There is a Cubs Nation.
Last night I did something I’d never, ever done before — I saw the Chicago Cubs live and in person.
They came to Washington, DC, and the new stadium for the Washington Nationals — Nationals Park — for a three game stand. I bought a ticket, in the Right Field Box. It was a “premium game,” and while the ticket was only thirty-nine dollars, once other fees were factored in, it came to a little shy of fifty.
(There are five and ten dollar seats at Nationals Park. From where I sat I could see them. Very nosebleed.)
Yesterday being a gorgeous spring day, I decided to do something I hadn’t done in far too long — hit the National Mall in DC. Most of the museums had massive entrance lines — Air and Space was particularly long, as was the line to the National Archives. The museum I like to visit, the American History Museum, was closed for remodelling.
I went to the Art Museum, where they had an exhibition on Dutch Masters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Which led to a moment where I walked into one room of Van Dyke paintings, and I could identify, without having to look, which member of Charles I’s family each of these paintings were. “That’s Henrietta Maria,” I said to myself. “That one over there is Henry, Duke of Gloucester.”
I discovered a little, out of the way museum, as well. The Naval Heritage Center. It wasn’t anything special, but it was neat. The oddity was that they had three PlayStation 2 systems hooked up with SOCOM: Navy Seals running. Yes, I can understand the connection, but it seemed… odd. For a museum. The thing I found most interesting was the President’s Room, which was a series of portraits of Presidents who had served in the Navy. I had never realized that every President from Kennedy to Carter was a Navy veteran.
Eventually, I made my way to Nationals Park. And I noticed something — there were a lot of people wearing Cubs gear. From t-shirts to baseball caps to jerseys, Cubs gear. I saw Ryne Sandberg jerseys. I saw Andre Dawson jerseys. Kerry Wood jerseys. Nomar Garciaparra jerseys. Even someone wearing a Mark Prior jersey.
Nationals Park is gorgeous. There are monuments of Hall of Famers — some with connections to the Senators and the Homestead Grays, some not. It took me a while to figure out why there was a monument for Mickey Mantle, and then I remembered his massive home run at old Griffith Stadium. And Ted Williams? Then I remembered that he managed the Senators. Eventually, it all made sense.
The Nationals consider themselves the successors to the Washington baseball teams of years past, both in the American League and in the Negro Leagues. Though they were the Expos, there’s no acknowledgement that I saw in the stadium this team once played in Montreal and San Jose. Montreal’s retired numbers, for instance, aren’t retired by the Nationals.
I bought some Nationals souvenirs. Stylized versions of the Presidents off Mount Rushmore are the team’s mascots, and there was a nifty postcard set of “The Rushmores.” It’s cute, and I like it. I also picked up a t-shirt for Nationals Park’s inaugural season. I was going to buy a grey t-shirt, but I already own a great deal of grey, so I bought red instead.
I’d estimate that at least a third of the crowd at Nationals Park last night was actively — and loudly — cheering the Cubs on. A third would be a conservative guess. There were chants and cheers for the Cubs almost every inning. The crowd grew raucous every time the Cubs scored or made a thrilling play. The crowd for the Nationals was subdued by comparison.
The biggest noise of the night happened when Cubs outfielder Felix Pie nailed a Nationals runner advancing to third base on a wild pitch thrown to second that ended up in the outfield. Essentially, Geovani Soto lost the ball, and the Nationals’ baserunner on first ran for second. When Soto found the ball and fired it to second base, he overshot and the ball landed in center field. The baserunner ran for third, and Pie scooped up the ball and fired a rocket to third, where the runner was tagged out. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it was amazing. It was the audience reaction to that play, though, that settled in my mind the thought that the Nationals, that night, were playing in a hostile stadium.
I heard no “Let’s Go Nationals” chants. There were “Let’s go Cubbies” chants most every inning. In the bottom of the ninth, with Jon Lieber on the mound and two outs, the cheering for the Cubs reached a crescendo. The Nationals fans had started leaving by the seventh inning, and by the game’s final out Cubs fans probably outnumbered Nationals fans.
“Take Me Out To The Ballgame” let’s just say that the “Root, root, root for the home team” turned into “Root, root, root for the Cubbies” by the crowd, just as it would be sung at Wrigley.
There was a group in front of me from New York. One of the guys was complaining about the large number of people rooting for the Cubs. It boggled his mind. He talked about Red Sox Nation. And what he said made sense Red Sox Nation is people who hopped on the bandwagon, and who picked up the Red Sox as a team to root for when they became the team that could beat the Yankees. It’s a bandwagon. It’s not a genuine movement, and Red Sox Nation will probably crawl back into its cave in five years.
But there is a Cubs Nation. I saw it firsthand. I was part of it.
I don’t know what Cubs Nation is or where it comes from. Some of it may be a love of Chicago. Some of it may be a love of baseball history. Whatever the reason is, it’s there.
Leaving Nationals Park last night, I was satisfied — the Cubs won a convincing 7-0 victory over the Nationals. I got to see the Cubs live and in person. I got to see Carlos Zambrano take the mound. (And he’s an incredibly passionate ballplayer. It sort of comes across on television that he’s emotional, but nothing really compares with seeing it in person.) I got to see the Cubs in their alternate blues, which I honestly like more than the blue-on-white pinstripes. (Zambrano loves the blue uniform, and the Cubs allow the pitcher to pick the uniform for the day.)
As you walk out the center field gate at Nationals Park you can see the Capitol Dome. Only one subway station serves the stadium, a block from the gate, and twenty-five thousand fans moved en masse to enter the station. Of course, that had to be the moment when the skies opened in a great deluge. Once I made it inside the entrance to the subway station moving thorugh the turnstiles and down the escalator took no time at all.
An hour later I was back at the Greenbelt subway station, and an hour after that I was back in Baltimore.
I’d had a fantastic outing. I’d seen the Cubs. I’d met Cubs Nation. I wore my voice hoarse. A good time was had by all.