Spring is a great time of year to be a sports fan.
March gives us the men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments that cripple workplace productivity as people replace spreadsheets and phone calls with box scores and online play-by-play logs. It’s the time of year when NBA and NHL teams really start to jockey for playoff position and NFL teams conduct their player evaluations in preparation for the draft in May. March also marks the start of Major League Baseball’s spring training. Spring training means warmer weather is on its way, along with the optimism that every fan feels at the start of a new season.
For the most part, April and May have been pretty kind to me, as a Chicago sports fan. The Blackhawks dispatched their first round opponents, the Nashville Predators, in six games behind the stellar play of backup goalie Scott Darling and then completed a clean sweep of the Minnesota Wild in the second round. They’re currently down 2-1 in the conference finals against Anaheim, but I’m hopeful for a comeback. Meanwhile, I’ll admit that I started feeling nervous when the Bulls, who had made it to a 3-0 lead over their first round opponents, the Milwaukee Bucks, allowed the Bucks to win back-to-back games to cut the lead to 3-2. Thankfully, the Bulls were able to find their focus again and beat the Bucks handily in game six to move to the next round. Granted, they ended up losing the next series in six games to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but it was a hard-fought series and a few bounces here or there could have led to some drastically different results.1 Also, I don’t think I had any real significant hopes of a championship for the Bulls, largely because of the injuries they suffered through the regular season and during the Cleveland series, so I dealt with the disappointment fairly easily. I am a bit concerned about their coaching situation for next year, given the general consensus that their head coach, defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, and the Bulls will be parting ways during the offseason, but that’s a worry for another time.
Baseball has always been my first love, though, and this year’s Chicago Cubs are not the team of years past. This year’s team is flush with young talent, almost all of which is under contract for the next six seasons, not to mention the additional prospects still developing in the minors. Brand new third baseman, Kris Bryant, has been almost as good as advertised; he works pitch counts, gets on base and has incredible defensive talent for someone his age. His power stroke is taking a bit of time to develop, but there’s time for that; he is only 23 years old, after all.2 This year’s team almost definitely won’t make the World Series and probably won’t make the playoffs, but they’ve already shown that they are more competitive than any team since 2009. As long as they finish over .500, I’ll chalk this season up as a win.
My other favorite piece of this particular sports spring has been the way Eitan has been developing an understanding and an interest in the games. He’s hardly a full-blown fan; given the choice between watching Sportscenter highlights and watching Daniel Tiger, Daniel is going to win every time. I have noticed, though, that if Eitan comes into the room in the morning and I have ESPN on while I’m eating breakfast, he will sit and watch with me for a little while before asking to watch Daniel Tiger. Earlier this week, we happened to see the highlight of Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez hitting a home run into a boat sitting in the Allegheny River outside the stadium and, when Trudy woke up a little later, Eitan was excited to tell her, “We watched baseball and he hit the ball into the boat!” My grandparents, who happen to be Philadelphia Phillies fans, were in the car with us during a family event last weekend and my grandmother asked Eitan which team he would cheer for if the Phillies and the Cubs played against each other. Eitan smiled and said, “The Cubbies!” We all laughed, but I’ll admit that I felt a little like Mr. Burns as I pumped my fist with pride.
I’ve spent some time here and there thinking about the reasons why I want Eitan to be a fan of the Chicago teams. I think it’s pretty simple, actually; it has to do with legacies and the knowledge that I’ve passed something onto my son. The rational, higher-thinking part of me knows that there are other aspects of Eitan’s personality that he’s gotten from me and that sports are probably less important than some of those pieces. But still, there’s something about the way Eitan sings, “Root, root, root for the Cuuuuu-BEES!” that really sticks with me. It’s his enthusiasm and his smile and the pure, unadulterated joy on his face. It’s the knowledge that he got the allegiance to the Cubs from me and that he’s taking it on as his own. Honestly, I wouldn’t even mind if Eitan ends up cheering for some of the New York teams; I think I’ve already accepted that outcome as a possibility to some extent because that’s where we live and his friends will probably be New York fans too; there are worse things than being a New York fan.3 The key is that sports will be something that we can share as he gets older, no matter where we live or whatever else is going on in our lives.
Go Cubs Go.
1. Eitan gets a little confused by the team names. I can’t really blame him, since they both start with “B” and they both wear red and white. He saw me watching a hockey game and asked, “Is that the Bulls?” I answered, “No, these are the Blackhawks. The Bulls play basketball. Don’t worry, I’ll teach you everything.” Then he smiled, said, “Okay!” and climbed into my lap to watch with me.↩
2. Tristan Cockroft of ESPN nicknamed Bryant “Toy Store” because of his initials and the way he makes fantasy owners’ eyes light up. He caught some flak on his podcast for the idea at first, but I remain staunchly in support of the name.↩
3. Except the Yankees. There is nothing worse than being a Yankee fan.↩