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Hope springs eternal

Mike Marchand | Monday, October 6, 2003

Hooray for the Cubs!

Or, if they didn’t win last night, “Wait ’til next year!”

As I write early Sunday morning, either exclamation is a possibility, but I have to wait an agonizing afternoon to know. By the time you all read this on the way to class, in the dining hall, or (as one ill-tempered grouch who e-mailed me recently to tell me where he read my columns) in the bathroom, the game will be over, and I will have either gotten drunk and cried (which means they lost) or just gotten drunk (which means they won).

The devotion we have is an odd thing to explain to those people who aren’t Cubs fans. Non-Cubs fans gaze upon us with an odd look on their faces, as if they were confronting a member of a masochistic religious cult, and wonder why we would waste our precious time following a team who hasn’t had consecutive winning seasons in 30 years. It’s as whimsically illogical as dancing naked in the snow, and sometimes as painfully irrational as getting a tattoo in the middle of your forehead. OK, it’s that painfully irrational often, not just sometimes.

My best friend is a New York Yankees fan. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t mind – the Yankees are a fine club, an organization so steeped in legends and traditions it’s a wonder their games aren’t broadcast on The History Channel. But what bothers me is that he used to be a Detroit Tigers supporter, but bailed on them because they haven’t been any good in forever and turned to the Yankees just in time for them to win four World Series in five years.

Cub fans hate bandwagon jumpers. And God willing, the Cubs will wipe out the Atlanta Braves, who started calling themselves “America’s Team” when millions of fairweather nimrods started rooting for them and still refer to themselves that way even though the Yankees have supplanted them as the team most followed by mindless sheep. Choosing to cheer for the Yankees or the Braves just because they’re winning is like hoping for the Harlem Globetrotters to win, or for Bugs Bunny to outwit Elmer Fudd. There’s no effort required, and it upends the classic sports tradition, from Rocky to Rudy, of cheering for the underdog.

The Cubs, meanwhile, have devoted fans despite nearly a century of futility. They’ve lived and died with the Cubs. In fact, they’ve literally lived and died waiting for them to win a World Series. They last won one in 1908. That was seven papacies and 17 presidential administrations ago. That was four years before my great-grandmother was born.

I’m a Cubs fan because of Ron Santo, who played third base for the Cubs for 14 years and now serves as their radio announcer. Before the last game of this season, the team retired his jersey number.

Santo has plenty of reasons to be upset. He’s lost both his legs to diabetes, he’s been associated with the Cubs for 40 arduous, mostly losing seasons, and if all that weren’t enough, while calling a game early this year he sat too close to a space heater and singed his toupee. And while his career was solid, since he was never a vital component of a championship dynasty, the Hall of Fame will probably never enshrine him. But he stood on the field upon two prosthetic legs, watched a flag with his name on it take its place under Ernie Banks‚ and basically told Cooperstown to stick it: “That flag … means more to me than the Hall of Fame. This is my Hall of Fame.”

I’m a Cubs fan because every game, celebrities sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” to honor Harry Caray, even though he died six seasons ago. I’m a Cubs fan because of Wrigley Field, which has remained essentially unchanged for decades. I’m a Cubs fan because no matter how long we wander through the desert of losing seasons, we know someday we’ll reach the Promised Land. If not this year, then next year for sure.

I’m a Cubs fan because I went to Wrigley on my 21st birthday, and even though I drank all afternoon and most of the night, I only paid for one beer the entire day. My fellow Cubs fans are that cool.

Normally, at the end of a column such as this, I’d invite you all to watch the game with me, say at the new Hooters on Day Road, but since you all already know how it turned out, it’d be silly. So, invent a time machine, go back in time to last night, and join me in a Cubs victory.

Or, if they lost, go back in time to 1945 and tell the Wrigley ushers to let that damn goat in.

Mike Marchand, class of 2001, is such a big Cubs fan that he bought a boombox from Meijer and a pack of D-size batteries (no, that’s not a veiled Hooters reference) so he could listen to the games while he works. His column appears every other Monday Contact him at Marchand.3@ alumni.nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.