Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I hate the Chicago Cubs

It was two months ago when my 7-year-old daughter asked me if there were any teams I hated. And I could sense that she didn’t mean it in that gee-I-hope-those-guys-lose sort of hatred.

She meant it in the way that liberals hate George Bush, that conservatives hate Hillary Clinton and that she hates her cruel and tyrannical second grade gym teacher.

It was a good question. I grew up nurturing vicious hatreds for at various times, the New York Mets, the Dallas Cowboys, The Oakland Raiders and any professional team with an Ohio zip code.

I gave it some thought and looked deep in my heart.

The answer was no.

There was no team I so despised that I rooted for them and their fans to not only lose their games by humiliating margins, but for them all to develop things like leprosy and large pervasive boogers that smelled really, really bad.

Sure, I’m passionately Pittsburgh and want our teams to win ‘em all. It’s great for the city I love and only enhances an image that’s still under-appreciated. But the last two times Pittsburgh teams have competed for the respective championships -- Steelers in 2006 and the Penguins in June -- I was unable to muster any fan-imosity toward their opponents (Seattle and Detroit).

I felt marginally proud of myself that I was no longer one of those frothing idiots who goes on-line and calls talk shows hosted by addle-minded cementheads who do nothing but foment irrational anxieties over simple games.

I was setting a good example for my kids. They could look at me and understand what perspective and wisdom I bring to the sporting world. And that, by extension, their Daddy was one of the good guys.

Not anymore.

I now hate the Chicago Cubs. I want them to suffer soul-crushing defeats from now through eternity. I want them to feel sharp pains in places Monica-gate prosecutor Ken Starr used to call their distinguishing characteristics. I want them to work with and be constantly surrounded at airports by mean-spirited, petty guys like me who’ll do nothing but remind them their sorry franchise hasn’t won in 100 years . . . and counting.

It all happened last night after my buddy brought me with him to the Pirates game at PNC Park. We’ve seen hundreds of games together all over the country. We both know the game and all the etiquette that goes with it.

Right now the Cubs have the best record in baseball and their best chance in years to shuck the burden of being one of the losingest and most luckless franchises in sports.

The Pirates? They stink. They’re one of the worst teams in baseball and have been for 16 years. But this city and this team enjoy one of the longest and proudest sports histories in all America. In my lifetime, I’ve lustily cheered 10 world champions in baseball, hockey and football, an unparalleled record for a small-market city and better than Chicago’s if you toss out Michael Jordan and professional basketball, which I do because I don’t consider basketball a sport.

Every sport requires a skill. All basketball requires is freakish height. Sure, the sport attracts some good athletes, but if you or I woke up tomorrow and had a growth spurt that left us 7-foot-8 inches tall, guaranteed, some NBA team would make us instant millionaires. Why? Simply because we’re tall. So, sorry, MJ, but basketball’s not a sport.

So Pittsburgh takes a backseat to no one in sports history.

But you can’t tell that to the thousands of Cub fans who showed up at PNC Park, named by ESPN as the most beautiful ballpark in America, which means the most beautiful ballpark in the universe.

This is an important point. PNC’s so beautiful that couples regularly choose it as a place to wed. In fact, I’ve been to one of the weddings there (congratulations, Howard & Mary!) and a more elegant affair there’s never been. This wasn’t some scoreboard proposal deal either. This was a fairytale wedding that graced the fabulous club level and happened, as it does more than 30 times a year, when the home team’s away. The service is so posh and delightfully unusual it’s been featured in Modern Bride (and I, ahem, wrote the story).

Wrigley Field, on the other hand, is a beer-soaked toilet. Chicago drunks go there to vomit, urinate in their seats and delude themselves into thinking it’s something special. And they fill it whether the team wins or not. In fact, they fill it when the team has no chance at all, and that’s often been the case since Roosevelt was president. Teddy Roosevelt.

No good fan should reward their cheap ownership with full attendance. In Pittsburgh, if the team stinks, we stay home until the owners put up a winner. It’s that way in sensible cities around the country.

So as the game dwindled down to its final outs, Paul and I were about the only Pirate fans left amidst several thousand wearing Cubby blue. Had any survivors from the Alamo time-traveled to enjoy a summer evening at PNC they would have said, “Man, and we thought we were outnumbered!”

That’s when it started, all the disparaging remarks.

“Didn’t these guys used to be good? . . . Where are all the Pirate fans? . . . This is like a home game . . . The vendors outnumber the Pirate fans . . .”

There was none of the friendly banter, camaraderie or commiseration that is the hallmark of good baseball fans everywhere. Paul and I stewed.

I don’t know what set me off, I think I remember hearing the word “lame,” but I detonated.

I’ve always prided myself on being a witty guy. Like the great comic -- and Pittsburgh native -- Dennis Miller, I can usually come up with devastating and intelligent zinger that’ll disarm even the nastiest of bullies.

Where that part of me was Tuesday in the bottom of the ninth, I don’t know.

Because all I could think to shout was a two-word epithet that got Ralphie in so much trouble while he was helping his dad change the tire in “A Christmas Story.”

It was like those nature scenes where flocks of birds are startled from the trees. Every head in the place turned. The ushers came rushing up like they smelled burning babies. Later Paul assured me my singular profanity was certainly picked up by microphones and broadcast around the globe on satellite and terrestrial radio.

I instinctually did what years as a troublemaking wiseguy prepared me to do. I pointed at the Cub fan behind me.

For some reason, I didn’t get ejected. Maybe the ushers didn’t want to leave Paul all by himself. Maybe they really wanted to thank me for saying what they felt like telling all those obnoxious Cub fans themselves.

But I immediately felt very small. As we got up to leave -- final score Cubs 14, Pirates 9 -- I got into one of those endless and pointless staring contests with the guy behind me. He told me I was a coward for not having the guts to admit I’d been the culprit.

And he was right.

Now, when my daughters look to me for an example of right and wrong, I’ll just have to pretend I’m a highroad guy when deep down I know the truth.

That I’m a lowdown, gutless, impetuously immature jerk who can’t control his fragile emotions when confronted with even mild taunting. I’m no longer one of the good guys. I’m a sad loser and that’s probably all I’ll ever be. I'm a disgraceful human being.

Still beats being a Cub fan!

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