Opening Day in the Time of Cholera

It’s Opening Day in Major League Baseball, one day before the Cubs officially begin to toy with our hopes in earnest. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to brace myself for the plunge into denial with a look at the reasons we keep coming back to this team, reasons that really aren’t unique to the Cubs at all.

Contrary to whatever I might say in jest, the Cubs are a Major League Baseball team. It’s true, I checked. And Major League Baseball players play this game at a level most of us can only dream about duplicating. The Cubs, all of them, are fun to watch because they’re good at baseball. On the scale of MLB teams (a scale of Astros to Yankees), they’re not great. On the scale of how well we wish we could play (a scale of Al Yellon to Al Pujols), they’re all much closer to Pujols than to Yellon. It would be even more enjoyable to watch a team that was closer to the Yankees than to the Astros, but it’s still great because it’s still Major League Baseball.

And any baseball can be fun to watch. I’ll watch a minor league game. An independent league game. A Little League game. If there were still sandlots, I’d watch a game of rundown if there was nothing else to do. Baseball, even losing baseball, is fun to watch.

I don’t know exactly why. It’s difficult, I know that. As Tom Hanks replied to Geena Davis in A League of Their Own when she complained that baseball was just too hard, “Of course it’s hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”

It’s also slow. The pauses between pitches are full of anticipation, conversation, and (depending on the game) relaxation. And then the speed changes. Pitches zip around in the 90s, get blasted a few hundred feet, and get snagged out of midair by some of the world’s most gifted athletes. They are quick, powerful, fast, agile, dextrous, and precise. Maybe we get so used to seeing Cubs teams perform at marginal levels of competitiveness, but part of the reason we keep watching is that we know what the players can do on the field is pretty amazing.

But there’s something more than just the game that makes us love it. (And if you thought the advent of Obstructed View would mark the death of my sappy blog posts, I’m sorry to disappoint.) Part of the reason Opening Day means so much is that it sparks so many relationships to life. And it isn’t just our dysfunctional relationship with a team that offers disappointment in return for our affections. (Seriously, loving the Cubs is a sickness. Be proud of it if you will, but seek help.) No, I’d say we like baseball as much for the camaraderie as the competition.

I’ve heard baseball players say it all the time when they retire. The thing they’ll miss the most is the chance to spend so much time with their teammates. They spend a ton of time with guys they like, love, and respect. And the bond of teammates is stronger and deeper than typical co-worker relationships. They’re together more. Their personalities and interests are more similar than what you’d find in most office environments. Say what you want about clubhouse chemistry affecting on-field performance, but there’s no question it means a lot to the experience of playing the sport. Do you think the nature of friendships and people meant nothing to Lou Piniella when it was time to walk away from the clubhouse?

Baseball is a relational sport. That’s true for the players and the coaches. But it’s also true for the fans. I don’t know if anybody watches baseball alone. Maybe you watch by yourself in a room, but if you’re reading this it’s because you on some level enjoy sharing the experience with other people. Baseball has a way of bringing people together, even people who would otherwise rather have nothing to do with one another.

Take Tim, Jeff, David, and me. We’d hate each other’s guts if it weren’t for Cubs baseball. But with baseball we’re like the pre-Yoko Beatles. We’re all love, love, love, all we need is love. And baseball. Even in a lot of families, people connected by blood and DNA still need baseball to bring them together. In a three-hour game, you might spend two minutes yelling at the screen. The rest of the time you talk together. Tweet together. Sit silently together. Meet up in the bathroom together, I don’t know. Whatever the relationship calls for, baseball helps make it better.

So, cheesy as it may be, I’m glad to be following the Cubs with you. I hope we’ll see 90 wins, but I know we’ll have a lot of laughs. I know we’ll see some great baseball played by some gifted athletes, some of them Cubs.

And for whatever reason, we haven’t given up on this team. The more we know, the less we believe. But we keep hanging on because this game is as emotional as it is relational. As rational as the statistics can make this game, nobody follows this game because of the numbers. The numbers help us make sense of a game we love. But that doesn’t mean our love makes sense.

It might be dumb. It’s probably a sickness. But I’m ready for Cubs baseball. And I’m glad I’m not alone.