The Downside of Winning: Not All Aspects of Cubs Baseball Get Better with Success

Those of us who love it know there’s a special romanticism about baseball. It’s almost as though nostalgia is coded into the sport’s DNA, flowing through and surrounding alternating sequences of OBP and ERA. It can be intimate even in a billion-dollar stadium and can feel like home even when you’re half a world away. “The one constant through all the years,” as Phil Alden Robinson wrote for James Earl Jones’s Terrance Mann in Field of Dreams, “has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”

You can’t help but agree what that description, particularly when the words are washing over you with the tidal force of that mellifluous bass. It is, however, the product of Hollywood, crafted not only to reflect our emotions but also to direct them. The truth is undeniably present, just fogged and diluted a bit. It’s like drinking a glass of guava juice, only to find out it was actually made from concentrate.

And if I could find one (admittedly minor) gripe with the Cubs’ resurgence, it’s that more of the same is going at at the corner of Clark and Addison. As someone who grew up with an image of Wrigley Field as an idyllic wonderland populated by bikini-clad women and soused men who wore their shirts unbuttoned, if they wore them at all. It was a place out of time, an island in the sun where where we watched the Cubs play and had some fun. And it made me feel so fine I couldn’t control my brain.

In a way, the purity of the game is more evident when the team is struggling. The layers are stripped away and we’re left with more of that distilled essence we fell in love with once upon a time. Gone are the dude-bros and party girls, the tourists and the bandwagon passengers. The tickets are cheaper since their pricing can only be as dynamic as the team they support. And those tickets have greater potential to get even better as you notice empty seats in more premium areas. The game feels more like the one you played as a kid or maybe even like the version you experience at the minor league level.

With last season’s success, however, the Cubs have moved from art-house indie flick to full-blown summer blockbuster. The virtual waiting rooms are going to be giving online fire marshals heart attacks and Wrigleyville is going to resemble South Padre or South Beach. You’ll be lucky just to get a seat, and you can forget about moving up once you get there. Gone is cozy corner pub, replaced by the mega-sized sports bar. Sigh.

But is that really a bad thing? Sure, there’s potential for the loss of a certain measure of fidelity and you’ll have to put up with more obnoxious blowhards spouting stats about which they possess neither comprehension nor context. You’ll have to pay more and wait longer (in traffic, to get in, for the bathroom, for beer, for the bathroom, for beer, for the bathroom, to get out, in traffic). And your expectations for the team mean you can pretty much kiss the days of playing with house money goodbye. Despite all of that, it’s worth it.

It’s worth it because the ardor and energy running through and radiating from the assembled masses are more than enough to overpower the annoyances that come with popularity. When the Cubs are bad, a day at Wrigley serves as an escape from the tedium of life and even the season itself. When they’re good, a trip to the ballpark is still an escape, but it’s also an immersion into a kind of an alternate reality in which there exists no talk of curses and droughts.

The increase in demand does make it a bit more difficult for some fans to afford to see their team, though it also makes it a bit easier to justify the cost. There’s also the reality that those of us who like having the Cubs to ourselves are going to have to share them more now. Then again, after watching this team and imagining what it can become, it would be wrong not to want to share that with as many people as possible. And you can bet the people will come.

They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters.

I’ll no doubt swim around in those magic waters at every opportunity, but I think the Cubs’ competitiveness is actually better for those watching from the comfort of their own homes. They get all the added excitement with none of the headaches, not to mention a better beer selection. And if you have a little boy in your house, chances are good that he’s missed his mark often enough to provide at least a ghost of Wrigley’s patented stale urine smell. True story.

There is a downside to winning, a cost that is evident to both our wallets and our sensibilities. Then again, it’s hard to complain when you see Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber mashing home runs off the video boards or when Addison Russell makes a diving stop to end the game or when Joe Maddon sets up a petting zoo in the outfield. So the old-timey romance might take a backseat for a while here, but I think we’re going to be just fine replacing it with a whole new set of memories. Because it’s going to happen.

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