Why We Choose Our Sports Allegiances -- Or They Choose Us

Fans take photos of a statue of former Chicago Cub player and broadcaster Ron Santo which was unveiled outside of Wrigley Field before a game between the Cubs and the Washington Nationals in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

David Brooks is a political columnist for the New York Times.

Before you think that I've lost my mind, this isn't about politics (and please keep politics out of this post), and neither was this column written by Brooks a couple of days ago. Instead, it was about how Brooks thought he could change his childhood allegiance, being a Mets fan, to the Nationals, since he and his family had been living in Washington; they had Nats season tickets, were buying Nats stuff, etc. This was seven years ago when the Nats had first moved to DC from Montreal.

He found that it wasn't that easy, that his longtime Mets allegiance trumped his physical location in Washington. I found these two paragraphs particularly illuminating:

It’s probably more accurate to say that team loyalty of this sort begins with youthful enchantment. You got thrown together by circumstance with a magical team — maybe one that happened to be doing well when you were a kid or one that featured the sort of heroes children are wise to revere. You lunged upon the team with the unreserved love that children are capable of.

The team became crystallized in your mind, coated with shimmering emotional crystals that give it a sparkling beauty and vividness. And forever after you feel its attraction. Whether it’s off the menu or in the sports world, you can choose what you’ll purchase but you don’t get to choose what you like.

I think this exactly sums up some of the things I often try to express here about being a Cubs fan, without able to explain why I say the things I say.

As most of you know, I grew up with the 1960s era teams, the teams of Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins and others who seemed larger than life at the time. Just at the time when most young baseball fans are immersing themselves in the game -- around age 11 or 12 -- that was the exact moment in my life that the Cubs awakened from two decades of being terrible, to contending for a postseason berth.

We all know that never came. But to this day, those players are revered, not only by those of us who grew up with them, but by several generations of living Cubs fans. A "magical team"? Well, sort of. "The sort of heroes children are wise to revere"? Absolutely. I sat four feet away from Billy Williams at an airport departure gate about 10 years ago and couldn't bring myself to say a word to him -- my childhood hero. He was still that hero, more than 30 years later. (He has a cool looking Hall of Fame ring; that, I noticed.)

I'll repeat these two sentences that Brooks wrote -- and boldface them -- because I think they sum up how I approach baseball:

The team became crystallized in your mind, coated with shimmering emotional crystals that give it a sparkling beauty and vividness. And forever after you feel its attraction.

And maybe that's why I tend to try to look at the positive all the time, to always be optimistic, to hope against hope that the Cubs can win each and every year even when a rational, bloodless, statistical look at the players on the field would tell me that isn't true. It's those shimmering emotional crystals. I've had them within me for nearly five decades, and quite frankly, I don't want them to go away.

I love baseball and I love this team. I've seen them through really, really bad times and times when they have come achingly close to the Promised Land.

That's why it will feel so wonderful when the Cubs finally do win the World Series. Because we've seen the abyss, the summit will look all the more glorious.

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