The Loop / Golf Digest — See this ridiculous picture? This one picture right here is why I’m a Cubs fan, because of this moment, because of Harry, the ghost of an afternoon in Chicago and what is, conservatively estimating, 1983’s largest ball cap. (Seriously, it’s like my parents didn’t know hats came in sizes.) Chance and geography, a happy accident that led to four decades of living, which, it’s nice to remember on Opening Day, is how it goes for all of us.
Great and irrational value is ascribed to being a Cubs fan, because being a Cubs fan announces yourself as a stone-souled viking with the power to weather mythic proportions of loss. It’s a proof of worth, a declaration to other, flimsier folks that you’re made of stronger stuff than they are, that you’re morally superior, trophy or no trophy, to the pink-bellied chumps in Yankees hats. It broadcasts not just fanship but something approaching a complete psychological profile. It’s something so honest and sincere that Eddie Vedder wrote an acoustic song about it, for God’s sake.
But I didn’t become a fan for mythology, or to project the presumed worth that comes with loss, or because I liked their players, or their stripes, or their park, or because I was taken with their early-1900s spell of dominance. I became a Cubs fan for one reason.
The Loop / Golf Digest — Baseball’s 2018 opening day is weird: Instead of the traditional method of staggering their first games, all major league teams open on March 29 — the earliest date in MLB history, and one that will probably find you plopped at work understandably believing the season doesn’t start for another four days. But not to worry, baseball friends! You’ll miss nothing, as we have simulated the ENTIRE DAY already, using sabermetrics and psychotropic research and Theo Epstein’s algorithm-spitting robot from the future and TECHNOLOGY, by which we mean 15 baseball games made for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
LET US STOP YOU RIGHT THERE, because we know what you are about to WHINE: Many baseball teams from 30 years ago contained ENTIRELY DIFFERENT PLAYERS! Many of your favorite squads and also the Marlins didn’t even EXIST THEN! And many video game companies didn’t even spring for MLB RIGHTS so your “Pittsburgh Pirates” might actually be VIOLENT DROIDS WITH ARM CANNONS AND TREADS. To all you haterz we say: This is the INTERNET, where facts don’t stand a CHANCE against cheap nostalgia, so of COURSE much of this is wrong. You can shove your facts into the baseball beat writer at your “hometown newspaper,” hahahaha just kidding, you don’t have one.
The Loop — Do you remember, in maybe third or fourth grade, when you’d be hanging out on the merry-go-round/climbing wall/tire swing at the playground, minding your own business, talking about baseball cards or fishing lures or four square or whatever, and some larger, meatier bullies from the eighth grade would materialize out of nowhere, claim the place for themselves and their Anthrax shirts and shove you and your friends right into the cut-up tire shavings?
That’s about what this NLCS felt like to us Cubs fans, although we felt maybe less like third graders and more like kindergarteners who were like just, “Hey, we’re just trying to drink our chocolate milk here, WHY ARE YOU GUYS BEING SO MEAN?” The Cubs got pulverized, manhandled, sucker-punched, then lifted up by their hair and sucker-punched again. Do you remember the WWF’s old Saturday morning shows, where wrestlers you’d heard of would wail on pathetic jobbers like Steve Lombardi? Yeah. This is a Cubs team that rallied for a glittering second half to win the NL Central — and, may I remind you, mostly the group that won a World Series last year — and they put up a prime-time ride-or-die series that resembled the bulk of my Little League career. I can only imagine, and I know this is silly, that somewhere Kris Bryant’s mom is taking him to Ivanhoe’s for a double chocolate milkshake. (Kris, if you’re reading, seriously it helps.)
The Loop / Golf Digest — Jon Lester, who is an 1860-era Civil War cannon masquerading as a pitcher and part of the Cubs’ really quite unfair 2016 pitching rotation, is known both for being a competitor of unusual ferocity and his inability to throw from the mound to first base, a condition that commonly travels under the deceptively adorable name of the “yips.” Separate from performance anxiety, nerves and good old-fashioned choking, the yips are a mental condition that manifests itself in people who are paid grotesque amounts of money to play a game sudddenly suffering a random, inexplicable and often traumatic inability to perform a small part of it. It’s neither curious nor rare; researchers at the Mayo Clinic have said that the affliction grips between a third to a half of all serious golfers, which translates into a lot of people suddenly unable to do the thing they drove to a club to do. The problem, researchers say, is some as-yet-undiscovered short-fuse in the mind, a mental hiccup or thorn, some synapse firing right instead of left. Watch how many quotes here regard a player’s brain instead of his hands.
GQ — It is the weirdest feeling to walk into Wrigley Field and expect good things. This is Wrigley. Expectation doesn’t happen here. Hope, sure. Delirium, annually. Layering yourself a mental brickwork of psychological defense against a century of history, yes, as a matter of course. But when you’re sitting in the third-base grandstands and Addison Russell has just crushed a three-run homer for the lead in the eighth and the place feels like it’s going to explode it’s hard not to think one thing: Where the hell am I?
If you buy them inside Wrigley, paper bags are $24.
GQ — Barring some sort of monumental collapse, the Chicago Cubs are bound for the playoffs, and I think we all know what that means: We’re about to witness some sort of monumental collapse. Because if being a Cubs fan teaches you anything, it’s to believe nothing, to trust nothing, that life is pain and all hope dies. Or, you know, some variation on that, I’m still playing with the wording and the smothering darkness.
Island Packet — I am trying to imagine a scenario in which, at any point in my athletic history, I would have been disqualified from participating in something because I was too good at it. I am now trying to imagine bringing up this scenario to anyone I know and not watching them explode in a fiesta of vigorous snort-giggling.
I can imagine the opposite situation happening, but that’s mostly because it wouldn’t be “imagining” so much as “recalling in horror.” There was the Unfortunate Incident of the Junior-High Gymnastics Competition That We Had For Some Reason, which culminated with my being punched out pretty effectively by a pommel horse. There was the Freshman Year Soccer Game Of Hideous Terror, during which I had to be appointed goalie because I kept using my hands to do things, apparently a pretty make-or-break thing when it comes to soccer. And there was, of course, the Great Rec League Basketball Fiasco of 2007. “Everyone on this team has a role,” a teammate told me mid-season, “You’re not a shooter.”
(Literally, I quit high-school cross country in the first week of training, when I was startled to learn that practices involved a pretty decent amount of running. I also remain convinced that several of my Little League teams growing up would deliberately tell me the incorrect location of our upcoming games, which was especially cold, since my Dad was the coach.) Continue reading
Writer: GQ, Men’s Health,
the Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Indianapolis Monthly, Golf Digest, Vice, BruceSpringsteen.net,
the Indy 500, Fatherly, etc. Proud owner of a Bruce-related Guinness World Record. Even longer bio/clips.