Those Aren't Skeletons In My Closet--Those Are Cubs Jerseys
Forgive me, for I have sinned.
Granted, it happened before the Brewers jumped leagues in the late 90's.
Yes, Virginia, I was a Cubs fan.
It started when I was young, maybe all of 10 or 12. It was after the Braves bolted for Atlanta and before the Brewers came from Seattle in 1970. Baseball wasn't hard to come by in Sheboygan in the late 60's, but your choices were the Cubs...and the Cubs.
There was always a Cubs game on the radio each day (at least, when they were home--remember kids, this is pre-lights at Wrigley) and a Sunday game on television, thanks to the forward-thinking folks at Channel 5 in Green Bay who had the foresight to see that most of eastern Wisconsin was baseball-bereft. They'd take the WGN-TV feed each sabbath, and give us a fix.
Oh, what glorious days they were--Ron Santo at third, Don Kessinger at short, Glenn Beckert holding down second and Ernie Banks at first. Behind the dish sat Randy Hundley. And, in the booth, it was Jack Brickhouse with the venerable Lou Boudreau riding shotgun. The skipper: the fiery Leo Durocher. Drama rode shotgun on a daily basis. Clubhouse intrigue was part of Chicago baseball. Despite it all, the Cubs always contended back and in 1969 it looked like a mortal lock: Chicago would win the division.
Along came the New York Mets, playing out of their supreme minds down the stretch to overtake Chicago by a comfortable margin before upsetting the Braves in the playoffs and then the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
The Brewers came to Milwaukee the following season, and I rationalized my Cubs relationship by pointing out to anyone who'd listen that the Crew was my first love and an AMERICAN LEAGUE team, while I could still follow Chicago to get my N-L fix.
This continued through high school, beyond college and into my first years of gainful employment in Stevens Point--a city that had the foresight in the mid 1970's to wire itself for that newfangled thing called cable t-v. Among the offerings: WGN-TV. I worked mornings, so summers meant Cubs baseball after my shift was done, provided I could stay awake. I vaguely remember Mike Schmidt's incredible performance in the 23-22 classic in 1979. I thought I was having the same dream over and over as I dozed on the couch, hearing each of Dave Kingman's three home runs that afternoon in a work-induced fog.
I came to Milwaukee in 1981, and soon met a man I consider the ultimate Cub affection-ado: Tom Tonnesen, a UWM ethnic studies professor and a Chicago native who summered in Sheboygan with relatives as he grew up. He'd forgotten more about Chicago baseball than I'd ever know. He was my Cubbie enabler during those last, innocent years when a ticket to the bleachers could be had for, what, two bucks, and had to be bought day-of-game. I remember my first trip with him--we were among a handful of left-field hard cores, sucking beer amid the occasional waft of smoke from someone else's doobie being passed above the ivy.
It all changed in1984--and not necessarily for the good.
The Cubs' ascension to the playoffs that season meant that it was suddenly cool to be a fan--the bandwagon filled to bursting, and it hasn't relented. The bars that used to sell Tom and I $2 cans of Old Style while storing our motorcycle helmets in the cooler during the game now wanted cover charges and $5 a beer. The neighborhood became "gentrified": a polite term for "enhanced to suck the most dollars from your wallet for parking, dining and drinking".
Cubs games were still an event--Tom and I would chase down to the bleachers as soon as my shift was done a few times a summer, even working in the occasional road trip to St. Louis where Cubs fans were never alone. I was there when Ryne Sandburg had that incredible Saturday afternoon against the Cardinals--I even sat alone in the bleachers as the rain poured down the night the switch got flipped for the first-ever Wrigley night game. I thought of my dad that evening--Dad traveled the world TVA the military in World War Two and saw more of the globe than anyone I'd known to that point. Did he rave about Europe, New York, or any of his other ports of call? No. The single bit of advice he gave me that truly stuck: "Sometime, somehow, make sure you see a baseball game at Wrigley Field." He could be a drunken blowhard more often than I care to remember, but he was dead-on with that morsel.
It all changed in '98, when owner/commissioner Bud Selig flipped league on the Brewers. Milwaukee took it National, and suddenly, my Cubs allegiance went by the boards. The cut was clean and quick. You can't cheer for two teams in the same league. No way.
Thus, I'm left with road and home Banks jerseys, still hanging in my closet. I'd rather wear a hair shirt than sport one of 'em in public, even though I love Ernie as one of the game's finest ambassadors.
I've worked up a pretty good dislike for the Cubs--especially their fans, who seem to have taken their self-proclaimed title as the world's most loyal to justify unsavory, churlish behavior on the road. It's okay to root for your team. It's bush to boo the opposition in their own ballpark. Bush. Do you hear me? Yankees fans didn't boo the Orioles when I was at Camden Yards in August. Cardinals fans in D-C didn't boo the hometown Nationals. You're Cubs fans--your perceived entitlement doesn't give you a pass on baseball etiquette.
I take no joy in the Brewers' current misfortunes and really, really don't want to see either the Cubs or Cardinals win this thing--truth be told, if Milwaukee can't do it, I'm a Reds or Astros man.
We knew this day might be coming--what with the Brewers and Cubs in the same division. Sooner or later, there'd be a time when they'd be neck and neck, having it out for the crown. These should be our happiest times, yet Milwaukee did nothing of late to give the faithful hope. A faltering rotation, a balky home-run reliant attack that can't hold a lead: we all know what's wrong. There's one thing, though, that might be working in our favor. An unseen force that seems to make it's presence known each baseball season, later rather than sooner. It serves as the equalizer, a field-leveler.
It's the fact that the team the Brewers are facing this week is still the Chicago Cubs.