Chicago Cubs Fans: Why?

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What Can the Chicago Cubs Do to Make Baseball Fun Again?
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Wrigley Field.

COMMENTARY | Folks in St. Louis, with their 11 World Series titles, have long been asking this question with perplexed condescension. Chicago White Sox fans pose the query with a bit more derision, and their one title in the past 96 years does at least lend a modicum of credence to their barbs.

But those who have lived with little other than disappointment from their favorite ballclub have asked it ad infinitum, inflecting it at times with anger, frustration, puzzlement and resignation. With the struggles of the past few seasons, the clamoring from various factions of Cubs Nation is reaching a crescendo. Some are jumping like rats from a sinking ship, while others cling to life preservers of blind hope. Some lament the renovation of the team and of Wrigley Field as blasphemous money grabs, while others support them as the necessary evils of competing long term in today's game.

My voice is small and the fan base wide, but I wanted to take a few moments, and a few hundred words, to look at why the Chicago Cubs have so many loyal fans.

Wrigley Field

Perhaps no ballpark is more intrinsically tied to its inhabitant(s) as Wrigley Field and the Cubs. Given the team's lack of ultimate success, Wrigley Field often holds more allure than the team itself. The Friendly Confines are dirty, dank, hard to get to, expensive, and have outdated amenities for fans and players alike.

But the same things that detractors decry as abominable, Cubs fans (by and large) laud as adorable. The bathroom troughs, cracked concrete, and lack of modern trappings hearken back to a simpler time and make the experience somehow more pure by their faults. Wrigley is venerable, approachable, simple -- it's a destination for baseball aficionados from all over the country.

On a tour of the ballpark, you might well encounter visitors from Georgia, South Carolina, California and Maine. And that's just one group of at least six in the park at any given moment during the pregame tour. They come to see the park, to walk around the Wrigleyville neighborhood that embraces it and imbues it with a character that can't be found in some downtown or suburban local where cookie-cutter stadiums sit like islands in a sea of parking lots.

Wrigley Field is also a survivor. Originally Weeghman Park, then Cubs Park for a handful of years, it became perhaps the first sports venue with a corporate-sponsored name. It has endured the addition of bleachers and an upper deck, lights and the once-unthinkable advent of night baseball, more bleachers, and (gasp!) an LED board in right field. Despite the contrary opinions of rooftop owners and Wrigley purists, it'll survive a new video board, too.

Don't let the falling concrete fool you, Wrigley Field is not frail; it was there before all three people reading this were born and it may well be there after we've all passed on. Players, managers and owners have come and gone, but Wrigley has been a constant.

Tradition (cue anti-Cubs jokes here)

The Cubs have been playing baseball in the National League since 1876, during which they've accomplished a great deal. Sadly, the most notable tradition is one of futility, as the team is still trying to capture its first World Series title since Jerlean Talley was 9. But despite the much publicized failures, the Cubs have actually won quite a few ballgames over the years. In 2008, they won their 10,000th game, becoming only the second major-league team ever to do so.

They have come tantalizing close to stepping onto baseball's biggest stage, only to stumble in heartbreaking fashion time and again. But, like it or not, that's a part of the tradition, too. Everyone loves an underdog (well, everyone but New York Yankees fans and Boston Red Sox fans since 2004) and the Cubs have long played that role. And so backers continue to wade through 100-loss seasons, ground balls under Bull Durham's glove, and Moises Alou's tantrums, knowing that when it all finally comes together, a title will be that much sweeter for the suffering.

WGN

Cubs fans are found all over the country, and a big reason for that is the Superstation. WGN has been bringing the Cubs to the radios and televisions of millions of people since well before cable and satellite gave them hundreds of additional choices. In the summers prior to 1988, there was little competition on the tube aside from soap operas and "The People's Court," so the Cubs were often the best available option. Jack Brickhouse manned both the TV and radio booths for over three decades, and his enthusiasm, while often unjustified, was infectious.

Add Harry Caray and a crew of voyeuristic cameramen, and you had destination television. In the days when the rooftops were no more than a few friends playing hooky from work with some folding chairs a couple coolers of beer, WGN allowed viewers a glimpse into America's Pastime and established the Cubs and Wrigley field as institutions. Some were born into Cubs fandom or fell in love with an old ballpark, but legions more were converted by the evangelism of television.

This is only a cursory glance at what is a much larger topic, and I'm not naive or conceited enough to think that this will reach many people, let alone impact them. In fact, I'll be pleased if one of the three people who started this little commentary actually reached this point. But at the risk of setting out the nice linens and fine china for a troll buffet, I'd like to see the subsequent comments include some of the reasons that you are a Cubs fan.

The author spent his formative years on a farm in Northwest Indiana in the days before Wrigley Field was illuminated. As a result, every summer afternoon was spent watching or listening to the Cubs on WGN, a practice that ingrained the team into his DNA. His kids are named after the team and years of frustration have made him a self-loathing, yet still unapologetic, Cubs apologist. And yes, he knows that that is contradictory.

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