Remember the glory weeks of 2012, when Theo Epstein was new, and a strapping first baseman named Bryan LaHair was playing like an all-star and thrilling fans at Wrigley Field? He was the future of the franchise and it was fun, remember? Maybe you have a LaHair jersey, or an autographed baseball (like me!) to help you recall those giddy days.
But now LaHair’s gone. What’s a Cubs fan to do?
Losing for 100 years is bad, sure, but we’re used to losing. What about our hearts? What’s a fan supposed to do when a player she gave her heart and soul to gets a one-way ticket out of town?
Do you follow your guy to the next state, or to his new team? Do you replace him like a pair of old shoes? What if—heaven forbid—your guy is traded to a rival team like the White Sox (think Ron Santo) or worse to the Cardinals, like Ryan Theriot?
My “first baseball love” was Jody Davis. I had the No. 7 T-shirt (too young for an expensive jersey back then) and an endless supply of JD baseball cards. I even made a poster that read “Jodee, Jodee” and made my Dad carry it around Wrigley with me during the 7th-inning stretch–hoping to get fans to chant his name when he was at bat, even thinking he might see me in the stands and acknowledge me with a wink or a nod. And, then, in 1988, near the end of his career, he was traded to the Braves. I found out about it in the paper the next day and was heartbroken. But as much as I missed “my guy” Jody, I never once looked up his stats with Atlanta. The next time I would see Jody Davis was when I ran into him years later at a Cubs Convention.
I moved on to Mark Grace. I fell for his boyish good looks, as well as his slick work with the glove at first base. Yep, I had the Grace blue T-shirt with the red No. 17 on the back, the Grace bobble-head, and (I’m embarrassed to say) even the swan-shaped Gracie Beanie Baby. I invested years in Mark Grace…and then, he was gone. He signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks and sure, I was happy he got his World Series, but happy like seeing the man you dumped with another woman…happy but not really happy. The T-shirt and bobble-head went into storage and the Swan was sent floating.
That one hurt. It took me a long time to get over Grace. I liked Derrick Lee, Greg Maddux (on the rebound), Kerry Wood, even Aramis Ramirez. But none of them really made a connection…until Geo.
I had a good feeling about Geovany Soto when he made his debut for the Cubs late in the season in 2005. Three years later he’d go on to win the Rookie of the Year Award and I’d go on to buy not one but two Soto t-shirts, collect two Soto bobbleheads (one for home, one for work), and eagerly cheer his every at-bat. By now, I was working as a co-host of “WGN Sports Night” and loved the ins-and-outs of the game more than just rooting for one guy…but I couldn’t help showing my enthusiasm for Soto every time he took the field. I thought…could it be? Finally, someone young, someone promising, who will be with this team for a long, long time? And then, he was gone. The angst! The heartbreak!
I should’ve been used to it now but I wasn’t. My Soto T-shirts went to charity, my bobble heads became goodbye presents for interns (I know…I probably should have given them gift cards instead!)
Now what? Now who? I’m older and wiser now, but I can’t help myself. The Cubs are going young, so I guess I will too. Maybe Castro, or Barney, or Rizzo. I guess it says something that I’m not giving up, that I’m still willing to let myself get emotional. For Cubs fans, heartbreak is part of the game.