EDITOR’S NOTE: This column also appears in this week’s issue of TimeOut Chicago, the second piece in our newly announced web-to-print partnership.
I am not a true Chicago sports fan.
This is to take nothing away from the city or its teams. I have lived here now almost half my life, and I have joyfully rooted for the home teams, to the extent I’ve been able. We’ve had some good times, the Cubs, Sox, Bulls, Bears, Hawks, and I. Yet they have failed to win my heart.
I want to be honest about this. I thought, at my age, as a transplant from New York, I would never become a dyed-in-the-wool Chicago sports fan. I was resigned to like but never to love. Recent events, however, have given me pause.
My story begins in 1986. I was here as an undergraduate at Northwestern when the Bears won Super Bowl XX. It was so cold that day that when I went downtown to celebrate the victory I wore four sweaters and three pairs of pants under the knee-length, hooded down jacket my mother made me buy. It was too cold to celebrate on the streets, so we gathered in bars and on el trains. Those were the greatest el rides of my life. But they did not make me a Bears fan.
I celebrated three times in Grant Park when the Bulls lifted trophies. Love for the Bulls cut through racial and class lines like nothing I’d ever seen. I still get goose bumps thinking about those giant men in tiny folding chairs on stage, the city at their feet, enchanted. But they did not make me a Bulls fan.
I have been a Cubs season-ticket holder for 12 years, and I was in the upper deck at Wrigley for Game 7 with the Marlins in 2003, one game after Bartman, when the World Series was still within reach. I felt the pain that night. But it didn’t make me a Cubs fan.
Most of my important sports memories took place here, not in New York. Alas, the identity of the true sports fan is forged in childhood. If it’s done right, if you are a child with a deep love of sport, the mark is indelible. I grew up cheering for the Yankees, Knicks, and, half-heartedly, the Giants. I had no interest whatsoever in hockey.
Baseball was my main game, and I wasted massive chunks of my youth on it. I could tell you ERAs and batting averages for every player on the Yankees roster. I could imitate the batting stances of each batter, from Roy White to Gene Michael. I wrote fan letters and waited by the mailbox for replies that almost never came.
It didn’t matter that the Yankees never won in those years. The hook was sunk deep.
Over the years, we’ve become incompatible. The Yanks are arrogant and overpaid. Even when they win, it’s not much fun, because they’re supposed to win. To update an old aphorism, rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for Google.
Until recently, I thought I had no chance for a conversion. But last month I took my daughter to her first baseball game of the year, on a cold, windy day at Wrigley. She’s almost nine now, old enough now to get through nine innings without coloring books and an endless stream of cotton candy, Cracker Jack, and licorice.
She followed the action this time, and she really wanted the Cubs to win—much more than I did. Which meant that I wanted the Cubs to win—much more than I usually do.
“Which is the guy who you said makes too much money?” she asked me.
I pointed out Soriano in left.
“Who’s the young guy who’s going to be really good?”
I pointed to Castro and said he might be really good.
“Yay!” she yelled. “They got another point!”
It’s called a run, I told her.
“Go, Cubs! Get more points!” she yelled.
The Cubs won. My daughter’s a Cubs fan now, all the way. So is her little sister, because little sisters want to be just like big sisters.
As for me, I’m old, and soon to be replaced. The kids might be forced to carry on with my nose (sorry!), or my bad habit of repeating jokes (not sorry!). But the Yankee gene dies with me.
They’re free to be true Chicago sports fans.
That’s a good thing…right?
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JONATHAN EIG is editor-in-chief and co-founder of ChicagoSide, and the author of three books. Follow him on Twitter @jonathaneig.
STORY ART: Main image made in-house; photos courtesy Jonathan Eig.