My cousin Barb thinks the Cubs are a lock because our Uncle Del died this year, and between him, Barb's mom (Aunt Jean) and another uncle (Willie), there’s enough top-flight, die-hard Cubs fans bending heavenly ears that good fortune is inevitable. My cousin Barb is conveniently overlooking the fact that Uncle Del was also a huge Notre Dame fan.
My cousin Barb thinks the Cubs are a lock because our Uncle Del died this year, and between him, Barb's mom (Aunt Jean) and another uncle (Willie), there’s enough top-flight, die-hard Cubs fans bending heavenly ears that good fortune is inevitable.
My cousin Barb is conveniently overlooking the fact that Uncle Del was also a huge Notre Dame fan.
But I applaud her conviction, and the romance and poetry in her soul, and that in a baseball team’s 2007 success, she can feel the echoes of a mom and a daughter catching buses in Roseland half a century ago to take in Ladies’ Day games at Wrigley Field.
I’m not sure Barb believes in curses. But I’m sure she believes billy goats and black cats stand no chance against Uncle Del, Aunt Jean and Uncle Willie.
And I believe the surest way to make a newly-crowned Central Division champion Cub roll his eyes is to mention any of the above -- especially the goat and cat stuff.
Plan on a lot of eye-rolling, then, as the Cubs fall under the national spotlight when the playoffs begin this week. Curses make for a convenient handle on a story, and in anticipation some locals are railing already against the silliness of it all.
“If you’ve got a good team and you play good at the right time, you’re going to win,” Ryan Theriot said. “Pure and simple. That’s just the way it is.”
Uh huh. Pure and simple. According to a guy who’d just confessed he wouldn’t pass a penny if he found it on the street -- but only if he found it laying heads up.
“I wouldn’t pick it up anywhere if it was tails,” Theriot said. “I don’t mess with it.”
Hmm, Theriot is a Louisiana native. That’s voodoo land, right?
“Nah, I don’t -- I mean, I believe in it. I think it’s real,” he said. “But I don’t comment on voodoo. No, I don’t mess with that.”
And maybe he wears the same shirt every day during a hitting streak. And he throws away batting gloves if he takes an 0-fer. But goat curses?
“When you walk in this clubhouse, how often do you see the same undershirts?” Theriot asked. “You’ll see it a lot. Someone has success wearing it, they’re going to do it again.
“This game is such a grind. ... I mean, it's just a comfort. It’s a confidence thing for me. It makes you feel good.”
Fine. And if it makes a Cubs fan feel a little better about a pennant-free lifetime to half-seriously bandy about goat references when contemplating Steve Bartman’s place in history, where’s the harm in that?
“The ball was coming his way and he tried to catch it,” Theriot said of Bartman. “Everybody wants to catch a foul ball. It’s not like the guy hit a fly ball, Moises (Alou) was camped under it and a bird flew and it hit the bird. Now if that would have happened, I’d be talking about it a little differently.”
Please. Sam Sianis only cursed a team. What did a bird ever do to him?
Anyway, let’s get back to this comforting curse concept. It’s not something you should use to explain away losses not yet incurred, but rather to ease the pain of odds-defying, historic losing.
Or, you could look at it as the flipside of the same cosmic coin that had White Sox fans bringing pictures of departed loved ones to the World Series parade in 2005.
Does anyone really believe holding dad’s picture on the parade route meant he was there?
Well, um ... “I’m sure in the playoffs I will bring one of my pictures of my dad, who I lost in 2000, just to be there with me, you know?” backup catcher Henry Blanco said. “It’s a good, positive thing. But the goat thing, we as players can’t think about that stuff.”
Perhaps they should, if only in a Star Wars kind of way.
The billy goat curse would be the dark side -- powerful in its own way, apparently unbeatable. Except when Darth encountered a plucky little band of battlers imbued with the best of the force.
Come to think of it, when Lou Piniella forgets to shave, he does look a little like Obi-Wan Kenobi ...
Maybe you think I’m sounding crazy. Maybe you’d prefer to believe 100 years of futility is strictly the result of lousy players and lousy management and lousy owners.
What’s crazier, investing a lifetime of fandom in such institutionalized inadequacy, or passing along a comforting fable or two as the losses mount while waiting for the fairy-tale ending?
Phil Arvia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (708) 633-5949. Read his blog at http://blogs.dailysouthtown.com/arvia