Maybe it's the combination of the smells of freshly mown grass and the leather of a glove. Maybe it's the laid-back feel of a warm afternoon game. Maybe it's that the season starts in the spring, a notorious symbol of re-birth and hope. I do love a good notorious symbol, you know. Or maybe it's just the child-like simplicity of having a catch and swinging the bat. Whatever the reason, I loved it.
As a child, my earliest memories are of going to see my mom's league softball team play. I think she played 2nd base and maybe a little shortstop. My dad was their coach. I barely ever paid attention (I couldn't have been more than 5 or 6), but I will never forget the clang of the ball on the bat, the moths hovering around the stadium lights or the taste of a purple sno-cone on my tongue.
As I got older, I would bring home my softball league form and stare at it obsessively until my mom filled out the form. Then she, or my dad, or my brother, and I would go out to the yard to start warming up my arm. Games out on our dusty old field. My coach, Ricci, with a cigarette tucked behind her ear and good ol' Martha Harris strutting up to the plate to knock me in. And Lord, could that girl ever swing the bat.
And when I couldn't play ball, I was watching it on TV. When I was young, my hick-town television got four channels: ABC, NBC, CBS... and WGN. The Chicago station. Because that makes perfect sense for Clarendon, America. Every summer day, I'd catch a Cubs game and watch Andre Dawson and Shawon Dunston and Greg Maddux and Mark Grace and Ryne Sandberg... oh, Ryne Sandberg, how I loved you. I learned everything I know about 2nd basemen from you. Turning a double play without getting taken out by the runner. Taking care of your shortstop. Applying the tag on a steal. I probably should have mentioned you in my 1988 little league MVP speech. Well, if I'd had one. Or if I'd been the MVP.
Every fall, however, I'd be disappointed. But a Cub fan wears her disappointment like a badge of honor, so I never gave up hope. It's the thing that everyone who is not a Cubs fan detests about Cubs fans. Someday, my team would be in that World Series. Someday.
Even when I moved to a city where there's an actual major league team, I couldn't let the good ol' days go. Sure, I took my first trip to a major league game at the Ballpark, and I even got to see my Cubs up close and personal during inter-league play once. It was wonderful but not nearly so incredible as it was to be 10 years old, cross-legged and too close to the t.v. with my fingers crossed and a prayer for a win upon my lips. And no seventh inning stretch touches a Harry Caray rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". I loved Harry Caray. There was a hopefulness in the start of each broadcast that you just couldn't shake.
|"Ah-ONE. Ah-TWO. AH-THREE!"|
Somewhere along the way, I lost that love for the sport. I didn't hate it necessarily. I went to games. I tuned in when I had time. The postseason just always seemed to take a backseat to my need to finish a 7th grade volleyball season with my spirit intact. Also, the thought of squeezing my eyes shut and whispering a prayer for 9 innings, all the way to Chicago (as an adult because I totally did it as a kid) just felt a little silly. Then, in the summer of 2010, the Rangers started picking up steam and stirring up trouble. And just like that, I fell back in love with baseball. Lord, I fell hard. It wasn't just that they were winning, and it wasn't simply that they were making such dear friends of mine so incredibly happy. It was that they made it fun again. Every time they made Bullwinkle-style antler hands or put up the claw or hugged each other in the dug-out, it felt real. And genuine. And hopeful.
My Lord, it felt hopeful. And I do love hopeful.
I tried not to fall for them because I'm supposed to be a Cubs fan. It felt like cheating. Was I cheating? Or worse? Was I on the... bandwagon? *shudder*
Every game I went to or run that I cheered, I wondered if ol' Harry was up in Heaven, shaking his great big, beer-soaked noggin at me and wondering how it is that I couldn't name a single Cubs player on the roster but I could name every Ranger. The disapproval staring me down from behind those big black frames was almost too much to bear. I couldn't help it though. They got to me. They lured me in with their enthusiasm, as boundless as their bats and baserunning, and their work ethic. I can't help but wonder how much Harry Caray would love these guys. I think he'd love them quite a bit.
For the past few months, I've been keeping a close eye on the boys. And as the season's intensified, so has my angst. Not just in the last remaining guilt that I hold on to, but also... how do I handle the fact that the team I'm supporting is not only in the World Series but is leading the Series' standing? I've never been on the winning side of a baseball series in late October. Yet as the games go by, and I catch myself changing, mid-game, into my "lucky shirt" from the hamper, screaming obscenities at Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols (who cannot hear me in St. Louis, but no matter), whispering a prayer with each at-bat, and running the bases with Elvis and Ian and Wash, I find that I'm closer to that 10 year-old Cubs fan than I've been in a long, long time. She just happens to be in a (possibly dirty) Rangers shirt. And it feels good. And genuine. And right.
So, now I'm a Rangers fan who still really loves the Cubs. And Ryne Sandberg. Guilt-free.
But that's okay with me because A) They are a team who seems to genuinely like one another and have a hell of a good time playing baseball together. I adore that. 2) I take comfort in the idea of not only rooting for the Rangers but also against the Cards (a longtime Cubbie rival). Finally) On Sunday night, Derek Holland even introduced the ghost of Harry Caray to a whole new generation. I'm sure that Harry did shake his big ol' noggin at that one just before he started laughing. Then he cracked open a Budweiser.
And this... tell me there's not just a little resemblance.