m glad to see the many sinners of baseball’s holy shrine have found a mirror and they now see that Pete Rose deserves his place in history some day soon. Baseball doesn’t really have a Hall of Fame if PR is not in it.

    As with anything in life….. there’s always next season. And in the case of the Cubs, that all we can hope for.

  3. Jack p

    I’ve been a Cleveland Indians fan since I was a kid. I used to have season tickets. Lived and died with them in the 90’s. Fortunately, (for me) I was in D.C. at a conference in ’97 when they lost to the Marlins. Being out of town, I wasn’t forced to read about the series or watch the news to be reminded of how they lost. I love the game of baseball but despise the business of baseball. I’ve grown tired of the money situation and disparity of MLB and have given it up altogether. I couldn’t name five players on the current team. Sad, because of the love I had for my team. But I’ve been watching the local farm teams so I still can get my baseball fix. I just don’t watch the pro’s.

  4. Fred

    Well, whatever happens, there’s a very good chance that a North American team will win the “World Series” again this year, and a “football” team will be “world champions” at the super bowl!


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