Thursday, April 05, 2012

Cub Fan, Nats Man

The Nats-Cubs season-opener feels awkward for me.

When I was a kid growing up in the DC suburbs, I loved the Cubs. Loved. Loved loved loved. Die-hard. I was 11 for 1984's "Next Year Is Here."

I called my local cable company -- which hadn't been around very long, mind you -- to lobby them to add WGN SuperStation.

I had a Cubs hat that I wore around so much that it wore out. I took a Sharpie and wrote "8/8/88" on my baseball glove, commemorating the night the lights went on at Wrigley.

In my freshman facebook entry for college, among my interests, I listed "Chicago Cubs."

20 years ago, the idea of going to college in Chicago and being able to drop by Wrigley as often as I wanted -- which I did -- seemed like a dream.

When I graduated college, I moved into an apartment in Wrigleyville, about three blocks from the field -- close enough we could sit on our stoop and trade cans of beer for free tickets.

Somewhere along the line, I went from die-hard to not being a fan at all. There's no question that part of it came from me losing some of my passion for baseball. Some of it, ironically, came from the proximity -- being a displaced Cubs fan felt special; being in the middle of it was, weirdly, less appealing. But, looking back, a lot had to do with my interest in baseball fading -- a strange thing for a one-time Strat-o-Matic addict.

Fast-forward to 2012. I have moved back to the DC area. Baseball-wise, the biggest difference between the early-90s and now is the presence of the Nationals. Not just the presence, but the buzz -- Strasburg. Harper. Zimmerman. That rotation! That bullpen! Davey Johnson! Mike Rizzo! Thomas Boswell!

A few years ago, the Nats piqued my interest -- I had grown up going to Orioles games (for years, my dad had the "Sunday home game" ticket package), but I never had the connection to them, aside from an abiding regional love for Cal Ripken, which every kid had regardless of who they grew up rooting for.

That the Nats went from a sorry team to one of the most promising in baseball was compelling. They have a must-see ace and a must-see hitter-in-waiting. I began to follow the team, but once I actually moved down here, I started following them much more closely.

I really like baseball -- particularly the "national" stories and the intellectual approach that has taken hold of the game and its complementary analysis. (I don't mind saying that subscribing to Joe Sheehan's baseball newsletter helped my enjoyment of the game substantially.)

But now I find myself gravitating towards rooting for a team again. I'm still very sympathetic for the Cubs -- I cannot possibly turn against my 13-year-old self -- but I consider myself a burgeoning Nats fan, even a bandwagon Nats fan (then again, every DC area fan who adopted the Nationals simply out of proximity or regional allegiance is a bandwagon fan).

More importantly, once again, I consider myself a real (or "real") fan (or "fan") of a specific team, nonetheless.

Ironically, the first MLB game that I took my oldest kid to was a Cubs game, two summers ago. He loved it. The video I have of him singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" remains one of my favorite moments of being a parent.

Even more ironically, he has no interest in the Nationals -- like any kid born and raised in New York, he is... much to my regret... a Yankees fan. My impulse is to try to break him of that, but who am I to manipulate his fandom like that? That's his thing.

Now, if the Nationals get good and he grows up from age 6 to age 16 watching Strasburg mow down hitters and Harper jack homers and the team win division titles (or even a World Series or two), he may change his mind.

That would certainly be taking after his dad.

-- D.S.

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