Sunday, August 24, 2008

Putting The Lovable Into Lovable Losers

You can tell a lot about a team’s psychology by its slogans. For example, the Yankees have as one of their many slogans, “Where Players Become Legends.” This is a slogan that oozes with self-assuredness—the self-assuredness that comes with being a winner. The Chowdas, on the other hand, have adopted “Believe” as their slogan, which is clearly indicative of a losing psychology. I mean I get it. After years, and years, and years, and years, and years, and years—well, I’m not going to write it eighty-six times—but a lot of losing, you start to become accustomed to defeat. Winning is not something you expect but something you “believe” in. Like, Santa Claus. Or the Tooth Fairy. Last year, the Mets adopted the slogan, “Your Season Has Come.” Again. A slogan for losers. It basically sends the message that, notwithstanding the fact that it’s been a nightmare up until now, things are going to change. Not to mention the fact that it’s weird to have a slogan in the second person. Are Mets fans so embarrassed to associate with their team that they would prefer to regard the season as “yours” rather than “ours”?

The saddest slogan of all, however, belongs to the losers of all losers—Chicago’s very own Cubbies. Three embarrassing little words, at once so hopeful yet totally pathetic: It’s Gonna Happen. The depths of loserness expressed in this sentiment are so profound that it’s hard to know where to begin. First there is just the mere fact that there is no timeline on when the “it” in the statement is gonna happen. It’s just gonna. Could be this year, could be 2073—the projected date of Fav-ruh’s retirement—but it’s gonna. Then there is the element of desperation, of needing to convince someone of something. It’s almost as though the sentiment that they were really going for here was, “Seriously, guys. No. Seriously.” Finally, there’s the inescapable fact of the “gonna.” It’s just so unfortunate to have a “gonna” in your slogan. It reflects the reality that your team is too abject to use proper English. Either that or they’re trying super hard to be cute. More likely the latter since we’re dealing with the Cubs, who have practically made an art form out of capitalizing on their cuteness. One need look no further than that adorable little logo in order to discover just how cute they really are. Indeed, the Cubs truly do know how to put the lovable into lovable losers.

When I went to Wrigley Field today, I really got a sense of why it is exactly that people love their Cubs so very much. I cannot speak with 100% conviction because I haven’t visited every stadium in the country, but I think it’s pretty unlikely that you could have a more pleasant ballpark experience than the one you have at Wrigley. At the risk of sounding embarrassing, it’s a magical place. The ivy on the outfield walls, the old scoreboard, the conspicuous absence of the jumbotron and in-your-face advertising, the organist instead of the at-bat song. It was like being transported back to olden timey days. And it made me realize how nice it was to experience the game as it used to be—as it’s meant to be. Without kiss cams or trivia or Cotton Eyed Joe (I’m sorry—Joey) or the asinine hide-the-ball in the cap game on the tron. (Though, I am a fan of the Yankee Stadium marriage proposal—it’s the only kind that I will ever be interested in.) Without all these distractions, it was easier to pay attention to what really mattered, namely, the game. Though, being who I am, I always find inconsequential things on which to focus. Like the guy in front of me in the Soriano Cubs t-shirt and the Expos hat. The Cubs were playing the Nats—the artists formerly known as the Expos—so who was he cheering for? I hate inconsistent sports gear. (As a side note, my friend, the Thunderphobe, goes nuts when he sees a random jersey.)

Incongruously clothed neighbor aside, I couldn’t have asked for a better day. Former Athletic Rich Harden allowed two hits in seven innings. Mark DeRosa smacked his fourth long ball in consecutive games. Geovany Soto and Kosuke Fukudome also contributed to the hit parade with dingers of their own. The only disappointment was that my boy Soriano didn’t do much to write home about. But, despite this, the end result was a 6-1 victory. And Cubs fans were so darn happy that it made them want to jump up and sing. And they did. A peppy little ditty called “Go, Cubs, Go.” All in unison as soon as the game was over. When I say that everyone burst into song at the completion of the game, I don’t mean like “New York, New York” Bronx-style, where people all sing along as they’re exiting the stadium. These Cubbies fans meany business. They stayed in their seats and they sang the song until it was over. With no one missing a lyric or a beat. As though it were a musical rather than a sporting event. And I have to admit that the effect was weird. On the one hand, the stadium is so small and intimate, and the fans so energetic that I found the ritual cozy and charming. Something I would theoretically want to orchestrate if it was possible to orchestrate such an event outside of the Midwest. And, yet, somehow, it made me uncomfortable. It was, if this is possible, almost too cute. Like I was on an episode from a TV show on the WB. Or the CW. Or whatever the hell they’re calling that channel nowadays.

That said, while the song at the end sort of gave me the heebs, I have nothing but undying respect for the way the Cubs handle their seventh inning stretch. Call me crazy, but the seventh inning stretch is supposed to be kind of all about “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Yankees Stadium has obviously turned the stretch into a ridiculous farce involving Ronan Tynan and “God Bless America.” But I don’t get what goes on at the other stadiums, where “Take me Out to the Ballgame” is the only song performed at the stretch. And, yet, it still seems to fall by the wayside. They have one of those little bouncing balls follow the words on the tron, and about three people sing along half-heartedly. Sure, it’s true, Cubs fans obviously love to sing just about anything, as we’ve already established. But, regardless, I salute them for the fact that they give “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” the special care and attention that it deserves. How? They put a famous person up in a box, give him a mic, and have him lead the crowd in a sing-along. Today it was John Cusack. Who doesn’t want to join in on a sing-along led by a famous person? Plus, let me repeat in case you missed it: Cubs fans love to sing, so it's easy to make them.

It was a great day for baseball, and a long one at that. What with the triathlon and all. Yes, I did finish. Yes, I did try my hardest. No, there weren’t any sharks in Lake Michigan after all. But I’m going to tell you something, and I’m just going to lay it out there. The swimming portion wasn’t pretty. Anyone remember Byung-Hyun Kim in games four and five of the 2001 World Series? For those of you who don’t, let me just summarize by saying that it basically ended up with him in a puddle of tears on the mound. Get the point? Not thirty seconds into my swim, my lungs closed in on me again, like they had in that lake in Connecticut. I couldn’t tell you why. All I know is that, if you wonder why I love a head case, your answer should be clear. Takes one to love one. So, I’m in the water, basically unable to breathe, treading water, contemplating what to do. It occurs to me that, while all the Yankees I had previously mentioned might have gone on, they also get paid a stupid amount of money and have people counting on them. This, on the other hand, is a voluntary activity that I’m doing for no one but myself at six in the morning on a Sunday. So what’s to stop me from getting out? Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ve shared with you many of my principles, but now I’m going to share with you my slogan. Never Humiliate Yourself Publicly. For better or for worse, I was surrounded by peppy, good-natured Midwesterners who had all gotten up at that ridiculous hour to cheer on their loved ones. I would be damned before I got out of that water two minutes into that race and paraded my way through the throngs of people only to collect my stuff and go home. In the world of triathletes, I’m pretty sure that’s like walking around wearing a scarlet A. So, I made a decision that I was going to get there—by any means necessary. The breast stroke may not be efficient, but it’s effective. And the deed got done.

And it looks like I’m not the only one doing the deed. The Yanks took my advice and went for the sweep against the Orioles. Pavano even decided to show up. Not only did he show up, but he showed up, and he actually pitched well. And won. But every rose has its thorn because, apparently, so did the Jets. Not that the game actually mattered, but I hate for Farvil to get a whiff of anything even resembling success. Oh, well. He’ll get his due. Believe you me. A guy like that? It’s gonna happen.

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