Friday, March 1, 2013

HOW I BECAME A BASEBALL FAN PART II: A Mid-1990s Dream

One of the most underrated ballparks in MLB, "The Cell."
(photo courtesy of Ricardo Ponce)


Felipe M

Part I of this saga explained how I became a Chicago Cubs' fan.  Part II, takes this story to an unpredictable conclusion.

Like many Chicago Cubs’ fans, I grew up hating the Chicago White Sox and during the 1990s, not only was it my “duty” to hate the White Sox, but I was also filled with envy because their team was actually winning. 

The first time I found out that Chicago had two MLB teams, I was very shocked.  “Why does Chicago need two teams?  The only team that matters is the Cubs,” I used to think to myself.  The White Sox might as well have been a foreign team from Mexico or Canada.  It’s as if they were the unwanted family member showing up to family gatherings making an awkward mess to what was an otherwise good time.  Who are these people?  There was so much to hate about them:
  • They wore black uniforms. 
  • Their uniforms didn’t even have a hint of “American colors.”
  • White Sox TV broadcaster, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson used to (and still does) refer to the White Sox as the “good guys” and the opposing teams as the “bad guys.”  That used to irk me.  “Who does this guy think he is?”
  • They played in the American League and used a “DH.” 
  • “What the hell is a DH?”
  • Their ballpark didn’t have the charm that Wrigley Field had.  Their outfield walls aren’t even covered in ivy or any other organically grown life form.  They just spew out a depressing, color blue to go along their, sad-looking blue seats.
  • The South Side?  What the heck is the South Side of town?
  • All of their players had nicknames and came off as bullies.
  • Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas
  • “Batman” Robin Ventura
  • “Black Jack” McDowell
  • Lance “One Dog” Johnson
  • Craig “The Little Hurt” Grebeck
  • “The Pope” Donn Pall
  • “The Rock” Tim Raines
  • Carlton “Pudge” Fisk
  • They played against weird teams like the Seattle Mariners, California Angels, Minnesota Twins, and the Milwaukee Brewers (back when they were in the AL).
  • They are an evil, unlikable team.
In 1997, the Cubs were coming off another disappointing, ’96 season and I was getting tired of all the losing.  And then the White Sox do the unthinkable and sign Albert Belle.  That struck a nerve with me.  “Why can’t the Cubs go out and sign a hitter like Belle?” I used to ask myself as that signing really impressed me.  At least I couldn’t show the same disdain towards the White Sox as before.  See, I used to be one of those fans who root for a Cubs’ win and White Sox loss.  It brought this inexplicable joy.  But after this, I couldn’t go out and root against them anymore.  The Cubs are always losing and they don’t do anything to improve the ballclub.  But the White Sox have put themselves in a better position to win a title for 1997.  



I was not going to hate the White Sox, but I wasn’t going to start rooting for them either.  I was just going to focus on the Cubs and forget about the White Sox.  Not apathetic, not even indifference was the right word.  It was like one eye would kind of "lazy-eye" off into the White Sox’s direction, but quickly focused back on the Cubs. It was like acknowledgment without acknowledging anything.  That make any sense?

Then Robin Ventura broke his ankle during a spring training game.  I felt so sorry for them.  Here I was, a young adolescent now, rooting against the White Sox and getting joy at their misfortune, now feeling sorry for them when their star third basemen looked to be out for the rest of the season.  It wasn’t fair!  This team actually wants to compete and win and seemed to have put themselves in position for glory and then this happened?  

At this point, I was beginning to feel empathy towards the White Sox, but I was not going to root for them.  No, that would be just asinine!  I’m just going to focus on my team and forget about the Sox.  Yes, they are a Chicago team, but the Cubs are the Chicago team. 

As you can imagine by now, the Sox struggle with the loss of Ventura and didn’t look like World Series contenders anymore.  It’s understandable and I’m beginning to pity them a bit.  And then there’s the Chicago Cubs who start the year at 0-14.  They literally found new ways to lose games that season.  Their season was over before it even started, but just for good measure, they would go on two, 5-game losing streaks and one losing streak of 8.  Besides that, they played pretty well, I guess.

Ventura would eventually come back that same year, surpassing even the most optimistic expectations and would spark the White Sox as the trade deadline loomed and the Sox were only 3 ½  games behind Cleveland.  Then management decided that they were not going to catch the Cleveland Indians and decided to pull off the now infamous “White Flag Trade.”

After enduring a lot of frustration with the Cubs, my fandom finally reached a crossroads in ’97.  This performance was just unacceptable on the North Side.  But for White Sox management to give up on the season after the star third baseman worked his tail off to come back and play in order to help the team, was almost a crime in my book.  After I saw that, I said, “enough of this nonsense!”  I had decided that since both teams are from Chicago I was going to spend the rest of my summers living and dying with both teams.  I was now going to start to openly root for both teams.  Both teams are terrible and pretty much have the same history of failure.  If the Cubs were going to make me miserable every summer, then I might as well be doubly miserable and start pulling for the Sox as well.  Why not?  Status quo dictates that I must choose one or the other, but at that point, it just didn’t make any sense to me anymore.  Plus by then, after many years of watching ESPN showing highlights of every MLB game every night, I was hooked on baseball.  It got to the point where rooting for one team was not enough.

I have no regrets and my baseball experience has been very satisfying as watching both teams has also helped me branch out and help me check out the other 28 MLB teams.  I’m not limited to being just “an AL fan or NL fan.”  I’m a baseball fan!  Plus, the move would pay immediate dividends as in 1998, the Cubs would make the playoffs via the wildcard and in 2000, the White Sox would return to the playoffs as well.  And of course, in 2005, the Sox finally brought back the World Series title back to Chicago for the first time since 1917.
 
Nevertheless, this decision has come with a lot of negative reaction from friends and strangers alike.  Most call me a “fair-weathered fan” or a “bandwagon jumper,” but it’s clear to see based on my anecdotes that I truly love cheering for both teams.  The accusations for rooting for both clubs makes me out to be a double-crossing secret agent of sorts.  It reminds me of the story of the bat.  I have to allude to a children’s story because I believe forcing one to choose a baseball team is pretty childish in itself.  I may come off as “confused” as to which team I’m rooting for, but one thing’s for sure: my baseball knowledge is better than any exclusive Cubs’ or White Sox fan.  Probably better than yours, the reader.  And I'll "live and die" with that mantra as a "die-hard" baseball fan any day of any week of any year.

Since 1997, I have been rooting for both the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox.  2013 will mark 21 years of being a Cubs’ fan and 16 years since being a White Sox fan.  I’ve been to both Wrigley and U.S. Cellular Field; feel right at home at both venues.  More importantly, I can honestly say that my summers are much more enjoyable since I have been rooting for both teams.

So as you can see, after reading both Donny's entry and my Cubs' story, not all Chicago baseball fans are created equal.  There are many stories from numerous friends and strangers alike that started out as  Sox fans and later converted to the Cubs or vice-versa.  A lot of these people took advantage at the one chance to switch allegiances and never looked back.  I, on the other hand, refusing to follow conventional thought, decided to root equally hard for both teams.  It probably helped that my family didn't really care about baseball so there was no pressure weighing down on me to pick one or the other.  As mentioned, as a baseball fan, it's been probably the best "baseball decision" I have ever made.

So what's your story?


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