Sunday, October 7, 2007

No, Cubs, No

Were the Cubs snakebit?

I'm not one of those disheartened Cubs fans obsessed with analyzing the zodiac, curses or bad omens. The North Side National League Ball Club -- okay, I can't bear to state their name again -- simply didn't show up. Their best line-up of mega-millionaire hitters didn't show up. Their best middle reliever in decades didn't show up. They saved their best pitcher for a ballgame he wasn't going to pitch. Their toughest, most balanced manager since Leo Durocher couldn't change their attitudes nor their performance when it counted.

Baseball is a matter of getting the most runs and limiting the other team to getting fewer runs. The rest is commentary.

I'm not proud to say that I feel asleep before I could hear the end of two of their dismal losses and didn't even catch the coup de grace on Saturday.

It was depressing to have such hope and get brought low again. Staying up late negatively impacted my job performance. Was it worth it? To me, failure is far more instructive than success. It isn't that I didn't want to see the Cubs get to the World Series. And I didn't think this year was a bad one, despite its disappointing close. They just didn't have the mindset to win. It may have been in their hearts, but it certainly wasn't in their heads. They were defeated by themselves. I don't blame any of this on bad karma, goats, interfering fans or anything else. The Cubs barely played well enough to win the division and they weren't good enough to win one game against a team that had been playing consistently well all year. That's baseball. Sometimes lady luck turns against you, but she always favors the winner.

Life goes on. While the Cubs were learning some kind of wisdom (I hope), I was exploring the Indiana Dunes, making dinner for neighbors, working on two new books and taking a hike in unsually warm October weather. I saw a building that produced heat from the earth, my daughter Sarah found a nice watch along a hiker's trail and I took my daughters out to lunch.

Life goes on. Baseball seasons, though we can measure our lives by them, are not our lives, nor are they facsimiles of life. They are not metaphors. They are not examples. We love to win, but in the end we don't. We all face the same fate. Only baseball starts anew again in the winter, revs up in the spring, flies through the summer swelter and concludes its pageant in the fall. It's one of the few seasonally attuned experiences. It is the only major sport with no time limit. It is our link to when experience was measured in the time it took for a horse or train to get somewhere. We mostly leave the 21st century when we step into a ballpark. There are no nanoseconds. It is not digital. The human experience cannot be stored on a hard drive. Yet.

What draws us to this thread of our existence so brimming with hope that we dream about the crack of the bat and the smell of a kosher dog during the darkest days of January? And what is it about a group of spoiled manish-boy millionaires who so intrigue us that one ticket to a playoff game suddenly becomes worth $50,000? Is it the aspiration to end a century of frustration? Is it that we would like our children to see something totally splendid that they can share with their grandchildren?

All I can tell you is that each year I bring my father and my daughters to the ballpark for one reason. I don't really care if the Cubs win. I want them to be able to share something with 40,000 people simultaneously without seeing it on television, to sing the national anthem with a group of complete strangers, then to celebrate that communal experience again during the 7th-inning stretch. And we bask in this peculiar celebration of life in a park with ivy growing on the walls in the middle of one of the greatest cities ever. All of these people are there to indulge in something real. Nobody cares about politics, religion, race, class, war or famine here. It is all a bountiful banquet of spectacle. Eighteen men dancing around a white sphere for however long it takes to conclude the match. This is America! It works and it's a pretty damn good accomplishment of civilization. Cities use to fight wars against one another. Now they sell peanuts and beer and go home quietly after the game is over. No lions and Christians. No cannon fodder. No war reparations. There's always another season.

Does the Cubs loss hurt? Sure it does. But the pain makes me feel alive and I will be all healed come the end of March.

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