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Vickroy: How the Cubs taught me to enjoy the ride

The Cubs play St. Louis Cardinals July Wrigley Field.  |  File photo

The Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals in July at Wrigley Field. | File photo

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Updated: March 30, 2014 10:10PM



And so here we are, at the best part of the baseball season: the start, when everything is new and special again. When anything is possible and everything is doable.

I love the first pitch, that first crack of the bat, watching that first flyball soar and leaning into that first base-stealer’s sprint for second. I love everything about baseball. Except the losing part. But even that I’ve learned to deal with.

I know for a lot of people baseball is about two things: winning and losing.

For me, the day’s tally, the win/loss column, the stats — they’re all an afterthought, an addendum, an “Oh, yeah” stapled to the day’s filing.

Call me wistful, call me sentimental, call me a Cubs fan, but baseball always has been more than just a competition for me.

Don’t get me wrong. No one wants a World Series win more than I do. How I’d love affirmation for all these years of believing.

And I’m pretty sure if that ever happens, the high will outlive me.

But I learned early on that the journey still can be enjoyed even when it’s likely to end somewhere at the bottom. Yes, even when your team is playing miserably, you don’t have to be miserable.

So I can’t help but run full throttle at another season.

Every spring, I feel this wave of anticipation, a rekindling of fond memories mixed with youthful optimism, a flat-out longing to get this game started. And not because I have my sights set on October. I have my sights on today and, maybe, truth be told, on yesterday.

For me, baseball always has been a homecoming of sorts. When Opening Day comes around, it’s like walking through the kitchen door after a semester away at college. It’s steeped with excitement, comfort and tradition.

I blame my dad for making me sentimental, as opposed to practical, about the game. Even though he was an avid White Sox fan, he recognized and respected my appreciation of the North Siders early on. He looked beyond his own loyalties and geographic ties to not only take me to Cubs games but to make a big deal out of the experience. I don’t remember if the Cubs won any of the games we went to, but I do remember the way the outings made me feel.

One time he let me ditch school to go to a Cubs game. He actually came to the principal’s office, gave some excuse and then the two of us chuckled like cheaters while we headed north to Wrigley.

My dad always was all about the experience. Every year on our drive to Florida to visit the grandparents, he’d insist we stop at some tourist trap. Rock City. Lookout Mountain. Lion Country. Stone Mountain. We’ve seen them all. We’d walk the trails, peer through the lookout telescopes, buy pencils and key chains in the souvenir shops.

He was the same way with baseball. You couldn’t just go to a game. You had to inhale the game. You had to keep score. You had to eat hot dogs. And you had to chat and joke with the people sitting near you. To this day, the ballpark is the only place I ever eat peanuts, drink Old Style or feel bad leaving without having downed a Frosty Malt.

Once, when we’d gotten to a Cubs game early, he spied Ernie Banks talking with some fans near the third-base dugout. He told me to ask for Banks’ autograph. I was scared. My dad pressed and said: “Just ask him. I bet he’s nice.” I don’t remember what I said. But I do remember Ernie’s big smile and how he signed his name with great enthusiasm on the back of the envelope my dad had given me. I was thrilled beyond words.

And one time, when I asked my dad if he’d mail a birthday card to Don Kessinger for me, he didn’t even flinch. Of course he would.

Kids learn a great deal from watching how their parents embrace their passions. My dad always made a bigger deal out of the journey than the end result. Prophetic? Or just plain sensible?

Either way, I’m glad my dad taught me to focus on the outing and not the outcome — especially because, well, you know.

I know there are lots of people who question my logic. True sports fans who live and die by the outcome. I’m often teased by fans of more successful teams. But you know what, I don’t have any control over how my team plays.

Besides, I rarely leave a Cubs game down in the dumps (with the exception of the playoffs, of course). I go for the fun of it and almost always, I find it.

To me, the ballpark is a special place. It’s a place where people talk, sing, dance, tease and cheer with complete strangers. I’ve even seen people meet for the first time at a game and say goodbye with hugs a few hours later. Sure, the beer probably contributes to that, but, hey.

And it’s not just at Wrigley that this phenomenon takes place. One time at Busch Stadium, we thought we were in for it when the Cardinals busted out four runs in an inning. But people dressed from head to foot in red actually were nice to us. They even apologized for our bad luck and then wished us better luck next time — against some other team, of course.

I’ve been to Sox games and have noticed the same kind of camaraderie — so long as the Sox weren’t playing the Cubs.

The first time I walked up the concrete steps from the concourse and looked out upon Wrigley Field, the green outfield, the ivy-covered walls, the lake in the distance, I swore that to be my favorite place in the city. I think in many ways it still is. I don’t know why. Surely, there are lovelier, more modern, more hip places, with better food and drink and better-dressed people.

I guess I just love the comfort of it all.

Of course, I’ve met my share of jerks along the way. Bad sports, idiots who couldn’t hold their liquor and people who obviously were miserable long before they arrived at the park, but most of the people I’ve met through baseball have been like the game: fun, forgiving and oh-so-hopeful.

I don’t harbor any bad feelings toward fans of other teams — OK, well, maybe Mets fans still get my blood pressure up — but mostly I want for everyone what I want for myself: to have a good time. Isn’t that the point of fandom? Sure, bragging rights are (would be) cool, but aren’t we all sports fans, first, because it’s fun? If not, I’d suggest investing your money elsewhere.

Somewhere off in the distance, a World Series win beckons. Meanwhile, I’m just enjoying the ride. Batter up.



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