Even in a season as disappointing as this one, the rare occasions when both the Cubs and Sox are in town and playing one after the other are not to be squandered by the city's true baseball aficionados. My old Reader colleague Dave Jones calls them "doubledays," after Abner Doubleday, the Union general who according to myth invented baseball. Last Friday the Cubs played in the afternoon and the Sox at night, and they reversed the order Sunday, thanks to ESPN's national broadcast from Wrigley that evening. (Saturday's games started at 3 and 6, too close for anyone but Superman to catch all of both.) Doubledays provide not only an overdose opportunity for baseball addicts, but also a chance to study fans on both sides of town.
Cubs fans long ago gave up on the season, but they teamed up with Cardinals fans Friday for the largest crowd at Wrigley in 33 years—42,343. The Cardinals have lately been left in the dust by the Brewers, so the atmosphere was mellow: everyone settled in to enjoy the game and the beautiful afternoon. When the Cubs came back to win in ten, fans poured jubilantly out of the park. It wasn't at all like the elation after victories late in 2003, 2007, and 2008, but who needed to recall that just then? Especially after general manager Jim Hendry, architect of those teams, had been sacrificed by being fired earlier in the day.
By contrast, at Sox Park that night fans in the crowd of 28,308 anguished over their aggravating team. The Sox had climbed above .500 earlier in the week, only to lose the next two, and when starter Jake Peavy gave up four homers in the middle innings to the Rangers—erasing a 3-0 lead and then some—the boo birds got crowing. "You stink!" shouted a guy behind me in the upper deck. Another guy called on Sox pitchers to start hitting batters. Finally one old gent in a Sox cap gave up. "I gotta take a walk," he explained to his pals. "I'm sick of watching these losers." But it was Elvis Night, and a hunka, hunka burnin' musical fireworks along with two drops by skydiving Elvis impersonators sent the crowd home in a glowing if distracted state.
Wins on both sides of town Saturday—when the Cubs drew even more to Wrigley—did much to improve the mood of all fans going into Sunday. Sox fans adopted a "show me" attitude in the afternoon—no razzing of their heroes, but also no excessive cheering—and for a change the Sox came through, pounding the Rangers 10-0 to stay within hailing distance of first place, five games out.
In the evening, after Cubs starter Rodrigo Lopez served up four gopher balls in the first six innings to fall behind 5-2, Cubs fans took to ignoring the game and enjoying their own company. (So did their shortstop, Starlin Castro—the ESPN cameras caught him studying the sky while his pitcher was beginning his windup.) The group behind me got out their smart phones to recall the name of their favorite Chinese restaurant in Crystal Lake, known for its mai tais and egg rolls, until someone finally flashed on the Breakers. Cubs fans only got involved in the game to boo Albert Pujols when he did anything, which was often—he knocked out four hits, including one of those home runs.
The Cubs outdrew the Sox by 40,000 over the three days. But before Cubs fans start bragging about that, they should remember that the Bears are about to reassert just who owns this sports town.