Monday, October 8, 2007

Anatomy of a Collapse

What a difference a week makes.

This time last week I was basking in the glow of postseason paradise. I was rearranging my schedule around the National League Division Series telecasts. I was decorating my car with Cubs decals, a Cubs steering wheel cover and even a pair of Cubs fuzzy dice. (Editor's note: The Cubs being in the playoffs is the only event that would ever compel me to hang fuzzy dice from my rear-view mirror.) Basically, I was living in the sure and certain hope that the Cubs would roll over the Triple-A Minor League Arizona Diamondbacks and at least fight their way to the pennant, if not the World Series. Things didn't turn out that way. In fact, the Cubs played like the Flubs (as my Grandpa used to call them) and I was at Wrigley Field to watch the team trudge through NLDS Game 3, ending the season with a glorious whimper and a horde of dejected fans. Here's my report from the field.

The Alpha and the Omega
Since I was at Wrigley for the home opener in April, I attended both the first and the last home games of the 2007 Cubs season. In April, I wore a hat, coat and gloves and froze through a Cubs loss to the Houston Astros. In October, I wore shorts and a t-shirt and spent the first four innings sweating in the sun. I can't begin to explain Chicago weather, but it felt like a Saturday in July this past weekend. Too bad it wasn't--the Cubs were actually winning in July.

Standing Room Only
This was my first "Standing Room Only" experience at any ticketed event and it's a bit unnerving. When you have a ticket for a seat--no matter how bad the seat may be--you have a claim to a designated area in the park. As long as you have the ticket, you can sit in that seat and have the usher remove anyone who claims otherwise. With SRO tickets, you lay claim to whatever amount of pavement you can straddle and that's it. If you cede an inch to the drunk guy standing next to you, that's an inch you can't get back. If you leave your place to go buy peanuts, you better have a friend (widely) standing guard. The most annoying aspect of this is seeing non-Cubs fans who were able to obtain legitimate ticketed seats to the game. I understand you would like to be witness to history, but why are you taking seats out of the hands of long-suffering and well-deserving Cubs fans? Go home and watch the game on your HD TV, Indians fan. Your team isn't even in the same league.

The Ecstasy and the Agony
For those who have never experienced a home Cubs game, let me tell you that the vibe at Wrigley Field is always electric. Cubs fans are the greatest fans in the world because they actually pay attention to the game and vocally rise to the occasion at all the right moments, without the aid of a "Make Some Noise" announcement on a Jumbo-tron (cough**Arizona**cough). The energy was never higher than it was in the fifth inning on Saturday, when the Cubbies had the bases juiced and one of their best hitters at the plate. Down by only two runs at this point, it seemed like the makings of a turning point. The frenzy reached a fever pitch as the count went to 3-2, but Mark DeRosa weakly connected with the ball and dribbled yet another ground ball to the shortstop for an inning-ending double play. I've never experienced such a collective roar of agony and it was all downhill from there. The Cubs had the support of 40,000+ screaming fans willing them to string together some hits, but it still wasn't enough. Baseball is an odd sport fueled by a combination of brute strength, skill and timing and downright luck. The Cubs exhibited little of any of those characteristics. The Diamondbacks were not a better team on paper, but they played better on the field and that's all that matters.

What the L?
The blue and white "W" flag that is raised above Wrigley after each Cubs win has received a lot of exposure this year, as vendors have been selling home versions of the flag to fans. Until Saturday's loss, I never knew that there is a black (or navy blue) and white "L" flag that is hoisted in defeat. This seems like a lousy tradition for a team with the Cubs' track record. Can't the absence of a "W" flag tell the sour truth just as well? I wonder if they sell "L" flags. Probably not a very hot item.

Never Leave Early
Despite the ultimate outcome of the game, real Cubs fans know that you should never leave a Cubs game before the last out is recorded. While crazy things happen to hinder the Cubs chances of winning, even crazier things can happen and lead to late-inning comebacks. I've seen it dozens of times. Watching a steady stream of people march down the ramp from their playoff-price-increased upper deck seats in the top of the 8th inning was a bit disheartening. Fortunately, all the drunk people around me were loudly and obscenely questioning the Cubs fanhood of these "beat the rush" types.

Wrigley Cathedral?
The great W.P. Kinsella once wrote that "A ballpark at night is more like a church than a church." Walking around Wrigley after the game and snapping dozens of photos of the field, I'm inclined to agree. Regardless of the final outcome on the historic manual scoreboard, it's a heckuva place to catch a ballgame.

The Magic Number is 100
With the 2007 season in the can, it's time for Cubs fans the world over to play the waiting game again. Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the Cubs' most recent World Series Championship. We'll see if "It's Gonna Happen" next year or if the wait will continue and White Sox fans will have new insults to hurl. The hardest part about all of this for me is that my one true passion now goes into hibernation for six months. I guess that's good news for any readers of this blog who don't care about baseball.

But I kind of wonder what I'm going to write about now...


Kelly Mahoney said...

Hey, we're familiar with this feeling by now.

Julie Fountain said...

I think if someone would have asked me, I would have said that of course there's an L flag. I don't know why, but I always thought there was one.

I have to say one of the highlights of my time in Chicagoland has been sitting on the El and looking over at just the right place and time to learn that the Cubs had won that day. I hadn't followed the game at all so it was the first I had heard, and it just felt neat to be deriving information from that flag. :)