Faith, Hope, & Baseball

I just read that the Cubs’ starting rotation is the weakest in the Major Leagues. Everyone knows that you must have good pitching to win baseball games and so it looks like another long and dismal season for Cubs partisans. Last year was an example of futility for Chicago baseball. The Cubs and White Sox lost something like 190 games between them. That’s a lot of bad baseball. But hope springs eternal in the human breast. The thing about this game is that all the teams are equal on Opening Day and who knows what might happen this year? Maybe the pitchers will do better than expected, better than they ever have. Maybe last year’s disappointing offense will come alive and .215 hitters will hit .295: base runners will be alert and crafty, and the infield will live up to its potential. They are all fine athletes. Maybe this will be the year.

I have been a season ticket holder since I came to Chicago in 1985. In fact, one of the most exciting things about moving here was that finally I would be living in a city where Major League Baseball was played. I share four seats with a group of partners and every year, when the notice arrives in the mail telling me that it is time to re-up and write a substantial check, Sue, with a look of sad resignation, says, “Surely you’re not going to buy those tickets again, are you?” And, of course, I do. She knows that in my heart, in spite of my profession, I am fiercely competitive. I hate to lose. I have been known to cheat at Parcheesi, and even more pathetically, Candy Land, when playing with my grandchildren. She knows that the Cubs’ relentless, uninterrupted haplessness takes a toll on my spirit. She knows that I hate Wrigley Field with its antiquated seating, impossible exits, its one elevator in deep left field, its falling concrete and foul-smelling restrooms, and its God-awful concessions. You can easily stand in line for an entire inning or more waiting for your hotdog and beer, then stand in another line to get to the condiments where you have to use a hand-cranked onion dispenser that is easily as old as the ballpark itself, and all the while there is nowhere to sit your beer while you crank your onions. What a dump! On cynical days I conclude that Cubs management, instead of doing what is necessary to build a winning baseball team, a feat everyone else seems able to do, concluded a long time ago to make the ballpark, whose only redeeming features are that it is very old, has a manual score board and real ivy on the outfield walls, into an icon, a destination, a tourist attraction for which people would be willing to pay one of the highest ticket prices in all of baseball.

Why, one might ask, do I do this? Why do I care? Why am I wasting my time and my resources on year-after-year futility, played out in a one-hundred-year-old dump?

The simple answer is that I love the game of baseball and always have. There is so much to love; the exquisite skill required to hit a 95mph fastball thrown from a distance of 60’6″, not to mention a nasty curveball, a double play executed with ballet-like grace, a monstrous 500 foot home run, the incredible tension and excitement of a tie game in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on third, two outs and a full count. And then there is the interior game, visible only to true aficionados, the studied attention of the pitcher to the hitter’s vulnerabilities, the careful placement of the outfielders for each hitter, the base runner stretching his lead off of first to the last possible inch to distract the pitcher. There is so much more and there is the reality that, more than in other sports, a mediocre baseball team can beat a great team on any given day. The very best teams will lose a full 1/3 of their games during the season, the worst – 2/3. It’s a game of delicious proportions. The best hitters will fail 2/3 of the time: home run hitters are notorious for also leading the league in strikeouts.

I stay with it because I am a person of faith and hope. The lowly Pittsburgh Pirates of my childhood, like little David facing off with Goliath, rose up and smote the New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series. It could happen. It will happen, even though it has been 106 years since the Cubs won the World Series.

I will be in my seat next Friday for Opening Day. It will probably be cold, maybe 40 degrees, with an icy wind blowing in from the outfield from Lake Michigan. It might even snow. I will wear my warmest winter coat, two pair of socks, stocking cap, heavy gloves and I will sit and watch another season begin because I am a man of faith and hope.

My religion promises that light shines in the darkness, that wilderness wanderers do come home after many years, that generations of exile come to a redemptive end finally. After all, Jesus said that someday the first will be last and the last first, and that the meek will inherit the earth.

Anyone can be a Yankee fan, or a Braves or Cardinals fan. The risk, of course, is the deadly sin of smugness, pride and hubris. Cubs fans live closer to eternal truth and next Friday will hold close to their shivering hearts a lovely sentiment from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:

“And not only that, but we also
boast in our suffering, knowing
that suffering produces endurance, 
and endurance produces character, 
and character produces hope, 
and hope does not disappoint us.”

 

Play Ball.

 

Comments

  1. Lisa Cochrane says:

    I always have and always will be a fan. Go Cubs!

  2. Beautiful writing Dad!

  3. John, guess you’ve never read the apocryphal gospel where Jesus told the Cubs, “Don’t do anything until I return.”

  4. Yes John, baseball tells us hope is not vain, but there for all of us to see. It is Spring like the grass we return to the boys of Summer again!

  5. Janel Landon says:

    Well done, John. Read it aloud to Wayne. Both of us die-heart Cub fans. Born and raised in Chicago and looked forward to attending every opener with my Dad. Yes indeed…Play Ball!

  6. Bob Doak says:

    John, You brought joy and laughter into my day with your witty writing. Interesting that the strongest part of the Cubs so far seems to be the starting pitching, so yes hope springs eternal.

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