#542: The Captain and the Cubs

October 14th, 2015

The captain was doubled over.

He stood on the deck, bent like a question mark. His knees were almost to his chest. His rear was sticking out. His hands were gripping the side of his head, fingers wrapped around his hair in a way the crew knew would amount to ripping if this third out didn’t happen but quick.

The captain had been screaming all night.

He had been screaming “YES!” from the pilothouse every time the Cubs had scored. He had been screaming random mouth noises every time the Cardinals had gotten a leg up.

Several times during the boat tour, there had been random wheel-slapping sounds followed by a frightening silence, scary even as I stood on the deck reciting architectural trivia for tourists.

Then the tourists and I would hear him clap his hands a couple times and say, “OK. OK.”

But now the tour was over. The boat was tied up on the dock south of Trib Tower. The crew was taking down the fenders and life preservers, shutting the windows, tidying the deck. The captain had transferred WGN Radio from his phone to the boat’s loudspeaker system.

The captain was doubled over, hair in hands, bent like a question mark to see if closer Héctor Rondón could get that game-ending third out off Cardinals rookie Stephen Piscotty.

I like sports, I do. But at some point in an adult’s life, liking a team and a game turns from something fun that passes an afternoon into a lifetime of memorizing statistics and calculating nerdery like CBS Sports’ later tally that Piscotty’s two-run homer in the top of the first pushed the Cardinals’ odds of winning Game 4 from 53.7 percent to 70.6 percent.

I mean, seriously. Look at that CBS link. They have a win-probability leverage index in a running line graph that looks like it should be tallying the NASDAQ or charting endangered heron populations. Nerds!

Although I tend to think of sports fans as drunken statisticians with a tendency to loot and flip cars to celebrate either wins or losses, I’ve found only one species more obnoxious as the Cubs’ season has extended into October.

Me. I’m sick of non-fans.

I too have grumbled over sports. I glaze over at tales of acronyms like NLDS to NLCS, and should the Cubs even progress to the series (seems jinxy to even say it by name, but you know what series I mean), the downtown will become a shitshow the likes of which will make the Blackhawks’ past runs seem a mild cotillion.

But I’m not on Facebook posting about how cool I am for not caring about sports. I’m not making tired jokes about “Sportsball” and condescending stati about “winning the points.” I’m not posting the overdone “You were sportsing pretty hard” comic (and I’m not excited about a winter of people who just discovered the “The air hurts my face” meme either).

For the record, Facebook friends, if it is right and proper to let the world know every time you encounter a topic you don’t care about, you’re going to be hearing a lot about any post of yours involving your god, your work, your vacations, your political opinions, your pumpkin spice lattes, that band you saw last night, any TV show you watch, your fan theories on “Doctor Who” or “Scandal” and definitely any post about your stupid baby.

You are an online community that runs the gamut from the people I love and care about most to that random Canadian I got drunk with in South Korea at a hostel with WiFi. You don’t get to get your joy from taking away someone else’s.

On the other end, there are the bandwagoners, random friends who have never expressed an interest in sports now digitally cheering and screaming for an audience that includes their own social circle’s version of the random Canadian.

In the continuum that runs from snobby joysuckers to fairweather Facebookers, I used to be the former and I’m trying very hard not to be the latter. Because no matter the joy I’m feeling at the Cubs’ successes, I’ll never be able to match Captain Jeff’s.

Curved like a question mark on the deck while the crew scurried, he waited and listened. I had already clocked out, but was listening from the stairs up to the dock. The crew listened too, if for no other reason than Jeff’s infectious joy.

“Strike three!” the loudspeaker screamed.

The captain screamed. The crew screamed. I screamed.

Across the silent river, boats’ horns started blaring. Our little passion play had been replicated on every boat with every crew tying up for the night. Every captain was celebrating.

“Come on, Jeff! Blast the horn!” I said. “You know you want-“

He was already there. The boat’s horn drowned me out.

And that’s what sports fandom is, I guess. It’s nerdy and it’s obnoxious and we all cringe from junior high memories of when the ability to recite the stats of Troy Aikman and Muggsy Bogues was a cool kid shibboleth we would never meet (mostly because we used the statistics part of our brain to memorize words like “shibboleth”).

But it’s obnoxious joy. It’s feeling something so overwhelming and powerful you’ve just got to let it out.

It’s like blasting a horn over a silent river, just to let the world know you feel good.

Watch the game-ending strikeout

Not baseball-related, but I’m damn proud of Monday’s interactive story

The Chicago History Museum is including some of my writing in an exhibition opening this weekend

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