SPORTS

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October 5, 2007

Become a Cubs fan, for now

Two years ago, Soxtober swept through Chicago. This fall, the Cubs have brought the excitement of baseball playoffs back to the Windy City. Not that the Cubs really need to worry about building up their fan base, but now is a good time for U of C students to tune into how those North Siders are doing.

But wait. Wouldn’t that be jumping onto the Wrigleyville bandwagon?

That depends on how far people decide to take it. Buying a well coordinated Cubs outfit and committing Alfonso Soriano’s season stats to memory would be worthy of that most shameful branding in sports fandom. Then there’s taking a moment to pause and enjoy what could be a truly original college experience. It’s not about the Cubbies as much as it’s about identifying with the city and taking advantage of possible sports history in the making.

The postseason of any sport in any city is going to generate some buzz, but put a 98-year gap between World Series titles, throw in some close-but-no-cigar runs, an already deeply devoted pack of Chicagoans, and this town is ready to grind to a halt if Piniella’s squad delivers. Sure, victory will be much sweeter for the club’s battle-weary fans, and rightfully so, but the excitement of this large clan is sure to be contagious.

It would be a healthy dose of Chicago life that goes beyond the confines of Hyde Park to go see what all the fuss is about, and, unlike the winters here, that could be a pleasant experience. Checking in on the Cubs at this point in the season is the same as scooping out Rush Street’s best blues scene or catching the latest exhibit at the Art Institute. This is Chicago in top form, and whether active participant or passive bystander, it’s a chance for non-natives to connect and lay a claim to a part of the city.

For some perspective on what is about to be going on just up the Red Line, there’s no better place to look than Wrigley Field itself. Built in 1916 and originally named Weegham Park, it’s the second-oldest yard in the majors and has yet to see its team go all the way. Both of the squad’s titles, a back-to-back effort in 1907 and 1908, came before the move to the Friendly Confines.

That kind of postseason heritage has got to be alluring for even the mildest of sports fans. Will history repeat itself, or will this finally be the year that they can hoist the most meaningful of W flags outside the stadium? Before writing the happy ending, they’ll have to uncoil themselves from the Diamondback’s tight 2–0 hold on the Division Series.

While every baseball enthusiast will be able to track the Cubs as they move closer to the impossible dream or to another collapse, people living in the city get a much better view of all the action. It’s the difference between the upper deck and field-level seats when it comes to soaking up game details. Plus, the celebration will be here if they pull it off, and it will make a great hotstove league story for years to come to recount where you were in the Second City when the Cubbies ended a nearly century-long World Championship drought.

That chance to become a small part of baseball history is why anyone already committed to another team can watch the North Siders for the next few weeks with a clear conscience. It doesn’t have to be a full-fledged conversion, since following isn’t the same as cheering. Anyone with a team still in contention and looking to advance has every right to root against them. For everyone else, though, who has been left replaying which pitch he would most like to take back or scouting for free agents to invite to spring training, this fall in Chicago is a chance to glean something memorable from the 2007 season.

The Cubs travel today, bringing the Division Series to their home turf with Saturday’s showdown. The game starts at 4 p.m. Go see what happens.