I’m a child of WGN. The 1980’s version. I grew up 890 miles away from Chicago. But the wonders of cable television transported me to Wrigley Field.
My Sandlot-like summers were filled with bicycles, baseballs, and swimming pools. Afternoon Cubs games were consumed during mom-mandated breaks from the Louisiana heat. Harry Carey narrated my childhood between Budweiser commercials.
Looking back on it now, I should have been a Braves fan. The Braves were televised on TBS and actually won. My adolescence would have been more pleasant if managed by the steady hand of Bobby Cox.
But that’s not how love works. Falling in love is often quite painful. Those of us that fell for the Cubs are no strangers to pain. In my 3 decades of fandom, I have known my fair share. The 1989 loss to the Giants in the NLCS. The 1998 steroid induced mirage of greatness that was Sammy Sosa. A 2003 Alex Gonzales error and an 8 run inning that left me curled up in the fetal position.
Down 3-0 to the New York Mets, the 2015 Cubs are once again teetering on the brink of playoff elimination. Joe Maddon and his hard-hitting youngsters have given us one hell of a ride. I don’t know how it will end. But should it end tonight with a Mets sweep, it will have been a good one.
This Cubs season has been a little different for me. I’m now raising 3 little Cubs fans. My little fans have grown beyond the ages of simply sporting the cute gear. They are starting to enjoy the game. And like me, they are learning to love baseball from the beautifully cursed Cubs.
As a father, it has been fun to watch. My kids need baseball. They are part of the emerging “Over Stimulated Generation.” They are the first generation that will be raised entirely in the age of the smart phone and tablet. They will have no memory of a time before emails, texts, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Their little brains will be shaped in fundamentally new ways by a lifetime of the endogenous opioids produced by the habitual checking of apps, email, Twitter feeds, and Facebook statuses. (Why The Modern World Is Bad For Your Brain).
Baseball is the antitheses of this over stimulated time. It is a slow developing game of nuance and delayed gratification. It requires a certain degree of cultivated patience to properly appreciate.
Baseball used to be our national past time. But these days, football is king. In 2014, 35 percent of sports fans identified the NFL as their favorite sport, followed by Major League Baseball (14 percent), and college football (11 percent). In many ways, football is the epitome of our over stimulated, kinetic world.
College aged kids are drafted into the NFL and rushed onto the field. There is no minor league for long-term development. Kids are declared “busts” if they do not immediately excel. The NFL season is made up of only 16 games. During a game, the offense has 40 seconds to complete a play. On a given play, 22 massive men are set in motion. Players block, run, throw, catch, and tackle all at the same time. Football is a game of orchestrated aggression and chaos.
If football is cable news, baseball is print journalism. Baseball is calmness and patience. Baseball is nuance and subtlety. Major league baseball players spend years developing in the minor leagues before making it to “The Show.” The MLB season consists of 162 games. A given game lasts 3 to 4 hours. The majority of that time is spent with only the pitcher, catcher, and batter participating in the action. Everyone else is more or less just standing around. Occasionally a ball is hit and a runner advances to a base. But the best hitters on the planet only muster a batting average of around .300. They fail to get a hit 7 out of the 10 times they step up to the plate.
With the Cubs resurgence in 2015, we are reminded of their special place in our sports culture. They are our “lovable losers.” But they are so much more.
For decades, the Cubs have defied the logic of the free market. Despite continually fielding an inferior baseball product, fans flocked to ballparks to cheer for the Cubs.
The Cubs taught generations of Americans how to unconditionally love and appreciate the game of baseball. Our devotion to the team is not tied to tangible measures of on field success. We don’t love the Cubs for their World Series wins. There haven’t been any in over 100 years. Instead, their perpetual failure has taught us to simply love the beauty of the game. The ivy on the wall. The organ music. The fluidity of Mark Grace’s swing. The 2 out RBI. The 3-2 change up. The hit and run. The bunt. The sac fly. The stolen base.
Over the years, the Cubs have become baseball in its purest form. And baseball remains a window into a more patient and focused time.
As a father, the constant connectivity of the modern age scares me. Maybe I’ll live to see the day when the “Over Stimulated Generation” rebels against the instruments of their connectivity.
Until then, I hope my 3 little Cubs fans continue to press their faces up against the great window into our past that is baseball. I hope they value what they see.