Well it might still look and feel like winter in the Midwest and on the East Coast, but the boys of summer are officially back in swing. Are you excited? Do you care? Are you even a baseball fan?
As a kid baseball was my favorite sport. Every summer Druid Lane turned into a make-shift baseball diamond in my neighborhood. This was street baseball, so for obvious reasons we used a tennis ball instead of a baseball, but make no mistake, it was a big deal. My friends and I spent so many hours out there. No doubt the fondest memories of my childhood.
Baseball cards were a huge deal for us as well. This was prior to the sordid days of card collecting for profit, when you tried to job your buddies out of valuable cards, and then go sell them to the creepy dude at the mall kiosk. We collected for fun. It was a great way to learn all the big league players and brag when you got some gem in your pack of Topps cards your buddies didn’t have. Trading was fun too. Everyone had some player that somebody else wanted. We were always striking deals with one and other. I’ll trade you this Kirby Puckett & blah blah blah for your Ryne Sandberg, etc.
All the kids and dads in my neighborhood were either Cubs or White Sox fans. That’s why it seemed so odd I grew up a Cincinnati Reds fan. Truth is, it wasn’t really that odd.
Retired Reds great Johnny Bench had a Saturday morning kids program called, “The Baseball Bunch.” I was a huge fan. Every week he’d have a guest ballplayer on the show. Often times they were former teammates from his “Big Red Machine” days in Cincinnati. Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, Tony Perez, and Pete Rose. This sparked my interest in the Reds. When Pete Rose came back to the team in late ’84, that was all it took. I’ve been a Reds man ever since.
Being a Reds fan hasn’t been all that great. They’re the oldest team in league history, and yet they’ve only made the playoffs 15 times. I think the Yankees have won twice that many World Series. The “Big Red Machine” I mentioned? Although I was alive for some of their run, I was too young to remember it. So for all intents and purposes, in my lifetime as a baseball fan, I’ve seen the Reds make the playoffs four times: 1990, 1995, 2010, and 2012. ’90 was great. Won the World Series by sweeping the mighty and defending champion Oakland A’s. In ’95 they swept the Dodgers in the Divisional Round, but were in turn swept by the eventual World Champion Atlanta Braves in the NLCS. In ’10 they were promptly swept by the Phillies. In ’12 they led the Giants 2 games to none before dropping 3 straight and the series. I had a pretty good consolation prize in 2012 though. During that series my first son, Giovanni, was born.
They’ve had other brushes with the postseason in my lifetime. In ’94 they were leading their division when the strike hit, thus ending the season. (I still technically call that a division-winning season) In ’99 they won 96 games but lost a play-in game tie-breaker to the Mets. In ’13 they lost the play-in wildcard game to the Pirates. Since then the team has been awful. They traded away all their good players a few years ago in an attempt to rebuild the organization. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have any clue how to rebuild, so the losing continues with no end in sight.
Enough about my Reds that nobody cares about anyway. While I’m on the subject of baseball though, I need to rant a bit about another team, or more specifically, their fans.
I’ve always said there are two kinds of Cubs fans in the world: Actual Cubs fans, and Wrigleyville fans. For those who don’t understand, allow me to explain. I grew up around a real Cubs fan….my dad. He’s followed them his entire life. During my childhood (with the exception of ’84 and ’89) the Cubs were awful. Yet everyday my dad had them on the radio when at work. If they were playing on the west coast he stayed up at night to watch them on WGN. I’m talking about Cubs teams that were 20 games out of 1st place in September. There he was watching or listening to every single game, from season’s start to end, miserable season after season. I have two friends named Brian. Other than their name they also share the distinction of being real Cubs fans. I went to a Cubs game one summer with Brian B. before the Cubs got good and he knew the names and numbers of every player and coach on the team. I know. I kept quizzing him and I couldn’t stump him. Brian K., who inherited his Cubs’ fandom from his dad, used to invite me and other friends to join him and his dad every year at a bar to watch the Cubs’ season opener…….even when the Cubs stunk. I didn’t always take him up on the offer, but I always appreciated being invited to share in he and his father’s Cubs tradition. Again, real, true fans.
Wrigleyville fans are folks who enjoy the spectacle and scene surrounding the park. They enjoy the bars, the partying, and occasionally stop to notice a baseball game going on. Look, I’m not knocking it. I didn’t become a recovered alcoholic by not knowing what it’s like to party. I get it. Unfortunately, I fear today there are a lot of Wrigleyville fans masquerading as die hard Cubs fans.
Think about it. Since the Cubs got good, and particularly since they won the World Series, I see so many Cubs-swag-wearing folks. Facebook lights up with big Cubbies’ fans flashing their jerseys, hats, and pictures at the stadium. Countless neighborhood homes now fly their “W” flags with the utmost pride after a Cubs win. The “Go Cubs GO” song resonates from the local bars every night after the Cubs vanquish another opponent!
I know it’s a hell of a lot easier to get excited about your team when they’re good, but I must ask……..where were all these huge Cubs fans all my life? Some of them, I don’t want to name names here…..but some of them are even long time friends and/or acquaintances of mine that I never even knew liked the Cubs all that much. Now they’re die hards!
I don’t mean to sound like a bitter guy just because my team sucks. Believe me, I’m happy for the Cubs’ success. When they’re not playing the Reds I root for them to win. I’m happy for folks like my dad and my Brians when the Cubs win. I just wonder though……if and when this thing ever turns back the other way, and the losing days return, will a lot of these newly discovered Cub die hards return to their shell? If so, they may want to consider dialing it back a bit during these good times. Otherwise all this Cubbie love is going to look a bit fake when they drop the song, the swag, and the flag.