There is a promotional campaign for the Chicago Public Library that offers tips on how to be a “true” Chicagoan. The first of these steps is to pick a side between the Cubs and the White Sox. Other steps include forswearing ketchup on hot dogs, embracing deep dish pizza, and so forth. But step #1, to live in this city, is to get your baseball preferences in order.
I grew up a Cubs fan, but not in Chicago or its surrounding suburbs. My choice had to do with Cubs games being shown on TV every day, my preference for National League ball over the American League variety, and as a rebellion against all of the Cardinals fans in Central Illinois. I had my reasons, but the other team in Chicago really didn’t enter into the equation at all.
Now flash forward a few decades in time. I have lived in Chicago for twenty-plus years, and am well-acquainted with the lay of the land, sporting and otherwise. And my children are being raised with a Chicago worldview that I did not have at their age. Which is a key component of the events of a couple days ago.
We were driving south on the Dan Ryan Expressway, which is also known as Interstate 94. I have no idea who Dan Ryan was, but he apparently will live on as long as there is a highway named for him. As we came upon U.S. Cellular Field, on our right as we headed southbound, my children began booing. And I have to admit that it brought a smile to my face.
While I’ve never actively told my children to display hostility toward the other team in town, I was happy at this display of emotion. It was clear that they had picked their side, just as Chicagoans always have, and that their side and mine were in accordance with each other. For lack of a better word, it was a proud moment for me as a parent.
I know many White Sox fans personally, so I have to point out that I have nothing against them at all. I envy the World Series title that they experienced in 2005, and hope to know what that feels like before I die. But just like you can only marry one person, you can only give yourself over to one baseball team. Part of that process, at least in Chicago, is expressing hostility toward the other team in a general, abstract sense.
Booing the physical symbol of the other team in town is about as far as I would want them to take their antipathy for the White Sox. The stadium can’t take it personally, and as the big banner facing the highway reminds them and any others who pass by, they have a recent World Series win and we Cubs fans don’t.
The incident reminded me that during the offseason–when football talk fills the air and basketball and hockey are also doing their thing– baseball never really disappears from our consciousness. And as long as that happens, the game will continue to survive and flourish.