Why do I care so much?

By Lloyd Graff

The World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers starts tonight in Beantown.

I’ll probably watch, but I may listen to a podcast or write or play Words with Friends. But if the Chicago Cubs were in it this year I would be watching with rapt attention and texting my son-in-law, Scott, and Noah. I’d be living and dying with the team I love so much.

Why do I care so much?

I don’t know the players personally. They change every season and often a lot during the season. Many of them are from the Dominican or Puerto Rico and barely speak my language. I doubt I could have a meaningful conversation with most of these young kids who have devoted their lives to refining their swings or their sliders. Yet I spend hundreds of hours a year obsessed with how many games they win, their on-base percentages, and the spin rate of their breaking pitches.

My daughter, Sarah, is a Rabbi in Palo Alto, and every year in her most important sermon she talks about the Cubs at some point. It has become a trademark for her, a part of her brand, and I know I am partly responsible for her mixing Cubs and religion. For me and her, the Cubs rooting is akin to a religious experience.

Jackie Robinson safely steals home plate in 1955 under the tag of New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra in the eighth inning of the World Series opener at New York’s Yankee Stadium. Photo courtesy of the Orange County Recorder

The Cubs are certainly secular and do not rely on a higher power, but the importance of ritual imbues both baseball and religion with a habit-forming routine. The routine and the history of both, ties families together and gives them endless topics of discussion and argument. Both invite converts yet do not accept them readily. A White Sox fan who claims he or she has embraced the Cubbies is regarded as untrue to his own faith and cannot easily be accepted as a “real” Cub fan.

I sometimes wonder how I became such an ardent Cub fan. My father did not grow up with baseball. His parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. Sports were irrelevant to them.

But my mother, Thais Kassel, grew up within walking distance of Wrigley Field. Her father, Sam, loved the game and especially the Cubs. Sam Kassel’s mother owned a little grocery store, and Cubs players used to buy their booze there. My grandfather actually met Tinker, Evers and Chance of double-play fame in 1908 at her corner grocery.

Some of my earliest memories are of mother and grandfather, and talking about Jackie Robinson and Ernie Banks with them. I remember going to a Cubs-Dodgers game. The Cubs were terrible, but I saw Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Duke Snider play, and Jackie Robinson stole home. I don’t remember much about my 0-10 years other than baseball, either talking about it or playing it.

My mom took me to a few Ladies’ Day games. Twenty-five cents to get into the Park. Baseball bound my mother and I together until she died in 1990.

But there’s more to my love of the Game than family and tradition. The nuances, the subtleties, the strategy fascinates me. In the recent National League Championship Series Craig Counsell, the Milwaukee Brewers’ manager, used an unorthodox approach with his pitchers. In one game he started his left-handed pitcher Wade Miley and then pulled him after one batter to try to fake out the Dodgers’ manager, Dave Roberts, on lineup matchups. The Brewers lost the game.

In the seventh, and deciding, game he used his most-potent weapon, pitcher Josh Hader, in the third through fifth innings thus losing him for the decisive final part of the game. The Brewers lost the game. Counsell was trying to finesse his lack of starting pitching, yet he had his best starter, Jhoulys Chacin, starting that game. People will argue about his strategy for years. It’s one of the beautiful things about the game.
I’ll be reading Cubs blogs all winter. Scrutinizing trades. Hoping the pitchers’ sore arms heal. God willing, 2019 will be our year again to celebrate.

Question: Do you still love baseball, or do you see it as yesterday’s game?

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7 thoughts on “Why do I care so much?

  1. Dave

    I can tell you that it’s not “yesterday’s game” around here. It’s still wicked populah here in Boston! Go Sox!

  2. r in nyc

    Not paying attention – the METS are out of it 🙁

    A cerebral game of stats, psychology and steroids…

    Great at the bar or at the ball-field for discussions and deal making .

    You can chat, discuss and negotiate between all the wasted time spitting, signaling, ball scratching, pitcher changes and general psychological delays.

    unfortunately, today the game is filled with over-glorified and well overpaid prima-donnas!

    When I am at the ballpark, I am ALWAYS disgusted and dismayed when none of the players will take a moment to sign the kids balls, gloves or hats!

  3. Lloyd Graff

    Hey r, obviously you haven’t observed Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs who talks to everybody, players and fans, and goes to the cancer floors every week he is in Chicago to visit the kids, He also put $3.5 million into his foundation, and was active at Stoneman Douglas High after the school shooting this year.

    1. r in nyc

      Derek Jeter is very involved and generous to the sandlot sports programs!
      there are always exceptions
      but i find it quite sad that most players will NOT take some time with the kids at the ballpark.

      I have been going to minor league games – the players work hard, are still a bit humble, and interact with fans and kids!


  4. Seth Emerson

    Lloyd – I look at it as a “childrens” game. Refining all the fun into those stats you mention takes all the attraction away for me. I have attended a few of the San Jose Giants games. They are a third tier (if that) feeder team for the SF Giants. Forget the “Bull Durham” of Movie fame, these kids are playing hard trying to win the lottery – Major League status – and the money/fame that goes along with it. They are scraping along, many were staying with local families because they could not afford a room. But they had dreams, and are fun to watch. Next time you go to Palo Alto to visit your daughter, let me know and I will take you to a Giants game – San Jose Giants, that is.

  5. Lloyd Graff

    I have been to a San Jose Giants game. It is a fun fan’s park. Much more enjoyable than Spring Training games in Arizona. Thanks for the offer Seth. I may take you up on it.

  6. Stanley Jackson

    I love baseball also and the Cubs are my Team! I also root for the Yankees in the American League becuase of Reggie Jackson.

    Like Lloyd baseball is a family thing for me, but one of my mom was not a fan of me playing sports. My Dad was a damn good ball player in the back woods of Mississippi. The Tibbee Ramblers was the negro team in Clay County, Mississippi and I have heard enough folk tales over the years to believe the team dates back to the 20’s and actively played at least a 60 game schedule until around 1990. My Dad’s sister married the Rambler’s last active manager/owner, my Uncle Joe B. Amos.

    The South was full of these teams and they were the fertile crescent that lead to the Negro Leagues. Every black man in Tibbee was introduced to baseball and the ball yard was the town square and a business. The owner/manager had an attraction. My aunt and uncle sold beer, peanuts, hot dogs, barbeque and kept a damn good team on the field that played at least 4 games a weekend. I have seen countless cousins play on the lit field next to their house with the Classic Coca Cola Metal Scoreboard.

    Tibbee is the Negro bottom from the main town of West Point, Mississippi the longtime home of Bryan Foods. The Bryan Family to this day have significant interest in Clay County. The blacks from Tibbee provided a stable source of labor to the packing house for decades. When my parents graduted HS it was either get out of Mississippi, work in the packing house, or pick cotton. They got the hell out of Mississippi.

    My dad introduced to me to the game at an early age in our back yard in Glenwood. I caught on pretty quick and played the game almost everyday the weather permitted starting at age 5 with teeball. I actually played my last game in Holland in the Summer of 1992. I made some kind of allstar or traveling team every year I played. I played varsity ball at Bloom Township all 4 years. I played outfield and pitched.

    My mother was a school teacher and we did not have cable in our house. My mother always spent the summer with me and my sister. On summer days as early as 6, I vividly remember going to the floor model TV in our family room hoping and praying Andy Griffth would not be on the tube. I wanted to hear Van Halen and Harry Cary start the pre-game show. No lights were in Wrigley yet, and usually the fourth of July meant I was in Mississippi watching Cubs games after or between Rambler games in my Uncle’s house. They had a Satelite Dish and WGN and YES had my Uncle hooked with Cubs and Yankees games everyday.

    In 1984 the Tibbee Ramblers had a Team! My Uncle was a floor Supervisor in the Packing House, and as look back, he used his supervisor position to keep his team going. His team traveled all over Mississippi and Alabama in their psuedo league. As GM/Owner of the Ramblers he doled out jobs like the Daley Machine to his players. He kept his players working so he could monitor his club, practice was after work when everyone got back to Tibbee from their shifts in the plant. Everyone rode to work in the back of Joe B’s pickup.

    In 1984 he treated his team to a weekend in Chicago, they rented a bus and got a set of group tickets to Wrigley Field. My first Cubs game was with my Dad and the Tibbee Ramblers. Usually my Dad would take us to Comiskey Park, but I was turned off by the Softball outfits and the pitcher did not hit. On this momentus day, I was finally going to Wrigley Field to see my team. We sat along the third base line in the upper deck and I was forever hooked on my Cubies.

    Baseball kept my Dad and I glued to one another until he introduced me to golf at 11, we played catch everyday and when the Cubs were on the road especially out West, I stayed up late with my Dad watching games. Every year would start out getting a Sticker book after signing up for the upcoming little league season. We would trade stickers for our books. The books were from the previous MLB season.

    Anyway, I could go on and on, because its baseball, and I love baseball. Hopefully a team in each league will commit aggressively to a bunt-oriented style of baseball. I think a team where everyone in the lineup is a threat to bunt will get rid of the DAMN SHIFT. Attention Balitmore Orioles!

    Baseball in Tibbee is no longer king and the packing house is gone. Sara Lee bought out Bryan Foods some time ago. Today, West Point High School is a Football Super Power in Mississippi and Tibbee is a pipeline.

    My cousin Keith graduated West Point HS in 1990 he started at tackle in 8th grade on the varsity team. He was a Parade All American Offensive Tackle, but he always credits his time as catcher for the Tibbe Ramblers at 6′ 5″ 335 for his dominance in Football. He went on to play at South Carolina and my Uncle and Aunt rightfully focused their time and energy on my cousin Keith.

    I was in Mississippi this past 4th of July, the ballfield is overgrown, and the bleachers are rusted, but Uncle Joe B, My Dad, and I watched a game and relived the 2016 season. The Yankee game was on the YES network!


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