I am cheating on my girlfriend. Yes, she knows about the affair. And she is crestfallen knowing that she can do nothing about it. I’m fairly honest, and lacking in tact, and have told her when I would rather be with my other true love. Sometimes I even feel that when I spend time with my girlfriend, I’m cheating on my mistress. Maybe because I loved the mistress first; before I even met my girlfriend. Maybe I enjoy my mistress’ abusive tendencies. Maybe I’m a closet masochist, and addicted to being hurt daily from April to September. But regardless of the reasons, like a child drawn to an abusive parent, I keep crawling back for more.
On Valentine’s day, 1998, heartbreak struck the Northern half of Chicago. News had comethat Harry Caray, one of the Chicago Cubs greatest broadcasters, had passed out while eating dinner with his wife Dutchie. Four days later, he died. I was eight years old at the time, and couldn’t have cared less. Baseball games had been something that my grandparents listened to on sweaty summer afternoons; nothing more than noise in the background as I tried to take my daily post-lunch nap. Yet the following summer, I too became smitten with the lovable losers as I listened to Sammy Sosa race Mark McGwire to the end of a long, home-run filled season.
I had been trying for years to play baseball, and any sport for that matter, yet I always failed magnificently. Listening to baseball, however, was something I was good at. Everyday at 1:20, 3:05, 7:15, I would faithfully tune the kitchen radio to 720 AM and listen to the Pat and Ron show. I would spend hours laying on the kitchen floor, being nagged by my mother to get out of her way as she prepared dinner. This soon began a long and tumultous relationship that has to this day, resulted only in heartbreak and despair.
I stood by the Cubs through the playoffs that year, when they were swept by the Atlanta Braves. And I listened faithfully in 2003, through the infamous Steve Bartman fiasco and the collapse that followed. Before my high school graduation, I stood in the cafeteria, dressed in my cap and gown, transfixed as the Cubs pounded the Braves 10-1. This past summer, I went so far as to bring headphones into work, alienating my coworkers every time the Cubbies played. I went to U.S. Cellular and cheered with a drunken Bulgarian immigrant as they swept the Sox on the southside. I caught every game of the postseason, throwing a textbook at my door when Rich Hill gave up a solo shot to Chris Young on the first pitch of game three.Yet through all the disappointment, I stood by the Cubs. And while, yes, there have been other love interests in my life, like the 2004 Red Sox (I felt I could relate), or the 2006 Tigers (I do live in Michigan), those were just for fun; idle infatuations to pass the thingse love recovered from another disparaging season.
Outsiders don’t understand the relationship that a Cubs fan has to his team. My girlfriend certainly doesn’t. She tried to act interested when I dragged her to Wrigley. But her apathy towards baseball was apparent as she slept through a double play, and then awoke in the eighth inning after Soriano hit a smash drive into the ivy and asked, “Why is everybody yelling?” My friends don’t understand either. They don’t get how I could stand by a team that has done nothing but disappoint for the past century.
Maybe as a Cubs fan I’m just emotionally insecure. Maybe I lack the self-confidence to tell the love of my life that I can’t take the melancholy relationship anymore, and that things have to change. But if nothing else, being a Cubs fan has taught me to be persistent. If at first I don’t succeed, I should keep trying, or at least just keep going. It might take a while, but eventually I’ll achieve mediocrity, and someday maybe even success. And if I don’t, I’ll at least have fun getting to game six of the National League Championship Series and choking like a dog on a chicken bone. Yet during the 2003 playoffs I learned something else: that even when things are at their best, anything can fall apart in an instant.
Through the Cubs I’ve learned to be patient; that nothing is perfect, and sometimes a man just has to stand by something, whether it’s a baseball team, a cause, or a person, until they get things right. Over the past ten years, through season after season of gut-wrenching agony, I have discovered that hope is by far the best ailment for despair; that when things seem like they are at their worst, it’s best to just wait until “next year is here.”
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.