Far-flung Cubs fans just as fanatical as Chicagoans
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When the two-run homer exploded off of Addison Russell’s bat to put the Cubs ahead in Game 5 of the NLCS, Lartease Tiffith and everyone else in the packed barroom roared.
They weren’t gathered at Murphy’s, Sluggers or the Cubby Bear in Wrigleyville, though.
This Cubs bar — named Ivy and Coney, in part, because of the ivy lining the outfield wall at Wrigley Field — is in Washington, D.C., about a mile and a half from the White House.
But the vibe is authentic. “We feel like we are in Chicago, even though we are not,” said Tiffith, 40, who grew up in the South Shore neighborhood and works as an attorney for the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The nation’s capital is by no means an anomaly. Cubs fans are packing bars and living rooms across the United States, glued to TVs and praying for World Series glory.
In football, the Dallas Cowboys are known as “America’s Team.” The Cubs are every bit baseball’s equivalent — if not with an even wider reach.
“For sure the Cubs are a national team for several reasons,” said Eric Klinenberg, a professor of sociology at New York University who grew up in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood.
“The Cubs are the greatest losers in American sports history. We all love the underdog, and there’s no better underdog than the Cubs.
“And because of WGN as an early super channel, the Cubs just happened to get themselves into basic cable packages and people around the country started following them. So lots of people who are not Chicagoans have seen the Cubs as their team since they were kids.”
Beyond that, “Chicagoans are migrants,” Klinenberg said. “We grew up there and love the city, but it’s too damn cold or too damn hot or hard to make a living and we leave and take our sports affinities with us.”
Klinenberg attended a playoff game against the Giants in San Francisco two weeks ago.
“Every time I go to a Cubs game around the country, I find hundreds or thousands of people dressed in blue like me,” he said.
In Washington, the Ivy and Coney bar caters to Cubs nation.
The menu is written on a green chalkboard that pays homage to the classic scoreboard at Wrigley. Chicago-style steamed Vienna hot dogs are $2 during the playoffs. Blue-and-white “W” banners are on the wall. There’s even a discreet framed photo of Cubs fan Rod Blagojevich in the back.
Tiffith, a regular at the bar, became a Cubs fan because as a kid he got free tickets to games as a prize for getting good grades. The habit of going to Cubs games continued when he moved north to attend Northwestern.
Here are the stories of other Cubs fans living from sea to shining sea:
Jason Turner’s neighbors in the Lone Star State think the “W” flag flying in front of his house stands for George W. Bush.
“And I explain it to them and they’re like, ‘Oh, man. You’re a Cubs fan?’ And I tell them ‘Yeah. I’ve only got like 30 Cubs hats and 50 shirts and wear them all the time,” said Turner, 42, director of sales at a school supply company in Austin.
Turner’s allegiance to the team began at age 10 when he and a few friends were throwing things at cars in Amarillo, where he grew up. One motorist got out and collared the boys.
Turner was grounded for the entire summer. Television became his chief companion. Two baseball teams were available on cable: the Braves and the Cubs. You know the rest.
West Yellowstone, Montana
“There’s only about 1,000 people who live here, but there’s a surprising amount of Cubs fans,” said Robert Griffin III of the tourist town tucked in the forest west of Yellowstone National Park.
“A lot of people watched WGN back in the day when Harry Caray and Steve Stone were such a popular phenomena,” said Griffin, 53, who runs a property rental business and has family roots in the Chicago area.
One of Griffin’s fondest memories is being at a Cubs game with his dad and grandfather, all named Robert Griffin. Word got up to the announcers booth and the trio got a nod over the PA system.
Williamston, North Carolina
“Most of the time the conversation here starts ‘How the hell did you become a Cubs fan?’ because everyone down here supports the Nationals or Braves,” said Travis Wester, 41, a high school chemistry teacher.
“But when I was about 11 years old, I started watching the Cubs on WGN, and I just thought Harry Caray was a trip and that was it for me. We make Cubs pilgrimages every year.”
A Cubs throw blanket decorates Ray Sanders’ couch in his apartment in downtown Honolulu. Sanders, a registered nurse who grew up in northwest suburban McHenry, wishes he could use it once in a while.
“I miss 30-degree weather . . . but not lower than that,” joked Sanders, 49.
A few Cubs T-shirts and hats have turned up lately in the Aloha state, but most baseball fans there root for the Dodgers, said Sanders, who’s been on the receiving end of a few random “Go Cubs!” shouts.
Things might be different if Hawaii’s biggest import to Chicago, President Barack Obama, was a Cubs fan. Obama is loyal to the White Sox.
“But really, Hawaiians think of Obama exclusively as their native son,” Sanders said, adding that Chicago doesn’t seem to factor into their equation.
Pretty much the entire 25,000-plus population of Hazleton became Cubs fans in a matter of hours on Nov. 2, 2014, when it was announced that the city’s favorite son, Joe Maddon, had been signed to manage the Cubs.
It’s a sure thing they will remain Cubs fans — at least for the duration of Maddon’s five-year contract.
Allegiances to the Phillies or the Yankees, traditional choices for Hazleton natives, have taken a back seat to Maddon’s Cubs.
“Oh, God, he’s beloved here,” said Rocco Cusat, 42, whose family owns a bar and grill in town. “I jumped on board for sure.
“Joe’s more my dad’s generation but I got the chance to play golf with him a couple of years ago.
“He’s like everybody else here. He’s a shot-and-a-beer guy,” said Cusat, whose brother, Jeff, is mayor of the town.
Maddon’s roots run deep. His mom, Beanie, retired two years ago from a diner in town that’s owned by one of Maddon’s uncles. The playing field at the local high school bears Maddon’s name.
“Everybody’s got Joe’s back here,” Cusat said.
“It’s a little challenging being a Cubs fan up here,” said Kent Haina, 58, an airplane pilot who, two weeks ago, started a group on Facebook to bring Cubs fans together in Anchorage.
“Some guy just joined this morning. That makes about 10 so far. I’m going to invite everyone over for a game. I’ve got a nice big TV,” said Haina, who lived in Chicago for 17 years before moving to Alaska.
Isn’t he worried about hosting strangers? “Hell no!” Haina said. “It’s not like Chicago. There’s not a whole lot of strangers in Anchorage.”
Guests may include local conservative radio personality Dave Stieren, 46. Stieren suspects hundreds, even thousands, of Cubs fans live in Alaska.
He also suspects he will soon either be knee-high in newly fallen snow outside his house dousing himself in champagne or “throwing the champagne bottle in the woods behind my house if it goes the other way.”
South Lyon, Michigan
As a tyke, Josephine Rubringer was listening to a Cubs game on the radio and was stunned to hear dad say a man died on third base.
“My dad said, ‘He died on third,’ and I was shocked and I was like ‘How can they keep playing the game when that man died?’ But then my father said the man wasn’t dead, but the inning was over and he was left stranded on base,” Rubringer said.
Such was the education of Rubringer, 87, who as a girl baked cakes and brought them to Wrigley Field from her home in Berwyn for free admission. It was World War II, and the treats were sent to American servicemen. A few years later, she began attending ladies nights at the ballpark, the source of many fond memories.
More recently, Rubringer moved to a condo in suburban Detroit to be closer to family. The people around her don’t love the Cubs.
“They don’t dislike them, but they don’t know them like I do,” she said.
San Francisco, California
“It was hostile at times during the Giants series. But we travel far, and we travel well,” said Zack Swan, 25, who was the target of occasional verbal jabs.
“It’s all in good fun though,” he said. “I lived in Boston for a while and there’s certainly not the sort of edginess you get from Red Sox fans. Plus, I’ve been getting lots of high-fives and nods and thumbs-ups when I wear Cubs stuff.”
Swan, who works at an agricultural tech startup, grew up in Florida but was raised a Cubs fan — nursed by WGN and a Cubs crazy mother from west suburban Oak Park.
“Most of my life the reaction I’ve gotten to being a Cubs fan has been, ‘Oh, sorry. That sucks,” Swan said.
He’s hoping that well of sympathy dries up permanently in a matter of days.
“I’m dealing with all the Indians fans right now,” said Kurt Staley, 27.
“But there’s a lot of Cubs fans out here too. Everybody loves the Cubs, but that might take a U-turn pretty quick,” said Staley, an auto mechanic for Volvo who grew up in Chicago’s south suburbs.
“They love their sports here, and they want to win, but Chicago is 10 times more invested in the Cubs as a city,” said Staley, citing sparse attendance at Indians games he’s attended. “It was funny, I was wearing my Cubs jersey and the Cubs weren’t even playing the Indians and a cameraman came down and I was pointing at the jersey and he was just like, ‘Get out of here.’ ”
“I’ve got my ‘W’ flag flying out front of my place. It’s a duplex and everyone asks what that is. ‘Is it an ‘M’ or a ‘W?’ What does it mean?’ And my neighbor downstairs keeps saying he’s going to buy an even bigger Indians flag and put it out there but he never did.”
New York City, Manhattan
“Watching the Cubs reminds me of home,” said Emmett Adler, who grew up in Evanston and works and lives in Manhattan.
“I wear my hat around town and I get shoutouts daily. I’ll turn a corner and someone will yell ‘Go Cubs!’ Even Yankees fans are getting behind the cause. People seem to just kind of like the Cubs.
“They’re aware of the history and, I don’t know, they just seem like a darling team for people,” said Adler, 28, a video editor who works in the ad industry.
Four “W” flags fly from homes in the cul-de-sac of a subdivision in suburban Phoenix where Patricia Montalbano lives.
It’s a coincidence. Montalbano, 69, didn’t know any of her like-minded neighbors when she retired there from Chicago a few years ago.
“It’s amazing because there’s so many of us here. It’s great,” said Montalbano, a former financial analyst. Her husband is a retired CTA worker. The pair formerly lived near Belmont and Harlem.
“We love spring training, we love going to the games,” she said of the short trip to see the Cubs in Mesa.
“It’s lonely, but there are Cubs fans here,” said Rich Lufrano, 46, who grew up near Wrigley Field and graduated from Lane Tech High School.
“About two months ago, I was at a bar and I had my Cubs hat on and this guy handed me a card, turns out he started a Cubs Facebook page for Portland.”
Most of Lufrano’s childhood birthdays were spent at Wrigley Field with a big group of kids and his dad. His brother, Mike, became a front office executive with the Cubs.
“So it’s weird when I’m at a bar here and so excited and the Cubs are playing and doing well, and it’s like the rest of the place isn’t tuned in or doesn’t really care,” said Lufrano, who works at an ad agency.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Donald Kelly “lives or dies with the Cubs” in the desert heat.
He’s not alone. “People are always stopping me here when they see my Cubs T-shirts. There’s a ton of transplants from Chicago and even people not from Chicago. Between the folks who love an underdog and the people who watched them on WGN, there’s just a bunch.”
Most natives root for the Dodgers or other California teams, said Kelly, 62, a retired AT&T technician who grew up near Comiskey Park and retired to Nevada three years ago. “The Cubs are the only Chicago team that hasn’t won a championship in my life, and that’s got to change. I turned 49 the day of the Bartman ball. It went from my best birthday ever to my worst birthday ever, real quick.”
New Orleans, Louisiana
At Milan’s Lounge in New Orleans, a “Go Cubs Go” sing-along at the bar caps every Cubs victory. Legend has it that Harry Caray once gave the tavern an on-air shoutout.
“We’ve adopted the Cubs as our own little home team because we don’t really have one,” manager Paige Wilkinson said.
“Back in the day, cable television offered people here a choice: root for the Cubs or the Braves,” she said. “We hate all Atlanta sports teams here — they’re our major rival.”
Also, folks in New Orleans could relate to a losing team. The New Orleans Saints football team was so bad that many took to calling them the “Ain’ts” after a 14 consecutive loss season in 1980 — as in “Ain’t gonna win this week.”
“And I guess we figured we might as well follow two teams that ain’t gonna win,” bar owner Kevin Burley said.
But things have changed. The Saints got good. The Cubs, too.
And the bar went bananas Saturday night when the Cubs made it to the World Series.
“It was ridiculous,” Burley said.