When Dexter “Benedict Arnold” Fowler returned to Wrigley yesterday you’d have thought Halle Berry was walkin’ through the aisles naked handin’ out $100 bills. The place went full on Mt Vesuvius. It was almost as if he’d stepped onto the hallowed grounds of Wrigley Field and right then and there … on the spot … accessed the public address system to announce that he was activating some sorta double-secret Jared Kushner back-channel clause in his contract that returned him to the Cubs for the duration of the season.
Did he do that? No.
Still, the Cubs faithful made a spectacle outta Fowler’s return to Chicago — a guy who not only chose to leave a World Series Champion team, he defected to the baseball equivalent of ISIS. At least to the Cubs. If you’re a real Cubs fan — not the safe-spacing, snow flake, powder puff kind that marches to Katie Perry’s “just unite and love on each other” mantra — then you know that in spite of all the great crap Fowler did for us last year, he’s dead to us now. That’s why yesterday’s fan reaction boggles my Old Style altered mind.
When Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, did you see the Rebel Alliance embracing him when he came back to deal with that whole Dantooine thing? No, you did not. But yesterday, when the Cubs presented Fowler with his World Series ring, they did everything but have the Blue Angels buzz the friggin’ stadium. I grant you, he earned it. But if the ring exchange had been planned by me, 1) it woulda only happened if Theo had put a gun to my head or threatened to make me eat ketchup on my Chicago dogs and 2) I woulda placed his Series bling in plain sight somewhere in Garfield Park and invited Fowler to a game of Finders Keepers.
And the fans? They were just as goo-goo-eyed. They delivered an ovation for the ring thing, and then another one when Fowler goes yard in the first off Lackey. SERIOUSLY?! You’re gonna cheer a guy hittin’ a home run against us? And of all people a St Louis Cardinal?! In-friggin’-credible. That’s like throwing a parade for Osama Bin Laden or inviting Kim Jong-un over for Sunday Night Baseball. You never ever ever never EVER cheer for a Cardinal. Ever.
Now I know trades go both ways, and when we raided the Cards lineup before last season, I was plenty happy about that. Still not gonna throw any parties for St Louis … but a thank you note? That might have been appropriate. I can’ t imagine any die-hard Cardinals fans were firing up a Cuban or turning cartwheels, though. And I don’t blame ’em. Hating your arch rival is like jock itch, moronic questions from the media, and $14 Budweiser — it’s part of sports. The size of the rivalry should dictate the amount of prescribed venom. It goes something like this:
H = rc²
That’s the Joe Schlombowski theory of relativity, where hate (H) equals the rival (r) times the speed of light (c) squared. And lemme tell you, pallie, when you multiply St Louis by the speed of light squared, you get a number that’s light years away from givin’ Dexter Fowler a friggin’ ovation.
This whole thing raises a number of questions: What kind of a Cubs fan would cheer for a Cardinals player? Should they be summarily ejected? Should fans be required to submit to random “fan testing?” Should that test be multiple choice, essay or both? Should failures be reported to the proper authorities? Who are the proper authorities? If there are proper authorities, doesn’t that imply that there are improper authorities? If John Mellencamp were to fight these particular authorities, would they still win? What happened to John Mellencamp? Why did he drop the “Cougar” from his name? Is a cougar the same thing as a MILF? What does “summarily” mean? I’m definitely going to lose some sleep over this.
When I was a kid, my dad used to take my brothers and me to Cubs games. Not all the time, but once in a while. Even took my sister once, but she fell asleep on his lap which meant he couldn’t get up and cheer when circumstances called for it. Oh yeah … that was the Cubs of the 1970s — no need to stand and cheer.
Goin’ to Wrigley was one of my favorite things as a kid. Still is. There’s nothin’ like that first glimpse of the impossibly green grass, the perfection of the infield carved from it, and the billowing clouds pushin’ across Chicago’s summer sky. But what sticks in my mind most from those trips to Wrigley was how tall everybody was. Walkin’ in the crowd was like bein’ in a forest of human redwoods. Even in our seats I couldn’t see a thing unless everyone was sittin’ down and I was up on my knees. That’s how I remember watchin’ most games at Wrigley. Makes my ACL swell up just thinkin’ about it.
My dad loved baseball. And more than that, he loved the Cubs. April was the most optimistic month in the Schlombowski household, but there was always a measure of it, no matter how far outta first the Cubs fell. “A 10-game win streak starts today, Joe,” he’d say as he was leavin’ for work. And when he’d get home, it’d be “See, I told ya,” or “I meant tomorrow,” depending on what the Cubs did that day. When they were on the road, Dad would haul our crappy, old black-and-white TV out on the stoop to escape the suffocating heat in our apartment, and watch the games with our neighbor, Mr. Kowalski. They’d smoke cigars and listen to Fergie Jenkins, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo try as they might to carry a team that was neck-deep in billy goat curse. The smoke seemed sweet, and curled up through the screen on the window of the room my brothers and I shared. I’d fall asleep to the sound of Jack Brickhouse or Vince Lloyd, the muffled conversation, and my dad’s occasionally animated and always colorful commentary on whatever the Cubs were doin’, and whoever was doin’ it to ’em.
To me, the quintessential ($5 word score!) Cubs fan was long ago defined by the intersection of my father and the Chicago Cubs. At Wrigley, I’d look up at him from my seat and see a guy who loved the experience of just being there much more than the game’s outcome. It was about the theater of the sport — its ebb and flow, the glacial pace interrupted by periodic moments of volcanic excitement. My father saw himself as a player in this nine-act play —the jester, if you will — the guy in the stands who has people three sections away laughin’ their asses off, and wishing they had the wit and courage to sling crap at the opposition like he did. You know, the kind of icy yet good-natured barbs that sting, but make one smile at the same time. If they gave a gold glove for that, my dad would have a trophy case full of ’em, and a couple of boxes in the garage for the ones that wouldn’t fit.
Dad wouldn’t pull punches if the Cubs needed a wake up call, either. “That’s part of bein’ a good fan,” he’d say. He taught me that you gotta hold the Cubs’ spikes to the fire when they F-up. And they do F-up. Two words: Greg Maddux. I learned that if you blindly defend a player’s on- and off-field brain farts, or an ownership that’s smothered in lame sauce, or hemorrhoid-inducing front office moves that make you lose your will to live, you’re not a real fan. You’re a “homer.” You’re like Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper, the guys that do radio for San Francisco — two guys that wouldn’t say anything negative about a Giants player if he stole his grandmother’s life savings and blew it at the track. You could pour their broadcasts over your friggin’ pancakes, my friend. Real fans, Dad taught me, were loyal as a golden retriever, but didn’t act like public defenders when the Cubs play was criminally bad.
Don’t get me wrong. Except for my mom and us kids, my dad loved the Cubs more than anything. Sometimes bowling night would take the pole position, but that was in the off-season. Mostly, though, he lived and died with the Cubs, but did it in a rational way. And THAT, my friend, is what separates Cubs fans from all others. We don’t turn into raving phycho killers when the Cubs lose, and we don’t become obnoxious, our-shit-don’t-stink St Louis fans when we win … actin’ like our team is the best thing that ever stepped foot on a diamond … includin’ the ’27 Yankees.
I think it’s been all the years of sleepin’ in the rest of baseball’s garbage that’s given us some perspective. Of course, those decades of ineptitude (another $5 word score) have given us a lotta heartache, too. But you won’t find Cubs fans, even this year, countin’ any chickens just cuz we’re havin’ the best season since 1908. Giants fans, on the other hand? Crimminy … they’ve been sayin’ how 2016 is a lock for their 4th ring in 7 years just cuz it’s an even numbered year. And they been doin’ it since last year. Arrogance anyone? Makes me glad I didn’t grow up in San Francisco, where they serve crap like gluten-free flatbread, strawberry lavender spa water and fried Brussels sprouts with lemon aioli in their ball park. That ain’t baseball food! But that’s cuz those ain’t real baseball fans, either. They’re mostly new money tech geeks goin’ to games cuz it’s a “cool” thing to do, not cuz they grew up with posters of Mays and McCovey plasterin’ their bedroom walls. Me? My room looked like the friggin’ Chicago Cubs wing at Cooperstown, I had baseball cards of every Cubs player since they were known as the Orphans, my glove was an Ernie Banks autographed Rawlings, and Sister Mary Rachel used to yank my Cubs hat off me so I wouldn’t wear it up for communion.
It’s no surprise I turned out this way — with a blue pinstriped soul and a heart covered in ivy. I was brain washed … only it was carried out in a subtle, methodical way as to not be identified with such a negative term. That’s how it works with fathers and sons. It’s gradual — an almost imperceptible indoctrination ($10 word bonus) that takes decades, and from which there is no salvation. It’s passed along from father to son, like your great great grandfather’s pocket watch, only with the Cubs it’s a pocket watch that, until last year, was more like a friggin’ sun dial. No modern digital readout, no stop watch functionality, no Swiss movement. Sentimental, but not workin’ that great. Still, in spite of the Cubs bein’ the Cubs for the past 108 years, stickin’ with ’em has been a source of pride. Of course it’s been a source of frustration, depression and the frequent four-letter word salads, too. Mostly, though, bein’ a Cubs fan is a matter of character — a demonstration of loyalty and brotherhood, perseverance and patience. Anyone can root for the Yankees and their 27 rings, but it takes a special person to follow a team that’s lived in the basement longer than your grade school hockey skates. Can you imagine the Hollywooders in LA stickin’ with the Dodgers on a century-long drought? Not a friggin’ chance. They don’t even stick it out for one game — typically showin’ up late, leavin’ early, and braggin’ about beatin’ the traffic instead of the slapdicks in the other dugout. Pathetic.
Anyway, my father is guilty. Guilty of makin’ me love somethin’ that hasn’t loved me back. Guilty of makin’ me a slave to hope. Guilty of makin’ me go back to a well that’s been as dry as the chalk between third and home. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Why? Because of everything that makes a Cubs fan a Cubs fan — none of which has ever had a damn thing to do with wins or losses. How could it? If followin’ the Cubs was tied to the record you wouldn’t have three million churning through Wrigley’s turnstiles every year. You wouldn’t flip on the radio for a game in Pittsburgh and, based on the crowd noise, swear to Jesus they were playin’ at home. You wouldn’t have 108 years of “wait until next year” cuz the Cubs woulda left years ago for greener infields outside of Chicago.
So, here’s to you, Cubs fans, especially you, Dad, for dyein’ me in the wool. I raise a frosty Old Style to all of you. You make goin’ to Wrigley like sittin’ in my living room with 40,000 of my best friends, and what the hell is better than that? (Except for playin’ hide the sausage with the missus, of course.) Meetin’ one of you, anywhere — like Pauly, one of the faithful I met the other day in Seattle, of all places — is like runnin’ into a long lost friend. Thanks for that. You’re the best. Each and every one of you.
Hey there, weed eaters. I got a question for ya: What the hell is it with the Robin Leach plans for Wrigley Field? Excuse me all to friggin’ hell for just bein’ a baseball fan instead of a Rolls Royce drivin’, C-suite fancy pants with $1000 bills hangin’ outta my pockets, but I guess that just ain’t good enough for Tom Ricketts anymore.
Hey, I’m grateful as hell that Tom-Tom wrestled the Cubs away from the pinheads at the Trib, and has turned the club into something that has less than zero resemblance to the National League door mat it used to be. Major kudos for that, Mr Ricketts. The Schlombowski’s thank you. But plans are in the works to turn parts of Wrigley into some sorta private yacht club for the single malt sippin’ rich and famous, and they’re wedged into my craw like a friggin’ 2 x 4. That whole way of thinkin’ is a slippery slope, my friend. It gives me an Old Style headache — one that can only be relieved by blowin’ the foam off my medicine.
I suppose I should be happy that Wrigley hasn’t gone the way of the wrecking ball. If it had, not only would the best ball park in the galaxy be just a memory, but we’d now have a “kinda” ball park as it’s replacement. “Kinda” ball parks are places like AT&T, or PNC, that kinda seem like an old baseball park, and kinda have some of the idiosyncrasies ($10 word bonus for Joe) of an Ebbets or Crosley or Comsky or Fenway, but they’re just Kingdome’s in disguise. No one is happier than me that we’ve still got Wrigley in it’s almost original form. And some of the changes over the years have been good. As hard as it was to take at the time, I know we had to do the lights. It was a must. And the clubhouse? Sheesh. You can’t treat million dollar ball players like circus animals, especially now since they don’t play like ’em anymore. But not every change is for the better, pal.
Under Armor logos in the Ivy, for instance. I’m sorry, but Wrigley’s ivy walls are sacred. Or were. Puttin’ advertising on ’em is like farting in church, or takin’ a leak on the Magna Carta. Seriously, was that necessary? How much could that possibly add to the revenue stream? And the jumbotron. Yeah, every park has ’em and, quite frankly, I like seein’ instant replay. Still, for me the jumbotron is an extension of all the other crap that’s invaded the between-inning break. It’s as if ball clubs are afraid we’re gonna head for the turnstiles if there isn’t some obnoxious music breakin’ my ear drums, or videos of some fat guy dancin’ every second the ball isn’t in play. It’s supposed to be a ball game, not a friggin’ Chuck E. Cheese.
I know I’m in the minority on this stuff, but I don’t really give a crap. I’m of the opinion that Wrigley is part of the history of Chicago, if not the entire US of A, and because of that I think it oughta be treated with a little more respect, and with a nod to the undying loyalty of the average SOB that used to skip work to take in day games. That’s right. Where were the well-heeled back in the day (year before last) when the Cubs woulda had a hard time beatin’ the Sheboygan Little League All-Stars? Not at Wrigley. But now … oh yeah … now it’s cool to be a Cubs fan. And it’s gonna be so much cooler to be of the Premier class, not just the riff-raff in steerage. Can’t say it’s rubbin’ me in a way I like. The more management shoves us into the archives and turns Wrigley into a place where only bankers and lawyers can afford to go, the more I feel the sting of Tom Ricketts backhand.
I suppose season ticket holders have the right to the kinda stuff they feel oughta come with that sorta cash outlay. But where does it stop? Gold-plated cotton candy? Champagn-dipped curly fries? Personally, I care a whole lot more about the product that’s on the field than whether my Chicago dog is made outta Wagu beef or not, and I think the true Cubs fan agrees with that. It’s a baseball game, not a night club. Braggin’ about Wrigley’s room service treatment and doily-covered seat cushions isn’t about bein’ a fan. It’s about keepin’ up with the Trumps. Me? I’ll take the Joneses and the cheap seats any day.
Hey there, rice cakes. Joe Schlombowski, super Cubs fan here, with a little dietary supplement you ain’t gonna find on the Food Network.
Let me say first off that outside of the official Major League Rule Book (which ain’t perfect, cuz it includes Rule 6.10 — look it up, Tin Roof) I’m not real big on rules. I’m more of a “guideline” kinda guy. Why? Cuz they’re practically the same damn thing, but guidelines are more forgiving. Like jeans with an elastic waste band.
Which brings me to the subject at hand: The Cubs are home; back in town sporting a 6-1 record, by the way. This means a lot of you will be heading to the yard, not just to see Maddon’s Mob, but to enjoy the smorgasboard of lip-smackin, finger-lickin, coronary-inducing delights that are a requisite part of going to a ball game. So you don’t embarrass yourself, I give you Joe Schlombowski’s unofficial guidelines for dining in the Cheap Seats — as if anything is actually cheap at Wrigley anymore. (Another subject.) I gotta warn you that these have not been approved by the FDA, nor are they recognized by the American Heart Association. (Hey, sorry about that 3rd person thing I did back there, but it just seemed to make sense in that spot. In general, though, it’s obnoxious. Like A-Rod.) Alright, here you go:
RULE 1.00 – DINING IN THE CHEAP SEATS
1.01 – DON’T DRINK TOO MUCH. People who drink too much act obnoxious and stupid. If I wanted to be around people like that I’d go to a White Sox game. But by all means, have an Old Style or two. Just don’t do it every inning, like I see some idiots do. Besides, if I want my kids to know what an asshole is (along with some of those other words drunks use) I’ll tell ‘em about Barry Bonds.
1.02 – IF SOMETHING COMES WITH THAT MELTED CHEESE CRAP, GET IT. That’s the whole point of melted cheese crap. It’s a cheesy, gooey, yellow dye number 14, lip-smackin, finger-lickin accessory that you can’t order all by itself. Believe me, if you could, I’d bathe in it. So pour it on. Have ‘em make a cheese tsunami out of your nachos. Bury the whole thing. Devour. Repeat.
1.03 – IF IT DOESN’T COME WITH THE CHEESE CRAP, ASK FOR IT ANYWAY. Always ask for the melted cheese crap on your brat, dog or polish, too. Whatever you’re getting. They will probably say “no.” But if they say “yes,” you, my friend, will experience the only epicurean delight equal to or greater than a real live Pamela Anderson lollipop.
1.04 – WIPE YOUR FACE. With a napkin. You want any chance at all with those babes two rows in front of you, you can’t look or act like a slob.
1.05 – DO NOT HAVE A SNACK BEFORE THE GAME. Some people wanna control their appetite at the park, so they eat something before they leave home. Avoid this. The whole point of going to a ball game is to eat unhealthy food, and lots of it. I mean, you could sit at home and catch the game on TV and snack on carrots all you want. But don’t bring that attitude to the ballpark. It can only hurt the team.
1.06 – UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU EXERCISE ON GAME DAY. The physiological effects on your system could interfere with your appetite in a negative way. This could lead to skipping the ice cream drumstick or only having 3 or 4 brats. Unless the Cubs are winning (and, c’mon, that’s a friggin’ crap shoot) there’s nothing like a cafeteria tray of Chicago dogs to keep you in good spirits. (Also see 1.02 and 1.03 above.)
1.07 – NEVER EVER EVER NEVER PUT CATCHUP ON A HOTDOG. Just don’t.
1.08 – IF YOU SEE STEVE BARTMAN LURKING IN THE SHADOWS, it’s your duty to chuck your food at him no matter how long you stood in line to get it. You can always get another Barry Foote or Joe Wallis from Hot Dougs, but there’s only one Steve Bartman. If you can’t make that sacrifice for the team, you don’t belong in the Friendly Confines, pal, let alone Joe’s Bleachers. And … when I say “chuck,” I’m talkin’ Aroldis Chapman, not Tim Wakefield.
1.09 – TIP THE HAWKERS. Yeah, I know it’s already expensive. Cry me a friggin’ river. Those guys are marching up and down the aisles all day long, bringing you whatever you want while your butt sits comfortably on the world’s finest green plastic. A little something extra would be nice. In other words, act like you’re from Chicago, not the Bronx.
1.10 – YOU SHOULD FEEL SICK BEFORE THE END OF THE GAME. If you don’t feel terrible when you leave the ballpark, either the Cubs won or you haven’t been paying attention. If it’s the latter, re-read these guidelines before you go to your next home game, pal.
I’d like to suggest that you print this out and proudly display it on your refrigerator, like it’s one of your kids’ class projects. Then memorize, internalize and utilize. And remember: always ask for the cheese crap.