When the Braves and Cubs get together it reminds me of my tutelage as a baseball fan. Growing up in Indianapolis I didn’t have a team. After moving to Indy from Cleveland in 1994 (Yes, as an 8 year old I cheered for the Indians in the ‘95 World Series) I was unable to watch any Indians game so I didn’t follow the team for much longer. I, like most fans without hometown teams, gravitated to TBS and WGN for Braves and Cubs games. These were my teams growing up and it wasn’t a bad run through the 90’s. The Braves were dominant, had great pitching which I loved, and the Cubs had Sammy Sosa.
I was never much of a baseball player growing up, football and basketball were more popular in Indy, but the summer of ‘98 is the reason I am a baseball fan today. The summer of ‘98 pushed the needle heavily in the Cubs direction. From 1998 to 2002 Sosa hit nearly 300 home runs. For 5 seasons, Sosa’s at bats were must-see TV. I was becoming a huge Cubs fan, but I never forgot about the Braves.
Then in ‘03 the tables turned. By that point everyone was aware that Sosa was juiced but I didn’t care. Then Sosa got busted in the game against the Devil Rays for the corked bat. In the blink of an eye I could no longer ignore the cheating. Still, I wasn’t completely off the bandwagon . The “Lovable Losers” moniker went from charming to down right annoying. With remote in hand, the dial routinely found TBS and only out of habit would I venture over to WGN. That season ended with the “Bartman Game” and I thought for sure the Cubs would never win it all. Still my strange journey as a displaced baseball fan was not over.
From ‘04 to ‘07, I watched just about every Braves game I could on TBS. I planned my schedule around day games and for night games would have to strategically manipulate the rest of the family in order to control a remote. Then somehow I started the ‘08 season without knowing what was in store for me. At that time, I didn’t have many friends that were baseball fans so the news that TBS wasn’t carrying as many Braves games didn’t get to me right away. I remember that first week checking the TV Guide thinking, “Where are all the games? What is going on here? This isn‘t very funny.”
With limited Braves games on I was left with little options to feed my baseball appetite. It was back to WGN. 2008 was a good year for the Cubs, they won the division but were swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS. I went into the playoffs rooting for the Cubs and when they lost I realized that I didn’t really care. In January ‘09, the Cubs decided to give me 30 million reasons why I should never root for the team again by giving Milton Bradley a 3 year deal. That officially ended my career as a part-time Cubs fan.
Most Braves fans had last week’s games against Wild Card hopeful San Francisco and NL West leading Arizona circled on the schedule. For me, these 4 games against the Cubs are bigger. I don’t just want to win, I want to beat their fan base into submission. I hope it gets so bad that by Thursday afternoon’s series finale Uggla, Chipper, and Freeman are bombing homers into empty bleachers. I want to see the streets of Sheffield and Waveland full of wandering Cubs fans contemplating their core beliefs. How has the least successful franchise in professional sports managed to keep one of the best fan bases? Who could love a loser for this long?
Some people, mostly ones privileged enough to grow up in a baseball town, find my journey as a baseball fan flaky and fair weathered. I can’t really argue against those opinions, but I know what I like. I like winners and the Atlanta Braves are winners.