Cubs Win!

Everyone needs an MLB team, even if you only sporadically follow them. You need a team because you are occasionally asked who it is – like being asked your religion – and you can be judged by your answer. I chose the Cubs years ago, but much like a Catholic who only goes to Mass on Christmas and Easter, I tend to only closely follow them during the playoffs.

I’ve tried to get into the Texas Rangers for years, since they’re my actual local team. It’s just they’re not really locals, if I can remember them moving from Washington (“First in war, First in peace and Last in the American League.”) I’ve (fitfully) cheered on the Yankees, because they’re my wife’s home team – and my in-laws’ home team, as well. However, if I was ever asked who my favorite team was, I would say, ‘The Cubs!”

Now, part of this was because I was born on the north side of Chicago, so they are my birth team, even if I did move to Texas when I was two. Part was that they are one of the teams that everyone knows and has an opinion about, like the Yankees or the Red Sox, but they’re from the Midwest.

Also, with the debut of the web, you can have your local team be anywhere – you just have to follow them online. (I follow Australian baseball because I know one of the players.) With cable and satellite TV, you can watch them just as if they were local, too. It’s not like the olden times, when you had to find box scores in the back of the sports section.

So, I am a Cubs fan.

There was a part of me drawn to the Sisyphus story, struggling to get the rock to the verge of the mountaintop, and then having it roll back down. Again and again and again.

There was a part of me drawn to the tradition – not just the “lovable losers”, but the observation that the fans and most of the organization respected and remembered that the team’s last championship was before the NFL even started. They had retired players who were recognized wherever they went. They had Harry Caray, even if he did start with the White Sox. The current team didn’t think the team started with them – they knew the team started in 1876 and they were a part of a long chain.

Then, there was a part of me that just likes being in pain. For many, I’m pretty sure that was the joy of being a Cubs fan – you knew that something was going to go horribly wrong at the worst possible moment, and it would be an even more original catastrophe than the last time. It would be more catastrophic than whatever happened at the office that day, so you would feel better about your job once in a while.

Seriously, what other team has blamed a goat attending a game (and being ejected) for a championship drought? What other team had a fan that brought a goat to a game?

I have attended one game at Wrigley – which is half of the Cubs games I have seen in person.

I saw one Cubs game in Miami that was technically a Marlins game, but I was with a guy from Chicago and two Brits who were just contrarians, so we cheered the Cubs. Loudly. The Cubs won, so we had the stands pretty much to ourselves by the end of the game. Technically, since it was a Marlins game, we had the stands pretty much to ourselves for most of the game. The two Brits were complaining that baseball games weren’t long enough to build a good buzz like a three-day cricket match. On the taxi ride home, one of the Brits asked the cab driver how the game ended “since we had left early.” The cab driver then bitched about the crappy Marlins all the way to our hotel. It was pretty funny, actually.

When I saw the game at Wrigley, I was in Chicago to teach a technical workshop, and my wife had gone along. We were looking for something to do, and then we realized it was baseball season – and by some miracle, the Cubs were in town.

We were having dinner at Harry Caray’s steakhouse the night before we went to the game and everyone was talking about Sammy Sosa’s corked bat (“It was for batting practice. Really.”) We even got interviewed about it. We had tickets for the game the next night, and it was everything I assumed it would be – and the Cubs lost.

The day before, the day the bat was found, the Cubs had won. So, I remember mentioning in the workshop the next morning that we were going to see the Cubs that night and that I was excited to finally see a game at Wrigley.

One of my students just sighed. I asked him what was wrong (I assumed he was a White Sox fan.) I said that the Cubs had won the night before, they were in first place in the division, everything seemed great – with the small exception of the corked bat, which I assumed would blow over. (Sosa got an eight-game suspension, I think.)

My student said he was a Cubs fan, as well. This confused me. Then, he said, “Don’t get too excited about the Cubs. They will break your heart. They always break your heart.”

I thought that was a bit harsh. I didn’t realize it was a mantra.

The Cubs won their division by one game that year. They lost in the NLCS. Broken heart.

I watched the Bartman game on TV because it was a playoff game. Five outs from the World Series. This was the year! Then, some random fan grabs a foul ball, and the team collapses. I remember feeling the doom envelop the stadium – you could feel the air whoosh out of there – and I was watching on TV. It was a new and horrible way to fail.

Broken heart.

I knew they were doing pretty well this year. I knew they had Theo. The next thing I knew, they were in the playoffs. It was time to start paying attention.

So, this year, we watched the playoffs and the World Series with anticipation and a bit of trepidation. My wife had decided she was cheering for the Cubs, as well, which added another layer of stress for me – she is much worse at recovering from a sports broken heart than I am. I’m used to it – I have the Cubs for baseball and Jerry Jones owns the Cowboys. (I’ve pretty much given up football at this point.)

So, while I had a feeling after game 6 that 2016 was finally the year, I was a bit concerned that this could be the most elaborate way to break the fans’ hearts ever conceived. I really wanted to believe after game 5, but I just couldn’t bring myself to that point yet.

I watched game 7 with excitement. No matter what happened, I stayed positive. I’m not quite sure how, because as Cleveland came charging back, I began to hear my student’s voice in my head – “They’ll always break your heart.” I had to tune him out because I was also really concerned my wife was going to start having chest pains, and we would need to call 911. So, I was spending more time tuning her out.

When the rain delay was over, I felt a sudden calm. I’m not sure why – I supposed my psychic self knew there had been a team meeting, and that’s when the team decided to win.

Blown saves. Extra innings. Rain delay. Two runs in the tenth. Give up one run in the bottom of the tenth. The pitcher with the blown save gets the win. Wow.

The final out was sweet – a basic play, executed perfectly. 8-7 Cubs. Final. Cubs win the Series, 4-3. All the way back from death’s doorstep just a few days ago. A team that had to win three in a row, and did.

The Cubs will always break your heart. Until the night they don’t. That’s a very special night.

Yu almost made it

Wasn’t there an unwritten rule that you don’t talk about a possible no-hitter in progress? Did nobody tell the press? ESPN had a no-hitter watch on their crawl. Sheesh.

8 2/3rds of a perfect game. Unfortunately, it’s like winning 4/5ths of the lottery. You have to close it out. You have to get them all. Still…

111 pitches and only one Yu Darvish probably wants back. I guess that’s why a pitcher that plays good defense is such a find. Has anybody found one?

Still, an amazing outing and a win. Wins count, no matter how many hits you give up.

Next time, for sure.

The Humane Society of Baseball

As someone who has been involved in pet rescue for over ten years and an AirHogs season ticket holder for three, some of the parallels are striking.

Why are pets dumped at the shelter? The usual reasons (regardless of validity): “it’s not trained”, “it’s too expensive”, “it doesn’t get along with our other pets”, “we just don’t want it anymore”, “it bit me.” How many people-centric variations of these do ball players hear when they’re cut?

Once a pet is dumped or a player is released, the parallels continue. I think much as many people consider pound puppies “broken”, they also don’t take independent ball seriously.

This is a major marketing issue that independent ball has – people are not going because it’s “not pro ball”, but they’re not necessarily going to the majors, either. This means they really don’t like baseball, or they don’t want to bother going to see it live. Maybe it’s pricing – the majors cost too much to go regularly, and the minors don’t cost enough for people to take seriously.
Here’s a news flash – the independent-league players are paid (not much), but it’s pro ball. Also, in the minors, they’re trying to get out, so they’re trying to get noticed. I’ve always thought a lot of people in the majors are more concerned about their longevity than championships. Depending on their contracts, most are paid win or lose, so why risk injury?

So, you can spend a lot of money on major-league tickets just like you can spend a lot of money on a designer mutt. In both cases, it may not be worth the money. What if you get a heartworm-positive ill-bred dog? What if they’re Mets tickets?

The next time you want a real dog, visit your local rescue. The next time you want real baseball, find a minor-league or independent-league park near you.

Pass The Bucket

One of the interesting (charming?) traditions at QuikTrip Park is the passing of the bucket. There is actually a hand-out for new fans explaining the practice, since many have never seen it done before.

When an AirHog batter hits a home run or an AirHog pitcher tosses a three-up, three-down inning, the ushers wander the park and collect donations for the batter or the pitcher, respectively. On a good night, a player could probably bump his  salary, or at least cover his bar costs after the game. We know it’s important to the players, because if the press box forgets to announce it, they complain in the dugout. We’ve had to text the announcers or Tweet Ace Bacon to get it announced before. (This may be a bit crazy – we actually are asking that they come take money from us.)

The first season, the team only passed the bucket for home runs, but the pitchers must have complained, since after that, someone added 3-up, 3-down which is as close to a home run as you will find for pitchers.

I usually try to give $2 or $3 depending on the number of singles in my wallet, although I’ve given $5 or $10 for critical RBIs or pitching performances. Some of the players are still talking about the $20 somebody [my little brother] dropped in one night.

[A side benefit – you can have a load of singles in your wallet and your wife won’t ask where you’ve been.]

I was rather surprised that they didn’t pass the bucket in the Frontier League, since it’s basically the same level as the American Association – when one of the Lake Erie team hit a home run, I instinctively reached for my wallet, and then realized I was alone.

It’s not done in the affiliated minor leagues, which says the players are paid reasonably well. I guess.

That said, tt seems to me this is a great motivator for any baseball players, and it could be used on more levels of the sport.

Specifically, it occurred to me that if Derek Jeter hit a home run at Yankee Stadium, there would probably be 50,000 fans to pass a bucket around. (I looked it up just now and there are 52,325 seats.) So, figure a quarter of the people donate an average of $2 each – some of the people are cheering for the opposition, some are just cheap, some will ask if they take plastic. Still, that’s over thirteen thousand people donating to the home run buckets. That home run just made Mr. Jeter over twenty-six thousand dollars.

At that level of income, this could be quite a motivational tool. (Plus, I’d just like to see the usher tossing a roll of cash that big into the dugout for delivery!) It not only motivates the players, it could lower the salary cap. Owners? A plastic bucket costs $10. Figure you need 50 of them in Yankee Stadium. $500 bucks worth of buckets and training some ushers to wander around – which they are supposed to do anyway. Jeter hit 24 HRs in his best season, he hit 10 last year and he probably averages 15 or so. Wouldn’t you like to pay him $392K less because the fans are paying him directly? You could almost pay off your boat. Well, one of your boats.

Maybe the bucket needs to be called up to the big leagues.