I was born at Weiss Memorial Hospital just off Lake Shore Drive on Chicago’s North Side. I was baptized at St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Church at the end of Lake Shore Drive before it turns into Sheridan Road. That, too, is on Chicago’s North Side. The apartment building I grew up in was on Estes Avenue, also on Chicago’s North Side.
When you combine all of those items and factor them into baseball, naturally you’d assume I’m a Cubs fan. And that assumption would be incorrect.
My father, and his entire family, came from the South Side. That translates into generations of White Sox fans. It’s often said a boy goes with his father’s team, and so it was with me. Sox then; Sox now.
This weekend will mark another chapter of the love-hate relationship that is the Cubs and White Sox. Wrigley Field is sold out, tickets are reportedly going for $200 to $300 a pop and I’m sure most of Wrigleyville has emotionally prepared themselves for what a Cubs-fan friend of mine once called The Invasion of the Uglies.
He always found this really funny; the humor was forever lost on me.
And perhaps I never found it funny because Sox fans generally have a chip on their shoulders. Obviously, it’s not because of any kind of on-the-field superiority the Cubs have had over the Sox. Anytime Cubs fans begin reciting their annual “this is our year” battle cry, Sox fans cordially remind them of 2005 when it actually was our year. Cubs fans have been believing it’s their year as long as I can remember, and my memory dates back to the late 1960’s.
But putting everything into play with these two teams, their fans and the rivalry (and this is a rivalry, more on that later), there is a painful reality about all of this that Sox fans don’t like to admit. It’s taken me more than four decades but I finally came around: Except for winning a much more recent World Series, the Sox have nothing on the Cubs.
The Cubs have the vastly superior location
Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather watch the White Sox play 81 home games at U.S. Cellular Field in cold and rain, and lose all of them, than set foot in Wrigley Field. But let’s face it, the North Side has wonderful restaurants, bars, diners, music, theatre; win or lose, you don’t have to leave the area once the game is over.
The South Side – well, it’s near Chinatown. But around the actual park, forget it. Oh, it’s gotten better over the years . . . well, a little. Very little.
The Cubs remain one of the most popular teams in all of sports
It matters little that the Cubs have generally been awful over the years; they have fans, and fan clubs, everywhere. I imagine there’s a tiny fern bar in Kathmandu that has the Cubs schedule on the wall; the International Space Station – a flashing Cubs logo greets approaching astronauts. The Cubs are adored the world over and as a Sox fan, I’m both envious and nauseous. No matter where I go, when someone finds out I’m from Chicago discussion immediately turns to the Cubs. When I politely tell the person I’m a Sox fan, the reaction is usually complete confusion followed by something on the order of, “I thought everyone from Chicago loved the Cubs.”
Here in Minneapolis, it is astounding how many Twins fans are also Cubs fans. Most every Twins fan I know tells me, “the Cubs are my National League team.” What? Since when does a baseball fan need to have a team in both leagues? Your team is your team . . . isn’t it?
Wrigley Field vs. U.S. Cellular Field
A lot of people don’t know that the architect who designed original Comiskey Park, Zachary Taylor Davis, also drew up Wrigley Field several years later. I grew up in old Comiskey and loved the place. But it had its problems. The primary one being ownership letting Comiskey fall into disrepair. Wrigley, though cramped in the main seating area, cramped in the bleachers, cramped in the concession stand areas, cramped everywhere you move . . . is generally considered . . . charming. It took an awful lot to get that word out.
And to be fair, along with Fenway Park, merely walking into Wrigley transports you back in time in a way the new throwback parks will never be able to pull off.
Sitting in the upper deck on the third base side at Wrigley offers one of the more stunning views in all of baseball with the neighborhood brownstones, the Lake Shore Drive highrises and beautiful Lake Michigan. Sitting anywhere in U.S. Cellular gives you a view of . . . well, not much.
But all things considered, watching a game in U.S. Cellular is terrific: Sox fans are loud and passionate and the park itself has great sightlines. Many like to complain the upper deck, even since its renovation, is too high and too steep. Look, go sit in the upper decks of most any NFL stadium, climb the narrow aisles in the upper deck at Yankee Stadium or hang out in the fifth level at Dodger Stadium. U.S. Cellular Field does not have the market cornered on high and steep.
It may not have the charm and intimacy of Wrigley and it will rarely, if ever, make anyone’s top 10 lists for favorite ballparks, but it’s still a great place to watch a game.
This, more than anything, has fried me for most of my life. Cubs fans will have you think playing the Sox means nothing to them. They’ll tell you “St. Louis is who we care about, not you.” It is about the biggest load of hooey you’ll find this side of a 10,000-acre farm.
It’s all part of being a Cubs fan, not admitting you loathe the White Sox and salivate beating them any less than Sox fans want to humble and humiliate the Cubs. It’s a mindset I’ve never quite understood.
Of course the Cardinals are the Cubs’ primary rival. And Sox fans despise the Twins. But to be a Cubs fan means to thumb your nose at the Sox and in effect say, “I’m sorry, what’s the name of your team again and why are you relevant?” To hear Cubs fans talk, you’d think they had the history of the Yankees.
But now that I’m 50 years old, I’m well past juvenile rantings about the Cubs, their fans or Wrigley Field. I am able to sit back and, from a platform of maturity, calmly watch two fine baseball teams, both with passionate fan bases, play some good, hard-nosed baseball. May the best team win . . . this series is good for Chicago . . . it’s-
Oh please, that’s all a bunch of bull. I hope the Sox beat the hell out of the Cubs this weekend.
About the Author: Christopher Gabriel is the host of the cleverly named Christopher Gabriel Program on AM 970 WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota. You can hear him weekdays from 9 to Noon. As a writer and humorist, his work has been been published online by the Chicago Sun-Times, Reuters and publications within the Sun-Times News Group.