My two closest friends from high school are complete, unadulterated liars.
Sound a little harsh? Keep reading. These friends, one of whom is a columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, the other a teacher at the Latin School (from where we all matriculated way, way, way, way back in 1992), have been lying to yours truly since around January of this year.
You see, it was in early January when the Chicago Cubs, our mutual team of choice – and ultimate heartbreak –since childhood, had just signed Milton Bradley as a free agent. Bradley is a talented, if somewhat mildly insane outfielder, who was brought in to provide some ever-needed “toughness” to a Cubs team that had gotten spanked in last year’s playoffs harder than Sarah Palin trying with all her might to answer Katie Couric’s hardball question, “what newspapers do you read?” (That darn liberal media and their tough, biased questions. But I digress.)
I celebrated the Milton Bradley signing with absolute joy, and for the 26th consecutive year, predicted a Cubs World Series win. (For those of you keeping score at home, you’ll note I’m now roughly 0-26 in Cubs World Series predictions.) My two friends, who for the sake of anonymity shall hereby be referred to as “Koske” and “Tuffy”, didn’t even blink. The reason: they were tired of having their hearts broken, especially after a mind-numbing playoff series against the Dodgers last fall, and decided to abandon ship this year.
When they informed me of their decision, I was stunned. Both Koske and Tuffy had been Cubs fans for longer than I had, and were quoting e.r.a. and o.b.p. stats with reckless abandon and glee when I was merely chasing high school girls with little to no success. Both of these guys were in fantasy leagues well before “Seinfeld” premiered on NBC, back when one had to read box scores for stats; before Yahoo! did all of your work for you. I was a relative latecomer to the Cubs bandwagon, but had joined with great aplomb; and in the ensuing 20-some years, the three of us would celebrate, commiserate, cry, and occasionally travel to St. Louis with the sole intention of making fun of Cardinals fans.
Back to Milton Bradley. His signing convinced me that Cubs GM Jim Hendry had “all the pieces in place,” a familiar refrain to anyone who’s ever followed Chicago sports. But Tuffy and Koske weren’t buying it. They were incensed that the Cubs let go of Mark DeRosa. They couldn’t believe that Kerry Wood was gone. Tuffy, in particular, still harbored some unresolved anger that Greg Maddux was not re-signed back in 1992. But last year’s playoffs were the last straw for them. The day Bradley was signed, they both pledged to not follow the Cubs all season, not until the playoffs began. That’s a little bit like saying, “you know, I really love this woman – but she’s cheated on me before, so I think I’m going to blow her off until our wedding day.” How could that not go wrong?
I chided Tuffy and Koske, insisting they’d never go through with their 12-step Cubs addiction program. It’d blow up in their faces by July 4th, or as soon as the Cubs were a game or two out of first place. They didn’t budge through spring training, and one night at a local bar, paid more attention to a late season Bulls game on one small television than the Cubs game being broadcast on the bar’s other 27 plasma screen TV’s. No, not even HD and half price Buffalo wings was going to bring them back on board.
Then came last week. A 31-year-old rookie named Bobby Scales, a career minor leaguer similar to the random guy the Cubs bring up every year with initial success before falling back into obscurity (Brooks Keeshnick, anyone?), was called up from the Iowa Cubs, and did some great things at the plate and in the field. The Cubs back-up catcher, Koyie Hill, began getting some clutch hits. New closer Kevin Gregg dutifully fit the description of “Cub pitcher most likely to give you a heart attack” and managed to give up around 17 runs each appearance, while still getting the save. I could sense that Tuffy and Koske were fighting the urge to come back into the fold.
In the span of a week, the Bulls made a heartbreaking exit from the playoffs, the Blackhawks got crushed in their first game of the Western Conference finals, and, perhaps most importantly, the White Sox went on a losing streak. That last bit of great news is what began my realization that neither Tuffy nor Koske could actually go through with their hard-fought promise to keep away from the Cubs all summer. Indeed, even in mid-May, nothing brings out the true spirit of a Cubs fan like a White Sox losing streak
Un-surprisingly, as a result of all of this, plus a few exciting Cubs wins, neither one of those guys could keep their “promise” any longer. As of this writing, they have both admitted to checking scores frequently, tuning into games, and even downloading the occasional Len and Bob podcast. It’s official: they’re back.
So yes, two of my closest friends were liars. But the good news here is that they both realized their mistake, and are again fully aware that a Cubs fan can never really tune out the team with which they live and die. As winter appears further and further in the rear view mirror, and the Cubs begin their annual flirtation with success, it’s impossible to not get back onboard. Oh sure, we all know how it’s going to end: the Cubs will win 92 games, face a Mets team with something to prove in the NLCS, force a game seven, and lose by one run when Carlos Marmol’s arm falls off in the 12th inning. But that’s the thing about Cubs fans – we know what’s coming, and we don’t mind being gluttons for punishment most of the time. Because when the World Series does happen, the rewards will easily overtake any of the misery. And unlike when the White Sox won it all, more than 27 people will actually give a damn. The entire world will care.
Even Tuffy and Koske, no matter how much they lied to me and to themselves, know that. Which is why they’re back in the fold a mere six weeks into the season. Welcome back from out of the Cubs closet, guys.