The request we're sending to bloggers of all 30 teams this spring is a simple one: What are the 10 best things about being a fan of your favorite team? What features of the franchise have you excited for opening day and what keeps you coming back year after year?
As we progress with our little experiment, we're glad to hear that so many of you are enjoying the ride. Up next is yours truly.
1. Theo, Jed & Jason: Yes, the combination of their names make them sound like the latest hipster folk band coming out of Brooklyn. But the new triumvirate ruling at the corner of Clark and Addison — president Theo Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer and VP of player development Jason McLeod — represent the most solid reason to stick around and see what happens next at Wrigley Field. Epstein's hiring last fall was owner Tom Ricketts' first big signal that the old way of running a front office (ie: small and cheap) would no longer be tolerated. And in allowing Epstein to get the old Red Sox gang back together with Hoyer and McLeod, Ricketts also guaranteed that the Cubs will be trying to catch the more statistically-advanced teams in a top-of-the-line racecar and not a pacer.
Will waiting for the trio to implement their long-term plan require patience from a fan base that has already waited long enough? One peek at this year's opening day roster will tell you the answer is a big, fat 'yes.' But the long-overdue overhaul of a rotten system — as well as the cool prospect of being able to see this play out from a barren beginning to a glorious end — has us more than willing to pay the price.
2. The home uniform: The Yankees are better known for their pinstripes, the Dodgers feature a cleaner white and even a Cubs fan should be able to begrudgingly admit that the Cardinals boast the best on-jersey logo. The Cubs, however, combine all three design elements flawlessly for one of the best looks in baseball.
(And one we'll hopefully see more of now that Carlos Zambrano is a member of the Miami Marlins. It always pained me to see him routinely choose the awful blue 'walking cub' alternate on his pitching days.)
3. Murphy's Bleachers: No, I couldn't get more than three items into a "best things about being a Cubs fan" list without mentioning beer and my favorite pre- and postgame spot, which is located 50 or so steps from the entrance to the bleachers.
But while the rest of you are busy judging, I'll point out that one of the main goals of baseball's big building boom was to put the new ballparks in close proximity to bars and restaurants. Can't possibly imagine where they got that idea.
(CubbyTees.com)4. '1:20:' Does any team own a specific starting time quite like the Cubs? Does any combination on the clock summon more good feelings? If you're a Cubs fan, you know that nothing divides a workday like the 1:20 start. Once you get through the morning and reach the first pitch, the rest of the workday is a relative breeze —that is, if you haven't already ducked out of the office and headed north on the El.
5. Pat Hughes and Len Kasper: Following in the footsteps of Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray might seem like an impossible task, but the Cubs boast two of the game's best play-by-play men in Hughes and Kasper. No matter if you're listening to that day's game on radio (Hughes) or watching on television (Kasper), you're getting an experience that guarantees a straight call of the game that's packed with plenty of information. At the same time, both men boast the ability to showcase their personalities in a subtle manner that's short on ego and long on the desire to be an everyday companion to the listener at home. (Hughes' call of the games got me through many a tedious summer job in high school and college.) I'm biased, but I wouldn't be surprised to see both of their names on the Ford C. Frick award one day.
6. Frosty malts: The frozen glory of Wrigley Field's best concession item is so great that Cubs fans have tried to replicate the recipe at home. While attempts like those are admirable, they will always miss the mark if they don't include a wooden spoon, a breeze off the lake and a sunny view of the neighborhood from the 400-level. Every time I flag down a vendor for one of these treats, I feel like I'm 11 years old again.
7. The Ryne Sandberg game: With the team's most notable October 'highlights' belonging to Babe Ruth and Steve Bartman, some regular season Cubs games have taken on a more important weighting in the team's lore. There's Milt Pappas' near-perfect game in 1972, Tuffy Rhodes hitting three homers on opening day 1994 and Kerry Wood striking out 20 Astros in 1998.
No game, however, is recalled with more reverence than Ryne Sandberg's coming out party against the St. Louis Cardinals on a Saturday NBC game in June 1984. Ryno went 5-for-6 with two homers and seven RBI that day and the homers were clutch in the truest sense of the word; both came in the ninth and 10th inning off Sandberg's future Hall of Fame pal Bruce Sutter (box score here).
The game still embodies the idea of a perfect summer afternoon at Wrigley, combining equal amounts of euphoric win over the rivals from down I-55 with unflappable hope for what's still to come (in that case, a NL MVP award for an eventual Hall of Famer and the Cubs' first playoff appearance since 1945).
8. The standings flags on the scoreboard: No matter which way they're blowing or how they're arranged, I always love looking at the three rows of flags that fly atop the manual scoreboard at Wrigley Field. Ditto for looking at all the line scores from games around the league and trying to imagine the events that led to those numbers being posted. While a visit to Wrigley Field has always felt like a trip to the center of the baseball universe, both ballpark features are simple reminders that the game is also being played elsewhere (though often not until that evening ... suckers).
The evolution of smartphones and the slow creep of digital scoreboards into the Friendly Confines have severely limited the usefulness of such features. But their analog charms still remain. There's nothing like the roar from the crowd once a result that's beneficial to the Cubs is made final during a pennant race.
9. The ballhawks: It's almost impossible to do anything in professional sports these days without opening your wallet. Authentic experiences have grown harder to come by and the moat between the ballplayer and the public has widened to the size of an ocean. And yet if you choose to stand on Waveland or Sheffield Avenues on a summer day with regulars with names like Ken, Dave, Rich and Moe, you still stand a chance of being on the receiving end of a big league home run. It's an excellent way to spend a day and an experience I'd recommend to any self-respecting sports fan with a bucket list. Better yet, it won't cost you a thing if you already have a pocket radio to listen to Pat Hughes call the action that's happening on the other side of the wall.
10. 104 years and counting: All good things come to those who wait.
Or so we're told.
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What are your favorite things about being a Cubs fan?
Previous "10 Best Things": Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants,Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves
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