By Robb Lee
Being a Cubs fan is fashionable now. Lots of people like the Cubs. They steamrolled the NL Central and beat their closest competitor, the hated St. Louis Cardinals, by 17 and a half games. The Chicago Cubs are lovable losers no more. Everyone loves a winner, especially when you’ve not been a winner for so long. Me, I’m not so fashionable nor am I so new to the party. I do like the Cubs. That is for sure.
So why am I a Cubs fan? The answer is actually a decent story. In a way it’s about America and the National Pastime. It’s about hope and believing you can be better, believing you can do it. Kind of like a Cubs fan. Ask any Cubs fan and they will tell you they greet every spring with eternal optimism and udder the phrase “maybe this is our year.”
I cried when I discovered it didn’t fit any more. I’d grown since the last time I wore it and it was sad to find out the little wool Cubs hand me down uniform didn’t fit any more. Dad had gotten it from his sister who lived in Whiting, IN, a small working class town on the southern shore of Lake Michigan just outside Chicago.
That’s really where the story begins. Not with the uniform as much as with Whiting. Dad’s sister moved there with her husband to find work. Job prospects were better up north and thousands migrated from the Eastern Kentucky coalfields with the hope of better job prospects
Whiting was home to Standard Oil and one the largest refineries in the United States, which required lots of manpower. Iit was the presence of family and the potential to work during the summer that drew Dad to that small town in the shadow of the Windy City.
I remember Dad telling me about those summers. Getting a job wasn’t that difficult if you were persistent. Dad said he would knock on doors at plants asking if they were hiring. Finally, someone said yes and hired him for an hourly wage to do manual labor. I remember him telling me of the hot and difficult work and how he hoped for overtime which meant time and a half. Summer holidays were an opportunity for double time and maybe even more if you’d already reached your forty hours. Money was important because Dad was putting himself through college with the help of a single mother who raised five children.
It’s interesting now as I recall Dad telling me those stories. He had a gleam in his eye and despite the long hours and hard work, he recalled those days fondly. The Cubs were a rich man’s team he said. I remember him telling me of his journeys on the “L” to Wrigley Field. He told me of the ivy covered walls in a ballpark that was located in the middle of a neighborhood. That was the first time I ever heard of Wrigleyville.
Let’s fast forward to the late 70’s. We got this thing at our house called cable television. WGN from Chicago broadcast nearly every Cubs game, and Dad and I would watch the games. I was reintroduced to the Cubs by Jack Brickhouse, Harry Carey, and Steve Stone. I could recite many of the names from those years. If you’re a Cubs fan you remember Kingman, Dawson, Dunston, Ryno, and many more. Suffice it to say, we watched the lovable losers and always believed, at least for a little while, that this could be our year.
I was lucky enough to be on vacation with Dad watch the NLCS in the Fall of 03. A World Series birth seemed all but certain only to see the Cubs blow a three to one lead and fall to the Marlins in seven games. I won’t even mention Steve Bartman.
Later, I had the opportunity to attend a game at Wrigley. We got to sit in the bleachers with the rest of the “bleacher bums.” Cubs fans know if the visitors hit a homer you can be sure the “bleacher bums” will throw it back on the field. Then they’ll cheer and revel and slosh beer all around thus stealing the joy from the visiting team’s homer.
I took a moment and stole away from my friends and I called my wife. In almost a whisper I said, “I’m here. I’m inside Wrigley Field.” It was everything I’d imagined it would be. I’d wanted to go with Dad but Cancer had taken him a year before.
So I’m kind of vested. I kind of have a history. That’s why I’m a Cubs fan.