Balancing My Baseball Loyalties.

bb-banner-jpegThere’s no doubt that the 2016 World Series is laden with historic significance.

1948-cleveland-indians-world-series-champions-patchThis year’s Fall Classic pits two of baseball’s legendary hard luck franchises: The Cleveland Indians and The Chicago Cubs. When you consider how long it’s been since the Indians and Cubs have won a World Series, it’s 1948 against 1908 – with the Cubs suffering the longest title drought.

The 2016 World Series will put an end to one of baseball’s two most notorious curses: the Curse of Colavito and the Curse of the Billy Goat.

And, for me, it will be an exquisitely personal experience.

cubs-goat-logoI was born and raised on the West Side of Cleveland — but I went to college and lived and worked on Chicago’s North Side for 15 years. I married my wife, a Chicagoan and lifelong Cubs fan, in Chicago. One of our daughters was born there.

For years, I’ve been able to root for my American League heroes, The Indians – while also cheering for my favorite National League team, The Cubs. The likelihood that my dual baseball loyalties would be tested in World Series was remote. Like worrying about getting hit by lightning.

But now, the baseball gods have flung their bolts – and lightning has struck.

images-washingtonpost-comSo, I must make my choice.

Baseball and boyhood are inextricable. Some of my earliest memories involve the Cleveland Indians. I remember when I was 3-5 years old, looking at the front page of The Cleveland Plain Dealer to see if the Tribe had won or lost.

cw2My dad, who was a fine cartoonist himself, enjoyed showing me the small cartoon Indian that appeared on The Plain Dealer’s front page the day after each game.

If the Indians won, that tiny cartoon Indian brave looked upbeat – with a feather in his headdress. (Two feathers for two victories in a doubleheader.)

cw-3If they lost, the little Indian would have a black eye – or, in this case, a sore bottom from getting his butt kicked.

620x686xphoto-8-montage-927x1024-png-pagespeed-ic-sjzucr-yqiAnd in the case of a split doubleheader, he might sport one black eye for the loss – while triumphantly holding a scalp to indicate the win.

Little boys – and The Plain Dealer — had no clue about political correctness in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

95dd7d0bb910ca4fb7b02e83d49fc367I have vivid memories of frequent trips with my father and brother to the cavernous Municipal Stadium to cheer on those 1960’s Indians teams, starring my favorite player, Rocky Colavito. (Who should be in the Hall of Fame.) I was only two years old in 1960 when Rocky was sent to Detroit in a trade that many fans believed cursed the team – but I sure remember Rocky’s glorious return to Cleveland in 1965.

It didn’t hurt that Rocco “Rocky” Colavito was Italian. My mom is Italian – and as a member of St. Rocco’s Church and school – my world was decidedly Italian-centric.

davalilloHeck, I also took pride in the fact that Rocky’s teammate Vic Davalillo was also Italian. (He wasn’t. Vic was Venezuelan.)

In all the seasons that I followed The Indians before I went off to college in Chicago, there were more lowlights than highlights. But I saw young Craig Nettles, Dennis Eckersley, Luis Tiant, Sudden Sam McDowell, Buddy Bell, Gaylord Perry and so many others compete in a Tribe uniform.

bat-dayThe Indians has a Straight A Tickets program – and boy, did I make sure to score those straight A’s. On Bat Day, they gave you a real bat. Can you imagine handing 40,000 kids a real bat in downtown Cleveland – or any city – today?

So, the Indians are in my DNA. They’re my hometown team. My boyhood idols.

big-cubbieBut I love The Cubs, too.

Soon after arriving at Northwestern University in 1976, I started watching Cubs games on WGN – with Jack Brickhouse calling the games. We didn’t get every Indians game on TV in Cleveland, and I got hooked on watching the Cubs every day.

600f51b17cdc6a926d68e07a04b60144In 1984, I started going to Wrigley Field on a regular basis. After all those years of watching baseball in the drafty vastness of Municipal Stadium, I was charmed by the intimacy of The Friendly Confines. And I fell in love with the team, led by the bat and glove of the glorious Ryne Sandberg.

Of course, those 1984 Cubs broke my heart when they blew a two-game lead to lose the NL pennant to Steve Garvey and the San Diego Padres. Having my heart broken by the Cubs only intensified a growing bond with my fellow Cubs fans and the people of the Windy City’s North Side. I knew from birth what it was to support a lovable baseball loser. Now I supported two of them.

Since then, I enjoyed the Indians’ resurgence in the late 1990’s – and endured their losses in the 1995 and ‘97 World Series. (But at least we got there, right?)

And, as a Cubs fan, I anguished along with everybody else in Chicago when Steve Bartman got in the way of that fateful pop foul.

artbble-pos-16tbb2-1154-gold-sThese highs and lows only reinforced the needlessness of worrying about divided loyalties in an Indians vs. Cubs World Series. Such an incredible thing was never going to happen.

But now, it has happened.

And, as I said, baseball and boyhood are inextricable.

So, I’m rooting for my Cleveland Indians in this Series.

kris_bryant-topps-061015As for the Cubbies, they have so much youth, talent, pitching, managerial wisdom and front office brilliance that I expect them to be World Series favorites for the next decade.

I’ll say what we Cubs fans have said since 1908.

Wait ‘til next year.

I’ll be rooting for a Cubs victory then.

Now, let’s play ball!

8 Comments

Filed under History, Sports

8 responses to “Balancing My Baseball Loyalties.

  1. Linda E.

    NO! I reject this thinking. CUBBIES CUBBIES CUBBIES!!!

  2. Jerry Getz

    What an absolutely exquisite dilemma! Hometown loyalty (which I love and support with all my heart), no matter who wins, you’re happy!

    My Phillies had their run, and parade, twice in my lifetime! So for me, even though I empathize with the Tribe, for me it’s Cubs all the way!

  3. I am all too familiar with this dilemma. I’ve had to endure my adopted, beloved Cubs playing the team of my youth the Giants in post season baseball three times — the 1989 NLCS (Will Clark dominated, and the Giants went on to lose the WS) the 1998 one game playoff for the wildcard (Rod Beck got the save, of course, he had 51 that year, in a Cubs victory) and this year as the Cubs brushed aside the even-year-Bayside Champions in 4 thrilling games. Each time I wondered for which team I would wind up rooting. In the end I found I cheered them both, but the little boy in me couldn’t shake the deeper SF roots — I blame Willie Howard Mays — and I always leaned to the Giants, but celebrated the Cubby victory. Now, with the Giants dispatched, I am all in — ALL in– for the Cubs, while entirely understanding your position.

  4. Bob

    We have similar paths. Let’s go Tribe!

    You forgot to mention Herb Score and Mudcat Grant.

  5. Bob

    And where’s your ode to Cleveland Stadium Mustard?

  6. lee van dyke

    It is sad to hear of a fella clinging to the team of his childhood, when the team of his college years would be so much smarter a choice. Have you no thoughts for the sanctity of marriage, if no thoughts about who’s turn this year shoud rightfully be? All this, and cheering for Indians. Holly Cow, as Harry would say, where’s your sense of decency?

    Actually, I think this year as perfectly defined by me is WIN/ WIN. One of us will go out happy. And if it has been a basketball year for your beloved home town, it has got to be some kind of year for Chicago given the infield they have. Kids too dumb to not be having fun.

    What a fun series. Thanks for your swell note. Made me smile, admire your s[punk to hold in there opposite Victoria, and excited all over again for the next couple of weeks.

    Cheers,

    Lee

  7. Laurie Pearson

    Hi Paul, When I heard that the Cleveland Indians and the Cubs would be vying for the all mighty title, I immediately thought about you, Paul, and wondered how you were going to deal with where your loyalty will be going. After reading your blog, I guess it was a no-brainer…Cleveland is your home, and always will be, I’m guessing. So, all I can say is that it’s a very exciting time and may the best team win! Both have phenomenal players. I don’t know the Indians’ manager but I have fallen hard for the great Joe Madden! Go Cubbies!!!!

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