Spring Fever


1. Spring Training

I have to be honest. Spring Training has never really done it for me. It’s so far away, and we don’t get many Cubs games down on the bayou. But last week I read a column by Smiley Anders in Baton Rouge’s Advocate that really got my blood pumping. It was about the Cubs, LSU, and crawfish – the three things that may be my very favorite in the world.

Crawfish_2 Apparently Dusty Baker and some Baton Rougeans with the team contacted Charlie D’Agostino, an LSU administrator, for help with getting crawfish, shrimp, and gumbo to the spring training clubhouse in Mesa, AZ. Dusty said he wanted to keep his Louisiana players happy. There are currently three LSU players up with the team – Todd Walker, Mike Fontenot, and Ryan Theriot. I’m with you guys – there’s nothing better than the start of crawfish season…except maybe the start of baseball season.

Anyway, Smiley’s column was cute. He talked about the fact that the Astros and Braves get a lot of Louisiana fans because of their proximity, but that there are at least as many Cubs fans in the area. When I wrote about being a Cub fan in Louisiana, I was flooded by responses from others all over the state that claimed the same passion for a team so far away. I see more Cubs hats than any others all over town – the mall, the grocery store, campus. But Smiley was right. Around here a lot of people pass up big league teams for the local Tiger team.

I guess spring training fever has caught up with me. I just watched a few innings of a Mets/Indians game at lunch. I love to catch a game during my lunch break. The lunch of choice: hot dogs, of course.

2. World Baseball Classic

I started off feeling the same about the WBC as I have about spring trainings past. But I’m starting to buy into the hype. I even caught myself watching China and Chinese Taipei the other night. Everyday makes me a little more excited about the U.S., Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. I even look forward to seeing how Italy plays. Of course, watching the Cubs in it will be fun too, as long as they don’t get hurt.

3. The Trip

I just booked a trip to Chicago for ten days in April. I’ll be there for opening weekend at Wrigley, which just happens to include my birthday. It seems that I will be at three games during my time in town. If the excitement around Wrigley during a September game is any indication, there should be an unimaginable amount of energy in the air. I somehow managed to win a trip to Chicago from a BR radio station. Maybe my luck is changing.

4. The Move

If everything goes according to plan, I’ll be able to make my move to Chicago in June. The trip in April will give me a chance to look into some things up there. I have to say that I wonder about how the move will change me. So much of my personality is wrapped up in being a baseball fan in a city with no team. Right now I’m working an extra job to save up for the move. In fact, it seems all that I do is somehow in preparation for moving. The fact that June is only three months away is still mind boggling to me.

4. One Month

The winter is usually long. There is very little reported about baseball, and most of what’s there is not worth waiting through the hockey highlights. But I’ve started to see more and more in the news everyday. Baseball is creeping back into our lives. It’s hard to believe that opening day is in less than one month. That means it’s time to start watching Sports Center and Baseball Tonight. It also means day games during lunch breaks, hot dogs, cold beer, box scores, and games on the Internet during work. And with the trip and the move, it also means Wrigley Field in the summer.


For the Love of the Cubs – My Valentines


On a day when we singletons bemoan our pairless state, I thought I would send my love to the Cubs, an odd bedfellow to be sure. Loving a perennially bad team is a lot like being in a dysfunctional relationship. You fall in love with the potential. Surely, they’ll come around and be the man/team I know they can be. They **** on you daily but give you just enough to keep you around. You love them with all your heart but know they probably don’t feel the same way.

To justify staying, you tell yourself that they’ll come around, that they really do love you, that there’s no one better for you, that you’d rather be with them during a rough year over someone else having a great one, that they’ll get a better job/bullpen, that the good days are worth going through the bad days, that no one else can make you feel like they can.

You say these things, but you know deep down there’s a more important reason for staying. Although the odds are against them ever becoming what you have envisioned, there is still a chance. And you’ll be damned if they do it after you have given up on them. The thought of wasting all of those years believing in them just to have someone else reap the benefits of your hard work and support, makes you sick. And so you stay.

Really, though, I don’t think I have enough recent experience dating a guy to compare it to dating a team. As sad as it is, I have a lot more experience dating a team.

My love affair with the Cubs has been on again, off again since middle school. I’ve said before that I took breaks when I was doing girlier things in highschool/early college. Thinking back, it seems more like I took breaks when I was dating actual guys.

This is disturbing for two reasons. One, I would hate to think of myself as a girl that forgot about her team when she had a boyfriend. That’s worse than forgetting about your girlfriends. Hopefully I have matured in the 400 years since I’ve actually dated someone. And two, it is sad to think I have been forced to substitute baseball for dating.

Nevertheless, I am dating the Cubs. And as I’ve been before, I am a clingy girlfriend. I wake up and watch SportsCenter to catch a clip of their last game. As soon as I get to work, I check the standings, get the box scores, and read all the articles on them that I can. If I can’t listen to the game on the internet or watch it on TV, I frantically watch the ticker on ESPN2 or call the News Service every 5 minutes to find them. I have pictures of Wrigley in my office and at home, not to mention my screensavers.

OK, so maybe I’m a bit obsessive. Or maybe being terminally single just allows me way too much time to focus on baseball. I mean, it could be a lot worse. Baseball is a much better than knitting as a substitute for dating. And this way I actually have men in my life. Lots of them.

Ideally, I would meet a guy who would be as passionate about baseball as I am. Wait, I have met that guy… a million times. But here I am. Maybe you think it should be easy for a sports nut of a girl to find a guy. Very big misconception. More about that later. For now, I’ll just dream of better relationships in the spring and wear my Believe bracelet in lieu of an engagement ring.

First Time in the Friendly Confines

For nearly 20 years, I’ve been watching the Cubs on WGN. Although I had never been to Wrigley, I always felt like I belonged there. Last summer, even after I had finally planned my first trip to Chicago, the fact that I’d actually be  there watching the Cubs just wouldn’t sink in. This trip was supposed to happen for many summers before. Things just always seemed to get in the way. Even though I had the tickets for the flight and game in hand, I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop. (I’m a Cubs fan. That’s what we do. Besides, I’ve got a touch of the Curse myself. More on that later.)

And drop that other shoe did. Just a month after Hurricane Katrina hit to the east of Baton Rouge and on the very day I was scheduled to leave for Chicago, Hurricane Rita struck to the west of us. Neither hurricane did long term damage to our city, but both brought heavy enough winds to knock down power lines and trees. Oh, and shut down airports. We knew it was coming on Friday. We just didn’t know how early. My flight was for 6 a.m. I went to bed hoping I would make it out before the storm hit.

I rushed to the airport, as if my being early would somehow get the plane off the ground sooner. The winds had already picked up as I sat in a deserted gate. I tried to figure out how many hours it would take by car if the plane wouldn’t take off. Not enough time. But we did make it out – on one of the last flights out of Baton Rouge before the airport was closed.  The first leg made it to Memphis, where there were a lot of angry people still waiting for flights from the day before. Once I left Memphis, I knew I was actually going to make it.

As we approached Chicago, the view into downtown was breathtaking. There was no way to stop a gigantic smile from taking over my face. I must have looked like a lunatic to the people around me. All the Chicago songs I had ever heard filled my head. I had to fight to keep from breaking into song. I raced out of the airport, onto the El, and to Lincoln Park to unload my bags at Kyle’s apartment. After a quick change into my Todd Walker jersey, I was ready to go. I waited for the El to Wrigley with all the other Cub gear wearing fans.

Believe_or_leave_1 Two stops later, I got off the train at the Addison stop. As I stepped onto the platform, I saw It. Again, a smile the size of Texas took over my face. I walked past the billboard for Old Style Beer that read, "Believe or Leave" and knew I was home. I made my way out of the station and down the streets of Wrigleyville, passing shops where I had shopped online. A few blocks took me to the outside of the stadium. As I was looking for my gate, I took in the sights and sounds of this ancient neighborhood which seemed to come alive with the hustle and bustle of folks making their way to the game.

Red_sign_1 Finally making it to my gate, I stood for a long time watching as the crowd outside the stadium grew larger, undauntedby the fact that I’d be going in alone. These were my people. This was my stadium. My team. After a few minutes, I looked up and realized where I was standing. Under the majestic red sign that has become synonymous with Wrigley and the Cubs. I stared at it in awe. How could I have been standing under it and missed seeing it?

After selling my spare ticket, I had just enough time to grab my free promotional Cubs Snoopy and make it to my seat. I wove through the walkways, past the concession stands, and up the ramp to the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. As I hit the landing and saw the whole field, I literally lost my breath. My gasping out loud made the usher giggle.  I guess she had seen that before.
The seat I had purchased on eBay was OK, but I knew I could move down to a little better view. Twenty-seven years of navigating Tiger Stadium have made me fearless in my pursuit of finding any ticket and using it to get to better seats. I finally landed on the second level, directly behind home plate. Wow.

I made a quick call to Louisiana to check on things. It seems the storm was just beginning to hit. It didn’t look good. A tree had already gone through my grandma’s roof, but she was OK. I decided not to feel guilty for being there, but rather to appreciate the fact that I had made it and to enjoy it for everyone back home. The situation at home made me feel even closer to my native Louisianian and current Cub, Todd Walker. I had on his jersey and, of course, an LSU hat to represent.

I always get goosebumps when I hear the National Anthem. This time it was unreal. I thought ofTodd_down_1 how many times I had seen this very sight on TV and I thought of Louisiana.   In the first inning after a Todd Walker single, I turned to the guy next to me and told him how I had been watching Todd play since he was at LSU. Derrek Lee sent the next pitch deep enough to get Todd to third, but he collapsed right before the bag. Oh God, I had cursed him. He stayed down longer than baseball players usually do but finally made it off the field. It’s pretty typical that my favorite player would go down during my first inning at Wrigley.

Kyle_at_game_1 The rest of the game is kind of a blur to me. The Cubs won, though. And against the Astros, my least favorite team in Major League Baseball (and the one closest to BR). Kyle joined me in the 7th inning. We had a couple of hot dogs and beers. At sometime during the game, I had to go apply for a credit card to get the free blanket. Wrigley in September was more than I bargained for, and my jersey and the free t-shirt ESPN handed out before the game weren’t cutting it.

After the game, we walked around Wrigleyville, hitting Murphy’s and the Cubby Bear for some moreMurphys Old Style. I walked around the entire stadium, checking out things from every angle. Kyle said I looked like a kid in a candy shop. The neighborhood was even more alive after the game than before. The atmosphere was that of a street carnival. Some guys played metal drums in the street, and people were spilling out of the local bars. I just kept eying that white "W" flag flying over the magical green scoreboard. Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!

It didn’t matter that the Cubs were mathematically out of contention by that time. I had flown away from a hurricane to see a game at Wrigley. And the Cubs rewarded me with a win. It’s an amazing feeling to scratch off the number one item on your "To Do Before I Die" list. Sure, there will be other things to cross off in the future. Some will surely be more important. And I’ll see other Cubs games. But I’ll always remember my first time.

Of Cubs and Hurricanes

I’m back. College bowls, holidays, computer issues, and work had me distracted there for a while. But now it’s a new year and time to focus on baseball. There are 77 days until the Cubs open in Cinci. And there is much to be decided between now and then, not to mention Spring Training.

There is one issue close to my heart these days. Todd Walker. If you read my previous post, Back In Blue, you know how I feel about the crafty veteran from LouToddisiana. Although the Cubs picked up his option in December, rumors abound that he will be traded before the season starts. Apparently I am not the only one who is unsettled by these rumors. One fan expressed his wishes for Walker to return in the Tribune’s most recent "View from a Cubs Fan". There are also two questions regarding his return in the cubs.com "Mailbag". Although Walker was on the initial schedule for the Cubs Convention this weekend, he was later scratched from the lineup. Apparently one girl took the opportunity to herald his cause by wearing a "Save Todd Walker" t-shirt to the convention.

Just because I haven’t been writing doesn’t mean that the Cubs haven’t been on my mind. On a recent trip to New Orleans, I was reminded of how big the Cubs fan base is. It was my first trip to the French Quarter and Bourbon St. since Hurricane Katrina. I decided that New Orleans needed my money more than Baton Rouge did, so I drove down there to do my part to help boost the sagging economy. Although I stayed in parts of town that were relatively unscathed by Katrina, things were not at all like they used to be. Very few street lights work; debris is still all over the streets and medians; the stores that are open only have very limited hours. Not quite the 24 hour hub of activity New Orleans is used to.

As I stopped in a bar on Bourbon St. for a "Huge *** Beer", I noticed the bartender was wearing a Cubs hat. Intrigued as I usually am when I meet a fellow fan in LA, I asked if he was really a Cub fan. He answered, "Why? Please don’t tell me you’re a White Sox fan." In response, I showed him my Cubs lighter, and we both laughed. There really are more Cub fans than anything else down here, but it’s still fun to meet one, especially on a now anemic Bourbon St. Later, while shopping at one of the touristy Mardi Gras bead shops, I decided to make a purchase besides beer and dinner, a lovely set of red and blue beads with a Cubs bull’s eye medallion at the bottom. Normally I would never buy the junk in these stores, but I was still in the "spend money for The Big Easy Mode". I was also drunk and still laughing about my Cub fan run-in.

While on the subject of New Orleans, I wanted to thank everyone who donated Ipitchedin time, money, and supplies to our state after the Hurricanes. I know the Cubs collected money at some games and sold the "I pitched in for Hurricane Relief" pins, with proceeds going to relief efforts. I think you can still buy them here. This has been an incredibly difficult year for Louisiana. I just wanted everyone to know that each of us really appreciates not only the money you have sent, but also the well-wishes, concern, and prayers you have supplied.

Keep checking for posts daily. Next up, I will finally get one in about my first trip to Wrigley. Be careful, it may be a tear jerker.

Story of a Cub Fan: The Post-Grace Era (Why I stayed a fan)

When the Cubs dumped Mark Grace, I had to re-examine my reasons for being a fan of the team. My addiction had grown far beyond following one player, but everything seemed different. Even though I had come to peace with Gracie being gone, I never could get over the rumors that Sammy Sosa had something to do with his leaving. Sure, Sammy had helped bring me back to baseball and the Cubs with his homeruns in ’98, and for that I was willing to give him a chance. I normally respect clutch-hitting infielders over power hitters but was fooled into thinking that he was a sweet, harmless, big-hearted oaf. By the time the Grace thing went down, I was already sick of him. It was obvious that he wanted to share the title of Mr. Cub with no one. His prima donna ways and inability to do anything but strike out or hit a homer got old.

The 2003 playoffs were very tough on me. I had picked the Red Sox as my secondary team that year because Todd Walker was with them. Watching the two teams get well into the Championship Series sent me into a frenzied state. Strangers in Cubs hats were screaming “Go Cubs!” across the campus of LSU. A smile was planted permanently on my face. I think one of my highest moments of being a Cub fan came in Game 7 of the NLCS when Kerry Wood homered. I made such a fool of myself in my apartment that my new puppy was scared to come near me. It was his first baseball season; he has since learned what to expect. Things looked so good for both teams. The dreamers had started to think the impossible: Cubs v. Red Sox in the World Series.

Of course, that was not to be. Chicago and Boston both fell short, and I was crushed. That same week the Florida Gators came into Baton Rouge to crush our hopes of an unbeaten season and the first national championship in football since 1958. I wanted to burn down the state of Florida for sending out the Marlins and Gators into the world to dash my hopes. I truly was ready to give up as not just a baseball fan, but as a sports fan in general. My heart was broken. I couldn’t eat or sleep or have meaningful conversations. I’m pretty sure I scared my student workers to death. In a beautiful twist of fate, I was brought back to the land of the living when my Tigers became the unlikely winners of the BCS championship game. (By the way, I will entertain NO talk of co-championships.)

As much as I thought my baseball days were over, the spring of 2004 brought the same eagerness that all the years before had brought. And then Sports Illustrated had to pick the Cubs to win it all. Put them on the front of a spring issue. We should have seen it coming. Injuries. More injures. Sulking Sosa. Etc. We watched two teams from our division make the playoffs. It was supposed to be our year. This was supposed to be “next year”, for real. The only good news was that other Cub fans had finally wised up about Sammy Soso. No one was happier to see him go. I still have a printout of the ad he placed in the Tribune to thank Cub fans on my door at work. I didn’t save it because I was touched by it, but because it was so satisfying to see him waving goodbye.

2004 saw the Red Sox finally win the World Series, followed by the White Sox in 2005. I pulled for both of them. There was a lot written about whether Cub fans should pull for the White Sox. It was the only thing that seemed right to me. How could I not pull for two long-struggling teams? The baseball gods demanded it of me. Not to mention, I think both wins were great for baseball. Who isn’t tired of watching the Yankees win? It’s even less fun to watch an expansion team win. These two teams have history and heart, and I enjoyed watching them win. Now it’s our turn.

And I’ll be there, along with all the other Cub fans who wish sometimes that they could give up. We never will. We’ve invested too much to give up. That’s a prime reason for staying a fan. You know that no matter who jumps on the band wagon win they win, you were there all along. Besides, being a Cub fan is the hard thing to do. Anyone can follow the Yankees or Braves. That takes no effort. They’ll keep you happy most of the time. Tom Hanks said it pretty well in A League of Their Own.

Jimmy Dugan: Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.

Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.

Jimmy Dugan: It’s supposed to be hard! If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great!

And so it is with being a Cub fan. There’s a magical element to this team. The history, the ivy and bricks, the losing, all of it. The Cubs are a real baseball team in a real baseball park in a real baseball town. I wouldn’t give that up for anything. Besides, being a Cub fan makes you part of something truly unique. There are more Cub fans spread out around the world than any other team. I can walk around LSU and see more Cubs hats than Astros hats. Some away games look like home games with all the displaced Cub fans. We are strong in number and strong in spirit.

Since starting this blog, I’ve gotten great comments from fans who live all around the country and I have enjoyed reading all of them. I encourage you all to keep reading, keep commenting (especially on why you became a Cub fan), and to start an MLBlog, if you haven’t already. Send me your links, I’d love to include them on my site.

Up next: My Virgin Trip to Wrigley

Story of a Cub Fan: The Early Years

Before I go any further with this blog, I think it’s time to inform you about how I became a Cubs fan in Louisiana and, more importantly, why I stayed one. I started off the way millions of girls do, playing softball. But my love of the game transcended how the other girls felt at an early age.

My dad, an avid sports fan, provided me with an appreciation of baseball that continues to this day. He started taking me to LSU football, basketball, and baseball games before I could walk. I’m pretty sure he wanted a boy, but he got a girl first. Although I loved all LSU sports, baseball became an obsession. I guess it was because I played softball and could understand it better than football and basketball.

When other little girls had pictures of Tom Cruise and Jon Bon Jovi on their walls, I had pictures of the LSU baseball team. After their first national championship in 1991, I made a scrapbook of the team from clippings in the local paper. Every year when the players would put on a baseball clinic for the kids in the area, I was there. Of the 200 kids that attended, I was one of about five girls. Getting on the news and having my picture in the paper was a yearly event.

Although the clinic was given by the LSU players, there were always major leaguers in attendance, one for each position. One year, when we broke into positions, I chose the catchers group. Our softball team needed a catcher, so Coach Dad had started training me. The big league catcher that year was Mickey Tettleton, then with Detroit. I will never forget overthrowing him in a game of pitch and catch. From that point on, I was hooked.

That summer I started watching all the baseball games I could. In Baton Rouge, you don’t have many options. You get the Astros since they’re the closest team and the Braves and Grace8 Cubs, if you have cable. I don’t remember having a favorite right off the bat. That came later in the year when my mom got me an MLB calendar for Christmas. Mark Grace was the player featured for my birthday month and he played first base, the position I preferred over the catcher’s spot to which I was delegated. Since I could watch him play nearly every day, I became enthralled with his glove and clutch hitting. Thus began my love of the Cubbies and my lifetime affair with infielders.

In the years that followed, my love of baseball continued to grow. I ate my cereal over the box scores every morning. At one point I even held an ambition to become the first female baseball player. Coach Dad, in his ever-logical manner, explained the impossibility of that dream to me. Still, I couldn’t tear myself away from the game. We practiced throwing in the front yard well into my high school playing days. He took me to the batting cages and let me hit until I got cricks in my neck. I was never a great player but I practiced more than anyone, could hit in a clutch, and earned the respect of the league umpires with my play at First Base.

During high school and early college, boys took center stage over watching the Cubs, probably because that was around the time of the strike of 1994, something my dad still hasn’t gotten over. But once I got the hang of it, college provided me with all the free time I could dream of. And partly because of the Homerun chase of ’98, the Cubs started creeping back into my daily life. There was just something about the ivy, bricks, and history of losing that was like a magnet to my remote control. But the advent of the internet was the key to my addiction.

The Cubs nearly lost me in 2000 when they let Mark Grace go. He was the reason I was Grace23 a fan. Besides, he had played his whole career with a losing team, sometimes providing the only light in a sad season. It was wrong to dispose of him for a younger player, and I wasn’t really right again until Gracie was vindicated in 2001 with a World Series win. I cried like a baby watching him celebrate with his fellow Diamondbacks, partly because I was happy for him and partly because I knew I’d never see him celebrate a World Series victory with the Cubs.

So now my hero was gone. I had to find new reasons and ways to love the Cubs.

Up next: The Post-Grace Era

Back in Blue



I arrived at work Monday morning to very good news. The Cubs have picked up the option on Todd Walker. He will be a Cub for at least one more year. This may not have even registered on the radars of many fans, but it brought a lot of joy to this postseason deprived Louisianian.

When the Cubs let Mark Grace go at the end of his career, I wondered if I would be able to find a favorite player on the team. In fact, for a little while I wondered if I could ever really feel the same about a team that could overlook the loyalty and career numbers of a player who stayed with them during their long affair with futility. Grace was the reason I became a Cub fan, and it was hard to imagine the team without him.

Of course, I got over it, especially after Gracie was vindicated with a World Series championship the very year he left a team that continued on a 93 year championship drought. But as the season began, I was still searching for a hero. A Giants friend of mine told me the new Cub, and ex-Giant, Bill Mueller could be my guy. I didn’t believe. But sure enough, I started to really get behind the clutch hitting, diving in the dirt kind of play of the new 3rd baseman. Just when Mueller was getting hot, he slid into the 3rd base wall at the late Busch Stadium and suffered a busted knee cap. The Cubs let him go before he could get back to 100%. Of course, he won the batting title the next year for the Red Sox.

Again, I needed a hero. When you pull for a team who constantly lets you down, it is imperative that you find one guy you can pull for individually even when you don’t have much to root for in the complete team. Sammy Sosa? Please. By the 2000 season, I was over the whole magic of ’98 thing. He had shown himself to be one of the worst clutch performers and biggest prima donnas in the game. No, I needed a new down and dirty infielder. I was about to get more than I hoped for.

One December evening in 2003, I was sitting at a bar waiting for friends to join me for a Christmas gift exchange and dinner. Before anyone else arrived, I received my gift. Watching ESPN on the TV over the bar, I couldn’t believe what the ticker at the bottom of the screen had just told me. "Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker to Cubs." I jumped up and actually let out a scream.

Again, probably not much of a blip on the average Cub fan’s radar. Sure, Walker had a decent season in Boston. He quietly led the team in most offensive categories, including setting a Red Sox record of five home runs in 12 games, in their upsetting playoff run. His stint in Boston was short, much like those in Minnesota, Colorado, and Cincinnati. I had followed him through all those teams, but my admiration for his play started much earlier.

Todd Walker was one of my favorite LSU players in the early ’90s. After winning freshman of the year honors in 1992, he went on to break LSU and SEC records left and right. In his sophomore season, he was named the Outstanding Player of the College World Series while leading LSU to its second title in three years. After becoming the first Tiger to bat .400 for a season and earning his degree, he was the eighth overall draft pick by the Twins in 1994. Later, Baseball America would name him the best college second baseman of the modern era.

In all of LSU’s success in the ’90s, few of their players have gone on to long professional careers. It has been fun to see a player I had enjoyed so much as a Tiger go on to play for so many years. But nothing can match having that player on the team I love. Walker hasn’t had quite the professional numbers that he had in college and his speed on the basepath has been a liability for a second baseman at times, but he plays hard, hits in the clutch, and maintains a humble disposition in the clubhouse. Last season he hit .305 for the Cubs. That’s better than most of the team.

As much as I’m hopeful about next season (exactly 5 months from today), it probably won’t be the drought-ending season we are all waiting for. Still, at least I’ll have my guy. And who knows? Maybe my next guy is waiting in the wings to be the one who brings it home to the North Side.