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Cute Kiddie Cubs Pass Playoff Audition, Cuddle With Champagne, Complicate Feelings

It's really not true that the Cubs are no longer cute or lovable. In fact, they're a little too cute for my taste. Their home runs leave rainbow chemtrails, and unicorn horns burst from their foreheads when they gallop the basepaths. Some of them are barely old enough to legally drink the celebratory Champagne in the clubhouse; others are old enough but too angelic, as if they don't want to displease their parents, who will be mad enough that their clothes are doused in alcohol, much less their bloodstream. I really wouldn't want to party with these guys because it'd be all Katy Perry and birthday cake.

It kind of makes me want to vomit.

Oh for the days of Mark Grace and Rod Beck holding forth at their lockers drinking Old Style and chain-smoking after every game, like the Johnny Benders of the locker room unafraid of catching detention from Daddy Manager. Yes, I know it didn't turn out well for either of them, but they were men, not boys, and they weren't interested in shining the teacher's apples and singing kumbaya in onesies.

And yet, I wasn't hate-watching the Junior Cubs' cute little playoff play-in Wednesday night the way I have so often as a fan like so many others alienated by the frauds perpetrated by this franchise. A few years ago, I went so far as to renounce by fandom in a very specific fashion. "Oh, I'm not a fan," I would tell people. "The Cubs are just the team I follow." I watched, but I didn't root for the team - at least not to win. I did root for the team to lose, out of hopes that a succession of awful managers would be fired and a despicable succession of owners would be punished in even the slightest way, such as somehow setting off a chain of events that would lead to a slip-and-fall over one of the billions of dollars falling out of their pockets on the way to the bank.

Like many, I have a complicated relationship with the Cubs.

I grew up in Bloomington, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. When cable came to our town, so did Cubs games on the WGN superstation. From then on, I spent many a sunny summer afternoon indoors watching summer on TV, live from splendiferous Wrigley Field. I was in love with a summer elsewhere, not the one in which I existed. The red brick behind home plate, the ivy-covered walls, the bleacher bums, the rooftops that created America's most gorgeous tableau, and a baseball game - hosted by Harry Caray, the only person on the planet who could make singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" cool.

It was like all the street romance of a Bruce Springsteen song, 81 times a year - if you knew the lore, of course. And no other team had the lore of the Cubs. It was like the living embodiment of "Deacon Blues" - a team for the losers of the world who lived by a different set of values where winning wasn't everything. Wrigley Field was where the game was beautiful, and that was the thing. It wasn't that fans of my ilk didn't want to win, but that, like in life, the quality of the experience - and its inclusion of everybody who appreciated it - was of far more value. It was a team for those who despise the jockocracy. Not all Cubs fans fit this profile; not even close. But those who did and who loved baseball gravitated to the team, the ballpark and the real live literary glory that came with it. It was no coincidence that the alt-nation to come was filled with Cubs fans; we found each other as surely as we found the Replacements. (A college friend used to wear a South Side Cubs Fan t-shirt; a colleague at The Minnesota Daily swore off McDonald's after 1984; The only cool person to ever appear on The Real World was skateboarder chick Sarah, whose frequently worn Cubs tee was as much a signifier as a Yo La Tengo record.)

What occurred at Wrigley each game was ours, not theirs. It was Wicker Park when it was first settled as an anti-Lincoln Park, only to be gentrified - like the Cubs - into the very thing we who made it hated. At Wrigley, players and managers would come and go, each performing their part in the play, but it was our play. It was a fan takeover. In the early '90s, I heard someone in the bar say "You may own this place, but the street runs it." It was like that. We didn't own the team, but we made it what it was. We created the experience, we nurtured the experience, and we loved it in the way that you love a band before a major label - or internal politics - sets in to ruin it.

(Major label: We love your band! We just want to change everything about it. Akin to: We love this neighborhood! If only we could make it like our old neighborhood, then it would be perfect! To wit: Wrigley is awesome! We need to make it like every other stadium, though, to make it even better!)

Remember, too, that Wrigleyville back in the day was hardly affluent; it wasn't even widely called Wrigleyville. Punks hung out at Belmont & Clark and the Metro showcased the city's coolest bands just a couple blocks from the ballpark.

Those days are long gone. Now the Cubs are a corporate conglomerate whose long losing streak has been turned into a brand undergoing a repositioning by a greedy hateful family of enormous inherited wealth who want you to believe they're bleacher bums too - Tom Ricketts met his future wife there!

That convenient oft-told media tale is possibly true - as a mediocre student who magically got into the University of Chicago, the unstudious young Tom spent an inordinate number of days during his five-year stay in Hyde Park at the ballpark, slumming, as only a child of privilege can do. In that way, Tom Ricketts is the perfect embodiment of the new generation of Cubs fans, who may romanticize the bleachers but are anything but bums. They may be among the 15% of the country Elia imagined as unemployed and therefore at the game on any given day, but they are not unemployed because can't find work; they are unemployed because they are trust funders.

Today the Chicago Board of Exchange sponsors premium seating from dugout to dugout made possible by pushing out those glorious red bricks, now clad with advertising that even former team president Andy MacPhail, the corporate tool's tool, once said he would never have dared to do. That's right, rich guys have literally encroached on the field.

In fact, one of the chief charms of Wrigley used to be its lack of advertising inside the park - coupled with the gigantic beer ads shouting in from outside the park, like electioneers being kept a reasonable distance from the sanctity of the polls on Election Day. What the Cubs really sold at Wrigley was the timeless experience of going to a baseball game, not the day's particular game itself. Crass intrusions into that experience were not welcome.

Now, crass intrusions are the point. The ballpark is the revenue generator, and sometimes a baseball game is even played there.

What was once not for you is now not for us.

Ricketts and his gang have continued the pricing out of those of us who gave the Cubs such outsized value, just like their lot price us out of our neighborhoods, our music, our coffeehouses, our bars, our jobs. It's a transfer of culture described brilliantly by cultural theorist Homi Bhabha, in The Location of Culture, which I've described briefly here before (I profiled him for Chicago magazine, but can no longer find the story online), to wit:

The white boy knows something is wrong, though. As cultural theorist Homi Bhabha argues, the oppressed possess a double-knowledge those from the oppressor culture can never attain; they know both cultures.

the whiteboy wants
a company, a crew
to accompany, a band
a brand, the whiteboy
wants his brand/name
uttered in tears
and ciphers

And:

I'm reminded of a phenomenon cultural theorist Homi Bhabha has written about in another context: Their fear is based in large part on a conscious or unconscious recognition that we know something they don't - as well as what they know. We know twice as much. That's why the oppressor fears the oppressed. The oppressor only understands his world. The oppressed understands the oppressors' world by necessity, but also their own. And that additional knowledge - and insight - makes the oppressors uncomfortable because it can be used against them.

Or:

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The Cubs are no longer mine. This is not my team. To the kids out there, I'm happy for you. You have Bryant and Schwarber and the rest, and you haven't yet felt the sting of disloyal exploitation and perversions of justice and economic dislocation. Sure, many of you can't afford to go games the way we could when bleacher tickets cost five bucks, but get used to it. You can at least watch on free TV - if you can find the right channel night after night as the games float up and own the dial in search of optimized revenue. But in the main, this isn't for you, either, unless your mommy or daddy are CBOEers. This is Rahm's Chicago; you and your neighborhood school are not welcome.

So, yes, I bring a lot of baggage to this Cubs team, including my aversion to the way it was built on the backs of three tanked seasons. No, this does not justify The Plan. Hardly. The Cubs could have acquired the Jon Lester and Miguel Montero and Dexter Fowler of the day four years ago. They wouldn't have Bryant or Schwarber, but neither has any team that has won the World Series between then and now. The Ricketts were executing a business plan - one that aligned perfectly with rebuilding in a way that even they have acknowledged no other fan base would tolerate in order to lower payroll and stall for time until new scoreboard and broadcast revenue showed up. The Ricketts are playing with house money - and you're the house.

Cubs ownership is hard to take, from the heinous Daddy Ricketts to world-class bumbling ironist Todd to Petey the gay-hating, murderous governor to Tommy The Overgrown Frat Boy.

And today's Cubs fans? Douchebag Central, we all know that.

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And yet, I was actually rooting for these guys last night. By about the 7th inning, I wanted them to hurry up their at-bats so Arrieta could come back out and whittle down the outs left until victory.

I haven't felt that way in a long time.

There was some magic to be had after all, and I've slowly come around to this team. But even if they win it all, it won't be the same. It won't be those Cubs finally winning the World Series, it will be these Cubs winning the World Series. The old Cubs are dead, just like the old Wrigley. The only thing that could bring them back - zombie Cubs! - would be destruction at the hands of the Cardinals and a complete meltdown next year. Then we might have something - if enough people flock to the White Sox instead.

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Still, I could not hate watching Wednesday unfold the way it did, starting with this:

I tried to resist at first, and even tried to work up some distaste that a law enforcement officer did it, but I just couldn't. It's pretty awesome - and it's way cooler than this:

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And after enduring the bro-y-ness of this kind of nonsense all day . . .

. . . I caught the fever just before game time. I was at least gonna rep the Beachwood. So I tweeted out links to the super funny and very cool Cubs songs from the Beachwood vault. I encourage you to click through.

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And then the game.

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Schwarbsy. The Schwarbster.

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Daddy Long Legs.

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Irrational Pirates lose composure.

But also, Arrieta needs to keep his growing arrogance in check.

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Jack The Snake Steals The Show.

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Last pitch, celebration.

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P.S.: Starlin Castro's pivot and lightning-quick throw.

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Bonus:

The Wild Card Game is Incredibly Cruel, Usually To The Pirates.

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The view from Pittsburgh:

"So much for the laughable notion put forth by many, including some in the media, that Jake Arrieta would be affected by the pressure of his postseason debut," Bob Smizik writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Arrieta was brilliant early and then merely very good the rest of the way as his historic dance through the 2015 MLB season continued last night at PNC Park. His otherworldly pitching ended the Pirates excellent season in a sea of disappointment. They could do nothing offensively in a 4-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the National League Wild Card game.

Arrieta allowed four hits and no walks while striking out 11. The best the Pirates could say is they hit some balls hard - two of which became double plays - in the late innings.

That Gerrit Cole could not match Arrieta was not surprising. That he could not come close was disheartening. The idea that Cole was somehow close to Arrieta was nonsense and the events of the game proved that out.

Kyle Schwarber - a .178 hitter since mid-August - delivered a run-scoring single in the first and a two-run homer in the third. Cole allowed four runs and six hits in five innings. It was the seventh time in his past 12 starts he allowed three or more earned runs. He may well be an ace in the making, but the speculation common in advance of the game that he was up to dueling Arrieta was unfair.

Critics will ridicule the Pirates for not being up to this challenge, but - really! - who is up to the challenge of Arrieta? It was a disappointing loss, no question, but the Pirates ran into the man who has been the best pitcher in the recent history of MLB. This shutout puts his post-July ERA at 0.37. The 1927 Yankees would have had trouble with Arrieta.

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And finally, the joy of Twitter. This is what it's all about, people, win or lose.

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Comments welcome.

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1. From Tom Chambers:

I remember when the bleachers were $1.50, my brother remembers $.75.

We lived in West Chicago, and he and his buddy Rick and maybe the Breen boys would take the Northwestern to the end of the El, the Forest Park line now, to Des Plaines Avenue, connect to the Howard-Dan Ryan El and go to Wrigley. I thought they were Lewis and Clark. I think he took me on that trip just once.

My uncle started developing that neighborhood, not gentrifying, but rehabbing those beautiful three-flats. We'd be painting, listening to the games on the radio - Vince and Lou - and could hear the crowd cheer.

And you are right, it was nothing special as a neighborhood. Wrigley was just there, with a game on game days. It was Ray's Bleachers (when it was just the front room) and Sports Corner, that's what we knew. The taverns, fewer of them, were just taverns.

And, believe it or not, you would just go there to watch the game. And I mean watch the game. My brother always taught us to pay attention. It was wondrous that the scoreboard had ALL the games from across the land! How do they do that?!

Dad took us to a real gosh doubleheader. Adolpho Phillips hit four home runs on the day. We were in the fourth row behind the screen, at the edge, and my dad barehanded a screaming foul ball by putting up his hand, as much self-defense as anything, as if he was catching a bug. He wouldn't admit how much it stung.

He also took us to Comiskey; we loved that ballpark too. The two were so different, and almost different games altogether.

I'll never go to Wrigley again. It's not Wrigley to me. The Ricketts' have ruined the greatest asset they have and they don't understand the experience. They take it for granted that the experience will always be the same, no matter how much they blaspheme the place, which is not in their vocabulary. And sorry kids, those are not the original bricks - eight generations removed.

As for this team, I suppose the players and coaches haven't done anything wrong, except for the Nickelodeon cuteness, but I don't care if they win or lose. The further a team goes in the playoffs, the more it resembles an old-fashioned ballclub. Pitching, defense and timely hitting. It has to play the game. I suppose it would be nice, I guess.

I'll never go to Wrigley again, too many $$$$$. And I don't need my senses stimulated.

I just feel sorry for those who haven't ever experienced what we experienced. Ignorance is bliss. They don't know what they missed.

2. From Andrea Kaspryk:

I enjoyed reading your article about the new Cubs, and I can also recall watching the Cubs from the '70s and '80s and Harry Caray. It is so ironic that though they are winning now, finally, as you observe, the Cubs character and players are so much more boring and predictable, as are the TV and radio broadcasts, the neighborhood and the fans.

I would only add that a great and irreplaceable loss was Ron Santo on the radio broadcasts, who embodied the spirit of the old Cubs. His lack of education and sophistication and moderation - all these constituted his assets. He thankfully never could quite control and censor himself consistently and fit into the mold of bland and generic color commentator, which his successors have. He lost his temper, raised his voice, shouted, made inappropriate comments and jokes and observations, and that's what made him so entertaining and charming, and this what made listening to the Cubs broadcasts fun and entertaining. Because of his status as a former Cubs star and fan favorite, as a color commentator, whatever his perceived deficiencies, he was allowed to stay on the job as long as he was healthy enough to do so.

The ongoing friction and tension that Santo had with Pat Hughes was a good thing - it showed the genuine clash of two worlds; Santo's raw, working-class, blunt, off-the-cuff manner of speaking versus Pat Hughes' always diplomatic and polite middle-class ideal, ever eager to avoid saying anything potentially regarded as offensive to anyone. This too, thankfully, was allowed to continue; it never got entirely and falsely brushed away and covered up.

3. From Marty Gangler:

I get it. It's just that baseball is not going to be any different than, well, everything else - and you touched on that. These Cubs are cute, but it really seems like the best approach. It's not surprising you aren't on board, your notion of cool isn't going to completely align with twentysomethings'. It's not possible. And this is on the field or in the stands.

But there is still the same game in there and they don't play in footy PJs and they first have to actually make a play happen in real life before it hits the Jumbotron. That's why you were sucked back in despite trying to stay a bat's length away.

4. From Roger Wallenstein:

Maybe it's a sign of age that we prefer the way it used to be when owners were baseball men whose fortunes depended on their teams rather than the money they made elsewhere. Once Bill Veeck and Calvin Griffith were forced out, everything changed.

The comments about Wrigley Field and Wrigleyville were familiar. We Sox fans saw the same thing happen 20 years ago with the demolition of a great ballpark torn down and replaced by the commercial mess that they call The Cell. One big difference: Reinsdorf tore down homes where the present stadium resides. We used to park our car in the yard of one of those houses. Mr. Brown was a wonderful guy. Had a 55-gallon barbecue drum in the yard. Worked his whole life. That was his neighborhood and home. He was paid for his property, but what recourse did he have? Would have made Donald Trump proud.

Of course, McCuddy's and O'Brien were sacrificed and replaced by the Sox Grill or whatever it is that is owned, I presume, by the ballclub.

Makes me sick when Reinsdorf pines about Ebbets Field. He assumes we're all idiots. I could go on and on.

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