You have to tip your cap to the Cubs for really nailing their 2022 slogan, “It’s different here.”
Boy, is it ever. The baseball is worse than we’ve seen in a long time, the roster practically unrecognizable. The crowds are dwindling. One suspects the hot dogs are more rubbery and the beer less fizzy, too. If “different” was the target, this might be a bull’s eye.
But I kid about the Cubs, and what else is there to do at the intersection of momentous and meaningless — momentous because the Cubs entered Friday’s series opener against the Braves on a double-digit losing streak for the third time in the last calendar year (uncharted territory) and meaningless because the season was a lost cause long before June 4, the last time they’d won a game.
Jim Hissong was at Wrigley Field for that 6-1 victory against the Cardinals on June 4. Thirteen days later, on Friday, he made the 60-mile trek from Yorkville again and watched the Cubs beat the Braves 1-0 to end a 10-game skid. A retired high school teacher and baseball coach who umpires high school games, Hissong, 72, is part of a large group of friends who share a pair of season tickets. I know all this because I saw his kindly face beneath a Cubs “W” hat on the main concourse and, before I knew it, was peppering a perfect stranger with one rude question after another:
Why the heck are you here?
Isn’t there something more enjoyable you could be doing, like disassembling your lawn mower or helping a vague acquaintance move?
Have you been kidnapped?
“I’ve been a Cubs fan since 1963,” he explained.
Hissong loves the Cubs, as so many do, and isn’t even bitter at them for trading their biggest stars last July and, he expects, doing the same with catcher Willson Contreras and others next month. But he’s no pushover and has no trouble telling it like it is.
“They’re a mess right now, just a complete mess,” he said. “And the problem is that the luster of going to Wrigley Field is starting to wear off. A lot of people used to come to Wrigley Field because it’s Wrigley Field, but a lot of that is going away now because No. 1, they don’t win, and No. 2, the tickets are just too expensive — they’re outrageous.”
Speaking of outrageous, the mega-market Cubs are in fourth place and have won only 12 of their last 45 games at Wrigley going back to last September. Since winning at Dodger Stadium last June 24 to get to 42-33 — first place! — they’re a soul-sucking 53-98. And they managed to find a new low over their last two series, being outscored 28-5 by the Yankees and 41-15 by the Padres — the first time in 143 years a Cubs team was outscored by 20-plus runs in back-to-back series.
It’s all so bad, so bleak, so broken. Yet into the ballpark strode a couple of tall fellows, looking a whole lot alike in their Cubs shirts, before Thursday’s 6-4 loss to the Padres. Brothers Larry and Bill Belokon grew up on the Northwest Side but now live in Crystal Lake and Maricopa, Arizona, respectively. In the 1960s and ’70s, their dear mother would take them to Wrigley on “Ladies Days,” when she’d get in for free. These days, Larry, 63, hunts down a pair of tickets for whenever Bill, 67, is in town.
“We got the tickets awhile ago, or else I don’t know if we’d be here,” Bill said. “We didn’t know they were going to be on a crazy losing streak. I hope the Cubs don’t get no-hit today.”
Like Hissong, these aren’t the happiest of customers. Larry, a lifelong fan, still hasn’t ponied up for the Marquee Network and is holding firm on that front.
“Not until they start winning,” he said. “Maybe then, maybe not. Used to be you could watch all the games for free all the time, you know?”
The Cuellar men had mixed feelings as they milled about on the concourse Thursday. Felipe Cuellar, 36, of Schaumburg, has been to a handful of games this season and considers himself a die-hard fan but lately is growing increasingly frustrated with the direction of the team.
“It sucks,” he said. “Maybe we got a little bit spoiled from the 2016 World Series, but it was painful to all of a sudden have the team broken apart the way they did it. It’s hard to watch now. Whatever they’re putting out in the field is not what should be expected.”
And when the Cubs trade Contreras?
“It’s gonna suck even more, man,” he said.
So why, then? Why come out and partake in this grand fiasco?
In this case, it was because Felipe’s brother, Gerardo, was given tickets as part of a work event. For Gerardo, 38, of Huntley, it was career Cubs game No. 1. That went double for Gerardo’s son, Christian, 12.
“I’m trying to get into baseball,” Christian said between bites of career Wrigley dog No. 1, which he took down like an old pro. “It’s kind of boring, though, because they’ve been in rebuild. One of my friends says his only wish is for the Cubs to win a World Series again.”
The poor friend had to wait, what, five or six whole years for the first one?
But back to Christian: Did he find it kind of funny that his first Cubs game just happened to be on the day of the team’s 10th straight loss?
“Yeah, a little, I guess,” he said. “But I’m a Bears fan, so I’m used to it.”