With the Cubs’ lackluster 2009 campaign spiraling into absurdity, it’s fair to wonder why 39,907 people still showed up to watch the coldest August Cubs game in team history. I wondered it myself as I sat shivering in the press box.
There was nothing to celebrate on the field. No one got to sing “Go Cubs Go” at the end of the game. The team’s only run came in the first inning and they lost, pathetically, to one of the most miserable teams in professional sports, the Mets.
But in the moments after the fans had cleared the stadium, I was reminded exactly why the fans still insist upon showing up in droves.
As a family was getting a tour of the press box, a little girl — couldn’t have been older than six — found herself in Bob Brenly and Len Kasper’s broadcast booth. She did what came naturally: She belted “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with all her might. It was delightfully off-key and more yelled than sung, like kids are wont to do in those situations. Few, if any, heard her; but she didn’t care. She knew — probably from watching the broadcasts — that when you’re in the booth, you sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
It’s what any logical Cubs fan would do, and arguably the best thing that happened on this day at the corner of Clark and Addison.
The first time my father brought me to Wrigley Field I was four years old. We sat in the left field bleachers. Gary Matthews was mere feet from me and he was huge. Coincidentally, the Mets beat the Cubs that day 4-1. Dwight Gooden pitched. Jim Frey was ejected. Jody Davis, my favorite player at the time, hit a homer for the Cubs’ only run. I was hooked.
Since 2003, the mentality of Cub fandom has shifted somehow. Having come so close to the World Series that year, fans now expect a winner, and management has shelled out the money to make it happen. For the last two years, the regular season has ended with the streets blocked off and hordes of people wandering Wrigleyville drunk on a mixture of beer, and hope. But mostly beer.
Barring a minor miracle, it’s not gonna happen this year.
In the subsequent seasons after my first game at Wrigley, the Cubs weren’t exactly putting together winning teams. With the exception of 1989 and 1998, my childhood and adolescence was spent cheering for a group of lovable losers. I didn’t mind. I was always amazed and proud of the fact that even though the team’s bats were empty, the seats were full.
Despite a few chunks of empty seats that played like pock marks on the Friendly Confines Sunday, the stadium was still more than 95 percent full. Fans were still into it. After Saturday’s 11-run outburst, there was a sense that maybe if the team could get hot the wild card wasn’t too far out of reach. Those hopes were dashed with each of the 11 hits Carlos Zambrano gave up in his 3 1/3 innings of work.
It’s time for Cub fans to return to their roots. It’s time for them to embrace the losing and do what we do best: have a damn good time doing it.
It’s time to stop bemoaning the fact that the team failed to live up to some lofty expectations. It’s time to forget the fact that as a group they haven’t earned their payroll — the third highest in the league.
It’s time to appreciate baseball for what it is on the North Side. Soon, it’ll be gone and the old mantra, “Wait ’til next year,” will creep into our collective consciousness.
If you live in Chicago, there will be a day in January or February — as freezing rain becomes an icy sidewalk and we haven’t seen the sun in weeks — that a Cubs loss on an unseasonably cool day in August doesn’t seem all that bad. In fact, it’ll seem like paradise.
Something, perhaps, that only a six-year-old songstress could truly appreciate in the moment.