Notes from a Cubs Game – On Fans
To finish up my nostalgic and over-winded recollection on the Brewers-Cubs match-up at Miller Park, I’d like to take stock of some of the people with which I shared my experience. I have a tendency in this position to somehow consider myself above the normal ranks of fandom, like the fact that I have a WordPress password and license to spout buzzwords on the internet for money gives me a more clear picture about baseball than you do. Most of the time, I am happy to indulge myself in that little fantasy while I hit refresh on my PayPal account and watch tens of dollars come rolling in.
But the truth is, there is no clear ranking of “fans,” per se, but more a large amalgamation of individuals with a common idea that life is simply better with baseball making regular appearances in it. Some people, of course, take this realization a lot more serious than others – but on the whole I found most people at the game to be generally amiable people. Which surprised me considering the rivalry constructed around this particular series. If you’d care to indulge me, I’d like to share with you some thoughts and experiences with fans from both sides of the border.
First, I’d like to take some time to introduce the people in my party. There was Caitlin, my sister. Caitlin, if put on a continuum of a fan’s passion, would be hard to nail down. At times she seems genuinely interested in sporting contests, and when prompted can cite statistics and examples germane to the game in progress. Other times, it can seem that her sole purpose for being in a stadium is to appease her appitite for soft pretzels (of which she and her boyfriend are connoisseurs on a level I could only hope to reach). More than that, though, what Cait enjoys most is other people enjoying themselves, so she makes a great addition to the team.
Chris, her boyfriend, my best friend, and the purveyor of the fine seats in which we would sit is a different animal altogether in terms of a fan. Chris has a distinct ability to generate a working knowledge of nearly anything in an afternoon. Since he developed a passion for baseball (when exactly this occurred escapes me), he regularly gives up one day a week to simply pouring over baseball news and statistics. These are my favorite days because when we go out for drinks it makes for a wonderful discussion, with the slightly undesirable end that our girlfriends quietly call us nerds for the rest of the night. They’re just jealous.
SB and Tom – Chris’s sister and her husband, rounded out our party. SB is pretty new baseball, and we’ll get into her psyche more in a moment. Tom, however, found himself slightly out of place. First off, he showed up in a Bayern-Munchen jersey – which should help him stick out enough in a Baseball game in Milwaukee, were it not for the part that he also owes allegiance to the Cardinals. This gave me something to do for the first part of our tailgate. He was quick, during our gentle ribbing, to remind us that he is coming around as a Brewers fan. I promptly accused him of bandwagoning, partly out of the fact that I was unsatisfied with someone who did not immediately agree with me after four beers. But then he said something I truly admired, and I quote it as best I can:
“I think St. Louis has won enough – it’s time for Milwaukee to have a turn.”
It was the perfect sentiment of a Midwestern baseball fan. That kind of “’Atta Boy” attitude that I found was shared by more than a few fans during the course of the game. All in all our party resembled my own personal view of how a fan should operate – a day spent watching baseball is generally better than a day spent doing anything else.
A wandering Cubs fans would help to drive this point home.
His name was Matt, and he was a high school guidance counselor hailing from west of Chicago. The heat, beer and grilled meat has stolen the name of the town from my memory, but wherever you’re at Matt, it was a pleasure to meet you.
He was tall, skinny, and slightly affected by the mid-80’s heat and whatever his pre-game activities had been. He came strolling by, and noticed us dipping into our “good beer” stash (a collection of beers from Central Waters Brewing, I highly recommend them if you haven’t explored your Wisconsin craft beers.) We got to talking, and he asked us if he could try one of our beers. We happily gave him one, and thrice refused his offers to pay for it. He settled on a comprise – two “sh*t beers” as he called them from his tailgate party would easily cover the cost of one of our micro-selections. The talk turned to baseball and he regailed us with a surprisingly admirable attitude towards Milwaukee and the Brewers. He said that every year, on the last day of school, he and some of his colleagues from the high school drive up to see the Brewers play “whoever the hell they’re playing” that weekend. He showered glowing praise on the stadium, the people in the city, and the fanbase of the Crew. I felt slightly embarrassed, knowing some of the people who go to Brewers games. It was a really nice meeting, and changed the perspective of our understanding of fan dynamics in the rivalry. Could it be, just possibly, that decent Cubs fans exist?
I wish I could say that every Northsider was amiable as Matt – who’s only qualms regarding fans were Cardinals followers (sorry Tom) and “Southies,” that catch-all term for Sox fans and those who live on the south side of Chicago, whom the Northsiders happily look down upon. But, as usual, there were more than a few bad apples on both sides of the rivalry. Luckily for us, six shining examples sat no more than two rows below us. Three of them were Cubs fans, who happily drank, swore, and shouted encouragement at the Cubs dugout (“Did you see that? Barney nodded at me! I got him to F—ing nod at me!” said the forty-year-old man with a goatee and Theriot jersey.) Down the row sat three college-aged Brewers fans, each wearing a different shirt made just for the occasion. One said “Cuck the Fubs,” the other two stated that “The Windy City Blows,” which I thought clever but refused to agree with as I very much enjoy the city. The two groups went back and forth – the grown men shouting insults at Brewers fans, the glassy eyed college kids literally shouting “Come at me bro!” from time to time and trying to start “the Cubs still suck!” chants even when the game was in limbo at a 3-3 tie late in the game. During this exchange, Tom had finally had enough. When the argument was reaching a fevered pitch, he shouted “Go Cardinals!” It carried the section and was followed closely by a wave of laughter, and a short cessation of hostilities. I have to admit, then when Aoki hit the walk-off and we watched some of the more boisterous Cubs fans leave dejected, I had to smile.
But in all, I find the actions of over-zealous fans ridiculous, especially when it comes to the Brewers-Cubs series. Here we have two teams not well known for perennial contention, and yet you would never know it by the way the fan bases react. I’m all for some good-fun kind of joking, but some of it is just over the line. As we were leaving, I saw plenty of shouting at one another, and lots of drunk Brewers fans posturing and antagonizing Cubs fans.
Let me put this straight: You did absolutely nothing as a fan to effect the outcome of the game, regardless of what you think you did. There’s no way you ever could. You are a terrible athlete – that’s why you have to watch the game instead of play it. And you a worse person if you somehow think that instigating a fight over the result of a baseball game is a proper measure of your status as a fan.
Now I know this getting long, but I don’t want to leave you with a negative thought. During one point in the game I returned to our seats to find an opportunity to sit next to SB, as Chris and Cait had gone off (on an expedition for soft pretzels and nachos, I would soon discover.) SB and Tom know that I do this ridiculous job, but I rarely if ever discuss it with them. Mostly because I rarely get to see them, but also because they are fascinating people and there is little fascinating about my work as a baseball blogger. But the experience of sitting next to SB made me realize one of the things I like about this job and baseball in general.
SB does not follow baseball with intent, or rather she didn’t before this game. She knows a thing or two about the game, but she had plenty of questions, all of which I was happy to oblige with answers. Questions like how bullpen and starting pitchers work, what a save situation is, if Miller Park is a home-run ballpark, what a third base coach actually does, why pitchers are poor hitters, the advantages of a double-switch, and why baseball teams settled on a forty man roster (the only one I couldn’t answer with any confidence – help out if you can readers.) It was the most enjoyable part of watching the game. Baseball is conversation through and through. The sometimes slow and inconspicuous build-up of action allows you plenty of time to discuss what is actually happening. And that exchange of opinion, knowledge, ideas, and strategy only enhances what is already a great game. And the ability to light that spark in someone else of why I love baseball made my day. I’m not bold enough to say that I created a baseball expert in SB, or even a more dedicated fan, but I will say that our conversation certainly made the game better.
Everyone knows that people watching is one of the great side attractions to going to games in person. But the next time you’re at the ball park, try a little people interaction. If you can mange to stay decently sober and generally respectful, you may find yourself enjoying the game even more. And that’s kind of the point.