An optimist looks at the glass as half full. A pessimist looks at the glass as half empty. A Cub fan? A Cub fan looks at the same glass and says, when it’s gonna spill? -Mike Royko, legendary Chicago columnist
I’ve got a confession to make, good people of Mebane. I’m a Chicago Cubs fan.
Sure, you might say. How convenient. Good timing.
No, really, I’m a Cubs fan.
One who has stuck through a whole, whole lot of bad in my lifetime to maybe — just maybe — experience possibly one of the greatest goods I could possibly imagine in the coming weeks.
With all due respect to May 25, 2008, the day I married my lovely wife Julie, and the dates of September 26, 2010 and December 30, 2013, the day she brought our children Colt Lewis and Jenna Cate into the world, I’m not sure there’s anything else in this life that could provide more excitement for me than to see the Chicago Cubs win the World Series.
But that’s getting way, way ahead of ourselves.
My obsession with the National League’s entry on the North Side of Chicago began in 1985, when I was six years old. The year before, the Cubs had come within a few outs of the franchise’s first World Series in nearly four decades, only to come up short in a tragic fifth game in San Diego in the National League Championship Series.
I was blissfully unaware of that painful experience for lifelong Cub lovers that came before me, but a lifetime of heartache, disappointment, and letdowns lay awaiting for me as well.
I still vividly recall my very first live Cubs game — Friday, August 29, 1986 in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, a tilt between two second division clubs in the Cubs and the Atlanta Braves.
With my parents, uncle, and late grandmother also there, my first favorite Cub, centerfielder Bobby Dernier, smacked a home run to left field off Zane Smith. I can still see that ball clearing the old clear chain-link fence at Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium and Dernier running around the bases in that blue No. 20 jersey. I was hooked on the Cubs for life from then on.
Let me back up for a second…..
One might ask, how exactly does a little boy from coastal Sneads Ferry, North Carolina, raised on boats in the New River during the summer months, in the care of basketball-loving parents who took me twice a week to high school basketball games throughout my childhood in the winter months, become a fan of a baseball team halfway across the country?
I’ve been asked the question several times, and have given it considerable thought over the years. The answer appears to lie in the cable television revolution of the 1980s, which transformed the medium of TV from a small sampling of a few national network stations into a cornucopia of channels highlighting various aspects of American life.
Some of my earliest memories are sitting in my grandmother’s living room floor, playing with Legos and watching the Cubs play in the summer afternoons.
My grandmother loved the soap operas “Days of Our Lives” and “Another World,” but when they went off the air around 3:00 pm each weekday afternoon, the television was mine. And the channel was immediately turned to WGN as I waited for my father to come pick me up after work.
As part of the last generation in the history of the world who grew up without smartphones and the World Wide Web, the Chicago Cubs captured my attention in a very powerful way as a child.
As generations of Cubs fans before me marveled at Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Brickhouse — Back, Back, Back, Hey Hey! — the soundtrack of my summers was the great Harry Caray.
It might be. It could be, It is! A home run! Holy Cow!
Up until 1988, the Cubs still didn’t have lights at Wrigley Field, and all the games were on in the daytime. A broad smile comes to my face thinking about those afternoons watching baseball with my beloved grandmother, who always rooted for the Cubs with me, calling them “The Underdogs.”
Being able to watch almost every game as a child meant that you could get to know the players, see how they stood in the box, how they ran the bases, where they positioned themselves out in the field. They became your team, even if it was just watching them on television.
Through thick and thin, the Cubs always have been, and always will be my team, just as if I had been catching the CTA Red Line train down to the stop at Addison to catch games in person at Wrigley Field all my life. So there’s your answer to how a native North Carolinian can become obsessed with a baseball team in Chicago. Blame it on cable.
But it was never just about the team for me. If that were the case, I’d have probably joined much of my youthful contemporaries and become an Atlanta Braves fan. Especially after the Braves got really good in my teen years and the Cubs stayed, well, pretty damn crappy.
For me, from the very beginning, it was as much the ballpark as the game. For Wrigley Field, to me, is baseball.
I can close my eyes and visualize every contour of Wrigley Field. The 27 steel beams holding the upper deck above the lower deck — the same number of outs that win a regulation baseball game. The ornate light towers atop the roof. The distant view of the John Hancock Tower and Willis Tower — formerly known as the Sears Tower — in downtown Chicago from the bleachers in right field. The green seats, and the green of the field itself.
The ubiquitous brick wall, curving around home plate first to the dugouts, slowly rising along the left and right field corners towards the opposing bullpens, leading out to the ivy-covered outfield wall — starting deep and then curving in, allowing more room for the bleachers — which then rise up to a point crowned by the big green scoreboard — one of only two left in Major League baseball that is entirely hand-operated (the other is at Fenway Park in Boston).
I can hear Gary Pressy playing the Lowrey organ, straining out everything from Beck to The Beatles to the band Chicago. I can see the flags of deceased former Cub greats Ron Santo and Ernie Banks waving high above the left field foul pole, their No. 10 and No. 14 numbers honored for all time in the house they made their own.
Even as a small child — even as I sit here writing this — I almost get emotional, as the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up, thinking about the beauty of Wrigley Field. I can recall specific events in my life — memorable times with friends, encounters with females, historic events in our lifetime — and the Cubs are centered around many of them.
While in New Zealand and Australia on a post-graduation rugby tour with several of my UNC classmates in 2001, I thought ever-so-briefly of becoming an expatriate after the Cubs put together a 12-game winning streak, thinking that they’d never lose again if I simply stayed out of the United States.
My bachelor party was at Wrigley Field. I found out my wife Julie was pregnant with our second child, Jenna, while in Chicago awaiting a Cubs game at the Friendly Confines. And as we awaited the birth of our first child, Colt, it was the Cubs, playing the hated St. Louis Cardinals, that helped keep me calm during the stressful hours awaiting his delivery.
I remember sitting in my dorm room my freshman year of college weeping when I found out that Harry Caray died, feeling like my grandfather had just died again, knowing that one of the most memorable parts of my childhood was gone forever. I can remember cheering big victories, cursing players and the whole team after many disappointing losses.
I can remember being along the third base line on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2003, when the Cubs swept a doubleheader from the Pittsburgh Pirates to win the division, and then becoming despondent for about a month after they blew a 3-1 lead to lose the National League Championship Series that autumn.
Through a little bit of work and a lot of luck, a tiny bit of professional success came my way here and there, and suddenly I found myself in position to purchase Cubs season tickets — one of my greatest childhood ambitions. I got my season tickets the same year Theo Epstein arrived in Chicago, and began transforming the club from a 100-loss team in 2012 to the current National League Central Division champions.
The Cubs even named me Season Ticket Holder of the Month once, where I was honored in a pregame announcement on the field at Wrigley in September, 2012.
Yeah, it’s safe to say I’m a Cubs fan.
I can completely understand why one might ask, why in the world would someone living in Mebane, North Carolina have Chicago Cubs season tickets?
For one primary reason, really — so I can get tickets when the Cubs make the playoffs, as they have this October.
As the locals here in Mebane hunkered down and weathered the remnants of Hurricane Matthew this past weekend, I was fortunate enough to be in the right field bleachers at Wrigley Field, watching the Cubs defeat the San Francisco Giants in Games One and Two of the National League Division Series.
They say that in the last week of October, just before the fall freeze arrives in the Great Lakes region, the ivy at Wrigley Field — a symbol of vitality and during its lush green summers — turns a bright, fiery red. Almost the same red as in the Cubs uniforms.
Boy, I’d like to see that just once with my own two eyes.
My love affair with the Cubs has outlasted friends, girlfriends, schools, jobs, and most everything else in my life with exception of my parents and remaining living grandmother.
I tell people all the time that if the Cubs could win the World Series just once for me, I could die a happy man. And I truly believe it – just as I believe in this team.