My Grandpa Tom grew up in rural southern Illinois, but spent some time near Chicago due to his job with the railroad in the late 30's, which is how he became a Cubs fan. In the 40s, he and my grandmother moved to North Dakota, where they have remained ever since, and there is no local baseball team. So my grandfather remains a Cubs fan.
My father's the major reason I fell in love with the Red Sox and Patriots, but he believes strongly that, as he puts it, "you always have to root for the home entry." In other words, if my sister and I had grown up where my mother grew up, rather than where my father grew up, there's a good chance we'd be Cubs fans.
Then there is my friend Brian. Over the years some of my most impassioned, intense debate over baseball has been with him. We have gotten into the deep groove about its cultural meaning as representative of a city, about the fundamental philosophical differences between Red Sox and Cubs fans -- which are surprisingly many, at least to me as a Red Sox fan, and presumably would be to several national sports broadcasters, if they were paying any attention.
They say the US and Britain are two countries separated by a commmon language. I believe Boston and Chicago are two cities locked in a similar relationship, and within that, Red Sox and Cubs fans are two intense subcultures separated by a common legacy.
And it goes deeper than that, further than we even realize as Red Sox bigots (admit it -- I do) obsessed with our own parochial corner of the universe. Especially now that the Red Sox have won the World Series, the Cubs fans I have known have informed me, we are not seen as brethren anymore, if we ever were. In fact, we are, to some of the most orthodox among Cubs loyalists, merely part of a larger, hated enemy: East Coast Bias.
Convoluted as it may seem, it has been in the prickliness I have encountered in true-blue Cubs fans that I have found the real common ground between two otherwise clashing cultures. Cubs fans have filled me in on these things in the same annoyed tones I may have used on occasion to point out that 1986 wasn't actually Buckner's fault, for example. You could say (and I mean this with affection) we are largely united in being obsessed with our teams, and their respective legacies, to the point of being pedantic.
Which leads me to this weekend, the first visit by the Cubs to Fenway Park since 1918. Cubs fans have shown up in droves, especially for last night's game. They have made themselves heard, too, with "Let's go Cubbies" chants overlapping with cries of "Let's go Red Sox," and standing to cheer on 3-2 counts along with, as well as against, their Red Sox counterparts. This paradoxical, uncomfortable proximity is the true nature of Red Sox / Cubs fandom in 2011 -- and it has its own weird beauty, even if I think the real intersections between these two fan bases are generally misunderstood.
I'll also admit, it was hard not to feel at least some cognitive dissonance as the Cubs went ahead of the Red Sox last night, during a Boston bullpen implosion in the eighth inning. I saw Cubs fans in our stands giving each other beer-spilling headlock hugs, fists aloft, and thought of Brian. I thought about my Grandpa in North Dakota, and how he must be chuckling to himself, or maybe even calling my Dad to gloat. And even if it was at the expense of my team, I couldn't help but smile, just a little bit.