One block from the main entrance to AT&T Park, a red-faced man in an untucked Giants jersey stares me down, ponders my royal blue hat with a red “C” in the middle, and bellows two words I’ve grown accustomed to hearing when I unabashedly wander into enemy territory.
The scraggly-bearded, thin-faced Giants fan walking with me laughs. “Of all the insults you could use, that has to be the least creative,” he says.
“Then again, they are the Cubs.” His voice trails off. His pity for my unfortunate fandom outweighs his urge to banter.
“How can you hate the Cubs?”
You really can’t, especially if you don’t root for a baseball team from the Midwest. 2012 has been a particularly depressing year. When I visited AT&T Park in San Francisco to see the Cubs take on the Giants on June 1, Chicago’s 18-32 record was among the worst in baseball. Not only had the team from Chicago’s North side lost just 12 straight, but five of those losses came by one run.
When the Cubs are bad, they’re painful to watch. But when they play just well enough to lose, they’re agonizing.
Since I first fell hopelessly in love with the Lovable Losers at age eight, I’ve tried to make it to a Cubs game at least every year, a personal pact I’ve kept to varying degrees of success. I’ve been lucky enough to make five trips to Wrigley Field, and my Cubs have left the field victorious all five times.
My only road trip to see the Cubs was a late-September visit to Cincinnati in 2003 that ended with a Carlos Zambrano meltdown and a frustrating loss. (Cubs fans have seen a lot of both over the last decade.) In spite of the pro-Reds pageantry, it lacked the feel of a road game; At least half the fans in attendance were Cubs fans.
So my trip to AT&T was my first trip to a sporting event as a visible member of the minority.
Cubs fans can fill half a stadium in Cincinnati or Milwaukee, but in San Francisco, barely five percent of fans are wearing Chicago paraphernalia. Resigned to the worst seats in the house (Half the field was obscured in my $31 ticket for Section B145), I wander the standing room only seats in right field.
The outfield ushers don’t empathize with my plight. After finding a perch by the outfield wall in right-center, a burly security guard looks at my hat, scowls, and wordlessly points me higher into the stands. In toeing the thick yellow line separating the standing room only sections from the concourse, I’m forced further from the field.
I can handle hecklers and drunk fans. But when even the ushers turn on you, it’s a sign you’re not at the Friendly Confines any more.
Nor could I take solace in the game itself. The Giants scored twice in the first and twice in the second. With Madison Bumgarner having no trouble shutting down the Cubs offense, the park starts to clear out around the seventh inning stretch. San Francisco’s 4-0 lead looks safe.
Those fans shouldn’t have left.
Bumgarner allows two hits to start the inning. After striking out 11, the lefty is pulled early. The Cubs fans in attendance move to the edge of their seats as Alfonso Soriano comes to the plate. Could this be the start of something?
Then — what do you know? — our beleaguered cleanup hitter launches a fastball into the left field night, higher, higher. The Giants’ left fielder moves back, back, to the warning track until there’s no more room to roam. The ball plops down in the left field seats.
4-3 Giants. I find the only other Cubs fan sitting in my section and give him a high five.
But the rally’s not over. A double! An infield hit! And then two runners are in scoring position. Two down.
I wanted to see those Halloween color-clad fans get their hearts broken. Giants fans haven’t tasted the pain of Chicago’s fans. San Francisco’s 2010 title snapped a 54-year drought. Over in the Midwest, we’ve been waiting over a century. I’ve been putting up with false hope since 2003. Don’t even get me started on the Bartman game.
If just for a day, I wanted empathy. In a season defined by disappointment, I wanted to see a rare Cubs win.
Another baseball is launched into the night. A stadium of mostly Giants fans watches its flight. The ball soars high over my head, even in the nosebleed seats. Another base hit? Could the Cubs take the lead?
Nope and nope. The center fielder squeezes his glove. Three outs.
If there’s any feeling that defines Cubs fans, it’s false hope.
So much for empathy.
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