When I was young, my dad and I would play catch in the street outside my house, just where the road began a slow decline. It was a gentle slope, perfect for coasting down on a bike or even a sled, if it snowed enough and conditions were just right. But if my throw was wild – as it often was – the softball might go pop-popping off the asphalt and down the hill, and we’d have to take turns chasing it onto a neighbor’s lawn, trapping it with our glove, then jogging, slower this time, up to the top to try again.
Baseball has never been my father’s favorite sport, but it was one he felt he could teach his daughters. He took us to see the minor league team on Bat Night and we all came home with miniature Louisville sluggers. We ate popcorn and nachos and did the wave in the bleachers, giggling wildly. When a foul ball came near I would stick out my glove and scrunch my eyes tight, terrified of the impact. I don’t believe I ever caught one.
Although we lived in Upstate New York he was a Minnesota Twins fan—something about the games he was able to pick up on the radio as a boy. When I was only six or seven I kept my school papers in a pocket folder with Kirby Puckett’s grinning face on the front; I’m sure my dad was thoroughly proud. He’d root for the Mets, too, and when my oldest sister eventually went to Boston College, she and my dad could talk Red Sox for hours. He was good with pretty much every team but the Yankees; my dad has never been a guy with expensive taste, and money tends to make him angry. “Well of COURSE they’re good!” he would rant.
So he was disappointed when, in college, I adopted the Yankees as “my team”, cheering them on from my common room futon to the World Series in 2001 and 2003, and nearly losing my mind as the Red Sox miraculously defeated them in the ALCS in 2004. (I still feel slightly enraged when I think about Curt Schilling’s bloody sock.)
Then I met my husband, who had been raised in a Chicago suburb with the heavy burden of Cubs fandom. We met while we were both living in the St. Louis area, at the height of Cardinals’ domination. In St. Louis, Albert Pujols was a god who ate Cubbie bears for breakfast. It was a difficult place to root for the Cubs, but at the time, any place was a difficult place to root for the Cubs.
This man who would become my husband took his team seriously. He internalized each error; he often had to step away from the TV in frustration. Watching him watch the Cubs (often from a nervous distance), I questioned my own loyalties. The Yankees did not make me feel this angst. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, I released my claim to them, and began to cheer, instead, for the team that might someday make my husband happy.
Late on the night of November 2, I sank into my couch and looked on as my husband, the father of my three children, paced. The Cubs were so close to doing the unthinkable. They might just win the World Series. They might just fuck it up – in fact, he was pretty convinced that they were on the verge of just that. Upstairs, our daughters slept. It was a school night for our oldest, who is in kindergarten, and staying up to watch the game just wasn’t an option. She is six, growing up in the heart of South Carolina college football country, where nearly everyone is either a Tiger or a Gamecock. When asked what team she roots for, she’ll answer, “My team is the Cubs.”
The morning after the win, when our oldest woke, I told her that the Cubs had won the World Series. Her eyes grew wide, and she ran from the room. This was a moment to share with her dad.
My husband, like my father, is raising three girls. He is an affectionate person; they know, undoubtedly, that their daddy loves them. They climb on him, chase and pin him, rub noses and give high fives. They also snuggle on the couch to watch PTI, give him their brief attention as he explains innings and outs. In sharing the Cubs with them he is sharing a part of himself. He is creating something that will last. And this is just the beginning: we talk about trips to Atlanta, when they’re a little older, to see a Cubs-Braves series. We talk about taking them to Wrigley someday, where we will tell them the story of the time mommy and daddy went to a Cubs game and daddy drank too much and confessed that he had been ring shopping.
We worry that our girls will pass over T-ball to take ballet, that they will relegate baseball to the realm of boy stuff and lose interest. But perhaps, with Christmas coming, there will be a glove under the tree. Maybe my husband will lead the girls out to the cul-de-sac and they will practice, starting slowly: Here is how you cradle the ball in your glove. Here is how you release it. And when it gets away from you, hurry, run to get it back. This is not something you want to lose.