I am way outside of the man box when it comes to sports. My apathy towards the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, FIFA, or any other three- and four-letter sports organizations runs deep. I live in the heart of the SEC and could not care less about NCAA football. I enjoy watching a bit of Olympics competition, but I am wholly uninterested in Monday Night Football, the Final Four, the US Open (tennis or golf), or anything ESPN. Super Bowl parties are for eating and getting together with friends, not for watching a football game.
While not begrudging anyone their fandom, I cannot relate to the sometimes-rabid devotion that people have for their favorite teams. Frankly, I consider the national (and international) fervor and attention to sports to be excessive and wasteful—in time, money, and emotions.
I wasn’t always this way. As a young boy, baseball was in my blood. My bedroom shouted baseball with Major League team pennants on the wall and baseball-themed bedding. My favorite jacket was covered in team logo patches. And of course, I collected baseball cards.
Small and slow, I wasn’t really much of a ball player. I played tee ball for one year, but most of my (limited) skills development came from games of catch with my dad in the front yard and a bounce back net in the backyard. Baseball was my game of choice at school recess, if I was fortunate enough to be picked for a team. I missed after school pick-up games, as chores and piano practice required me to come straight home after the closing bell rang.
Pro ball rounded out my baseball world; I enjoyed the good fortune to have two local teams to pick from—the White Sox and Cubs. My family periodically went to Sox games at Comiskey Park, compliments of reduced-price tickets through my dad’s employer. However, for whatever reason, the Cubs gained my devotion. I followed players like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Jose Cardenal, and Manny Trillo on WGN radio or TV. Yet, I’ve had the privilege to see only one game at Wrigley Field. (But what a privilege—my college men’s a cappella singing group sang the National Anthem!)
By high school, I lost my fervor for baseball. Still small and slow, I lacked any natural or acquired talent for any sport. Since we usually don’t enjoy what we don’t do well, I pretty much gave up on sports, both as a player and spectator. As an adult, I occasionally picked up my mitt for a game of softball, but my love of baseball waned. I moved away from Chicago and lived happily without sports.
Yet, when one of the hometown teams was nearing the playoffs, my dad would typically call to inform me that the loyal fans’ hopes were rising. Proud of the Bulls’ NBA championship wins during the 1990s, I wished that the Cubs might find similar success. When the Cubs failed to progress past the Division Series or the Championship Series, I quoted “wait ’til next year” like a true Cubs fan. Always a sucker for a good underdog story, I never lost my faith in the Cubs.
You may be thinking that I’m scarcely a Cubs fan, and I would not argue you that point. However, this summer, as I heard reports that the Cubbies topped the standings, I again wondered if this might be the year. When the Cubs made it into the NLCS, I paid attention to the results. When they beat Los Angeles to win the National League pennant, I sensed baseball again flowing in my veins.
Of course, you know that the Chicago Cubs, after a 108-year drought, beat the Cleveland Indians in what is undoubtedly one of the best World Series contests. I watched the games with as much joy and anxiety as any life-long, die-hard Cubs fan around. Game seven had me on the edge of my seat and biting my nails until the glorious end. And when the Cubbies won—man, what a feeling!
I’ve caught up on many Cubs-related things in the last month. In my years away from Cubs baseball, I missed the introduction of the Go, Cubs, Go! victory song. The #FlyTheW hashtag taught me about the white Cubs Win flag, which I somehow never knew of. I had never heard of Theo Epstein, including the magic he worked in Boston, until a month or so ago.
For a few weeks this fall, I gained back something I once had; I caught the fever. I felt the exhilaration and dread of every fan cheering their team to the finish. As I connected over social media with school-day friends who loved the Cubs just as much as I did, I realized that we shared something—a life-long optimism that our team would finally get the win that they and we, their fans, deserved. Part of something bigger than any of us, we believed in something worth believing in. And the Cubbies delivered!
Have I changed my mind about sports? Not really. Will I start following baseball more closely? I doubt it. But this historical year for Chicago helped me see that I am a man who can again feel and enjoy the passion of his youth. And the next time I question why people become so fanatical over sports, remind me of the fall of 2016 when I once again became a Cubs fan.
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