Most of you know that I grew up and still live in southwest Michigan, about an hour and a half from Chicago. I had no family connections with baseball, really, and it was a sport that I got into on my own. Baseball cards and Little League were my introductions. The box scores in the local newspaper opened up a whole world to me. I suppose it's probably worth noting that I also liked geography a whole lot, and found it interesting -- not being from a city -- that there were all these things happening in places like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Baltimore.
My Orioles fandom is a direct result of cards and box scores, really. My first favorite players were Ripken and Tettleton and Murray (whose moustache and hair I thought were super cool, and I wanted to one day have a half-fro myself), plus guys like Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry with the Mets, Trammell and Whitaker with the Tigers, Carlton Fisk with the White Sox, Eric Davis in Cincinnati, and Mark Grace of the Cubs.
Most of my friends growing up were Cubs fans. The little town I lived in then (about 2,000 population) was filled with Chicago vacationers in the summer. FIPs, we called them. You figure it out. The town I live in now is much the same. It's a popuar, quiet, and quaint destination for those looking to escape the city for a week or a month in the summer.
Baseball on TV for me was built around WGN, and I watched more Cubs games than I can remember. I never really rooted for them. I rooted for Grace and Sandberg, because I liked those guys, but I was more concerned with getting up before school in April and May to see the early SportsCenter and catch how the O's did. For whatever reason, that was my team. Those were my guys. And I followed them as best I could.
The Cubs were the team presented to me most frequently. Steve Stone and Harry Caray in the booth. Harry might have been the first person to more than occasionally teach me the wiles of the drunk guy. Steve Trout or somebody would walk a guy. "Come on, Steve." He really rooted. He seemed so affable, like you were over at his house watching the game with him. "Ah, damn it. Want another beer?"
There is a big part of me that really wonders if I would have become the baseball fan I am without the Chicago Cubs and Harry Caray.
The Orioles being in Wrigley Field starting tonight at 8:05 is something fairly special to me. Only two of the three games will be on WGN, and the Cubs that helped shape my baseball fandom are all long gone. Ryno's in the Hall, Dawson's gone, Grace is gone, Harry, of course, is gone. Steve Stone was run out of town, essentially.
Now they have Fukudome and Soriano and Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. Lou Piniella's the manager (and Trammell's on his staff). Len Kasper does the play-by-play -- and he's fantastic, too.
The Cubs for me were sort of like a friend you knew in grade school, a guy or gal you hung out with a lot for a couple of years, and then they moved, or the two of you just sort of drifted apart. I wonder about the Cubs sometimes these days. What they're doing, where they're at, how their life turned out.
It's 72 and sunny here in southwest Michigan. The Birds are gearing up to play at Wrigley Field for the first time. For perhaps the first time since the McGwire/Sosa home run derby of 1998, I'm going to sit down and watch WGN tonight and really care about what's happening.