By Matt Spiegel–
(CBS) The National League Championship Series now looms.
Games 3 and 4 between the Cubs and Giants in San Francisco were absurdly intense, crazily compelling and ultimately thrilling. Game 1 last Friday night was phenomenal as well. What a series.
Meanwhile, it happened, right before my eyes. I admittedly nudged it along, just a bit, but it happened to him. My not quite 5-year-old son is now smitten as a Cubs fan.
I’d pledged to myself — and to the world via a Daily Herald column — to not imprint any particular fandom on the boy. I was raised in a family of ardent Red Sox fans and deeply loved the roller coaster connection that provided. But I was committed to letting him choose his own logo or player or ballpark.
Well, here we are.
Game 2 was attended by Spiegel and child. He likes statues. He’s currently intrigued by the heavy concept of death. And there at Wrigley Field for daddy and Rubin time, the confluence of his interests are presented. So of course, the Ernie Banks statue is noticed and felt in a brand new way.
“Was he the best player, daddy? Did he die?” he asks.
We love to sing together. He’s seen daddy on a stage with a mic. So of course “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” sung by 42,000 strong as they smile and sway, has an effect. He loves heavy, foreboding music, always has. Beethoven’s 5th. Mars, The Bringer Of War. Night On Bald Mountain. So of course Rage Against The Machine’s long intro to “Wake Up,” which serves as Aroldis Chapman’s walk-up music, is powerfully invigorating.
The look of grinning wonder as his eyes roam around the park is mesmerizing. His puffy soft cheeks are beautiful. His face is inches from mine, as I hold him aloft in those musical ballpark moments. The collective energy is palpable. He takes it in, and I’m lit by the many colors of it through his prism.
That version of communal sports energy is the most beautiful of my 46 years.
He wants to visit Ernie again on the way out, but the crowd forces us toward the car. We settle for hearing RATM’s “Wake Up” twice. I add it to his ever growing Spotify playlist. He’s a living music software genome.
Two night later, here we are. It’s Kol Nidre, the holiest eve of our holiest holiday, so I watch with only him. If Sandy can skip pitching, I can skip tweeting. I won’t work the next day. I write now because the night was too remarkable to simply let pass.
No school day looms, so I’m committed to letting him stay up for maximum daddy connection. I have the game on an Ipad while we snuggle and watch a Ninja Turtles movie in the “big chair.” We walk the dog on a beautiful South Loop night during the seventh inning, returning to brush his teeth and make our way to the “big bed” by the ninth.
The ninth is mayhem. Kris Bryant gets a hit up the middle. Anthony Rizzo works a huge walk off a tough lefty. Ben Zobrist works a count to 3-1 and drills a double down the line. Joe Maddon sinks Bruce Bochy’s battleship with a substitution sequence that results in Willson Contreras against a hittable lefty. It’s a single up the middle to tie it.
Suddenly, Chapman is making his way from the dugout to the bullpen, and it sure as hell feels like a win is pending. My father agrees via text, emotionally invested in these Cubs more now that his beloved Red Sox are through.
Eventually, Javier Baez feasts on the feeble execution of Hunter Strickland for another hit up the middle. It’s now 6-5, and Chapman is warming.
Here he comes for the bottom of the ninth. My boy is wide awake.
“Daddy, what is the song they play when he walks?” he says.
“Wake Up” blares from my phone in the bedroom while FS1 commercials play in silence. The kid is standing on the bed, pounding his chest, stomping chaotically and fully feeling it.
Music fades, the inning begins and the side is struck out. Series win, dogpile on the mound and my boy starts singing. “Cubs … go Cubs go … Cubs …” He remembers the musical postgame from our night at Game 2. I hadn’t said a word of it since; his 4-year-old brain was just triggered.
Now, I hate that song. I respect Steve Goodman so much, but that song … woof. It feels like soft, palatable cheese with all potential flavor issues removed. The lyrics are a disaster; the tenses are all wrong. The Cubs “are gonna win today”? They just did, doofus, that’s why they’re playing this unfortunate song.
But my kid, my perfect kid, loves it. He dances some more. He jumps more than ever. He gets tired and asks me to pause it. He revs back up and demands the rest of the song.
Now who the hell am I to deny him the love of a song I loathe? Isn’t parenting about supporting the passions of your children, no matter how it might pain your cultural sensibilities? It ain’t about me.
So I sing along.
It’s 11:15 pm. I am either Father of the Year or a DCFS phone call away from a stern lecture.
He rolls onto his side, finally calming, ready to close his eyes and consider sleep.
“The Cubs are Chicago, right Daddy?” he says.
Yes they are, my boy. And so are you.
My friend Patrick Mannelly was a Chicago Bear for 16 years. He’s among those I texted with to share the consolidated version of this story after the fact. His response broadens my scope.
“That’s what makes Chicago great,” he said. “The history of parents and their kids enjoying the moments of great teams! It makes Chicago athletes love to play for this city.”
I’ve raised a Cubs fan. We all tend to find our teams through tradition, with games of excellence often turning us into tiny little front-runners.
He’s a lucky boy to enter a fandom this way, and I’m lucky to watch it.
Matt Spiegel is a host on the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on weekdays. Follow him on Twitter @MattSpiegel670.