I've been thinking about writing something like this for a while, and what with Myles' piece from this morning and the start of the World Series this evening, I decided to go ahead and do so.
Like all of you, I'm a Cubs fan. Like some of you, I didn't grow up in and around Chicago. I was born and raised in what may charitably be referred to as “South-Central Illinois.” My hometown of Galesburg isn't very large, but it's known for a number of interesting things: its role in the railroads, the birthplace of Carl Sandburg, and as a site of a Lincoln-Douglas debate. What most people don't know about Galesburg is that it's also a baseball battleground.
Galesburg is literally (in the classic sense of the word) halfway between Chicago and St. Louis. Depending on the traffic, it will take you approximately three hours and fifteen minutes to drive to either Wrigley Field or Busch Stadium. Baseball fandom in Galesburg is more or less split right down the middle: fifty percent Cubs fans and fifty percent Cardinals fans.
It wasn't easy growing up a Cubs fan in Galesburg. Sure, you had some camaraderie, but you also had friends and family who were Cardinals fans. And as today, they were insufferable. The mockery and disdain never seemed to let up, because Cardinals fans are incapable of understanding the mindset of a Cubs fan. As my best friend (yes, he's a Cardinals fan) once asked me in all seriousness: “why would you be a fan of a team that doesn't win?”
Because it is easy to be a Cardinals fan. It's easy to be a fan of any team that competes year in and year out. Teams like that may stumble from time to time, but their fans always know that next year really will be a better year. Sadly, the Cardinals and teams like them never seem to stay down for long. I'd like to see how many of the “Best Fans in Baseball” would actually stick around if the Cardinals experienced a true drought of success.
So Cardinals fans don't understand us. I really didn't think anyone could. But a year and a half ago I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts for graduate school. I'd never lived on the east coast, and like many people from the Midwest had grown up annoyed and frustrated with the east coast-focused sports media. So coming in I wasn't well disposed towards the Red Sox, especially after their World Series wins.
But I discovered something funny as I went about my daily life wearing my Cubs hat. I would have people stop me—it might be the clerk at the grocery store or the FedEx man or any number of other people—and ask “you a Cubs fan?” I would always respond proudly in the affirmative. And they would invariabley respond the same way: “we're pulling for you” or “I hope you guys get there soon.” And they're not offering pity or disdain: only sincerity.
Because yes, there are a lot of annoying Red Sox fans. I can't walk five feet down the street without seeing someone in Sox gear. But a lot of those people are bandwagoners. They came in after things started getting good. Most of the ones I seem to talk to are the lifers, like us. They experienced years of heartbreak before finally making it to the promised land. And so they understand.
That's really the key for me when it comes to rooting for the Red Sox. The best of their fans are sympathetic (and not in the condescending way that a lot of teams' fans are). They've been where we are—and they are now right where we want to be. So I root for the Red Sox because these people are my allies. When the Cubs finally make it to the Fall Classic, they'll be in sports bars around Boston rooting for the Cubs. Unless they're playing us, of course. But who could blame them for that?
It is right and good to root against the Cardinals. As my mother said today: "that cold wind from the west causing shivers down your spine is not a weather front. The Cardinals are in town!" So I'll cheer for their defeat, as I always do. But I'll also be rooting for the Red Sox. Because despite the elitism and the media and the superiority complexes of so many fans, there are the other fans. The ones who lived through decades—and in some cases a lifetime—of despair. They are the ones who can understand at least something of what it means to be a Cubs fan. So for them, I hope the Red Sox win it all.
(Sorry for the long rambling post, but I felt like I needed to get this out there somewhere. I can't stand seeing some Cubs fans even think about rooting for the Cardinals.)