Montag, 19. September 2011

"Who stinks now?"

Chicago is often described as one of the most "American" cities, and that certainly holds true when it comes to Chicagoans' enthusiasm for baseball. The city is home to 2 baseball teams, and while the Chicago Cubs may not be the most successful team in the Major Leagues, they are certainly the team of hearts, and their home stadium, Wrigley Field (yes, named after the chewing gum) is one of the few remaining "classic" American ballparks. Located smack-dab in an urban neighbourhood called "Wrigleyville" (chockablock with Cubs-themed bars) it may be smaller than some of the ultra-modern ballparks i've visited before, but what it lacks in size, it certainly makes up in charm & atmosphere! (for example, they play good old-fashioned swing & jazz music between innings instead of the generic pop used at other stadiums). American travel writer Bill Bryson, who described going to a Cubs daygame as "one of the last remaining adventures in America" swore that he'd stop watching baseball the moment they decided to tear that stadium down.

The love for baseball in Chicago sometimes borders on the bizarre. The fact that the Cubs, one of the most successful teams in the early days of professional baseball, haven't been able to capture a single World Series title since their back-to-back wins in 1907 & 1908, has led to a hilarious conspiracy theory called "The Curse of the Billy Goat". I will spare you the eerie details but here's what you should know: in 1934 a Greek immigrant named William Sianis bought the Lincoln Tavern in Chicago, a place that attracted mainly sports fans. Sianis became known as "Billy Goat" after he adopted a goat (which had fallen off a truck and wandered inside his pub), grew a goatee and changed the name of the bar to Billy Goat Tavern. In 1945 the Chicago Cubs played the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, and being a baseball fan, Sianis bought 2 tickets to the game, one for himself and one for his goat, Murphy. But Murphy was denied entry into Wrigley Field, and when a puzzled Sianis wanted to know why, P.K. Wrigley himself personally let him know: "Because the goat stinks." This upset Billy & his goat and according to the legend he raised his arms and claimed that the Cubs would never win a world series unless the goat was granted entry into the ballpark, thereby officially "cursing" the Cubs. And guess what? After leading the Tigers 2-1 prior to that game, they subsequently lost the series 2-4, prompting Billy Sianis to send a telegram to P.K. Wrigley, saying: "WHO STINKS NOW?"

For the next 20 years, throughout the remainder of Billy Goat's life, it was the Cubs that stunk. They would finish each season at 5th place or lower, establishing a pattern that would reverse their luck (they were one of the most successful & dominating teams before the incident) and term the team "The Loveable Losers". The World Series would become merely a dream, and "Wait 'til next year" the team's motto. The Cubs were and still are a cursed franchise, not having appeared in a single World Series since 1945!

In the photo above, Billy Goat Sianis can be seen pouring a bottle of Blatz into the mouth of Murphy. According to Bill Sianis, present day manager of the tavern and great nephew to Billy Goat Sianis, "that goat loved to drink."

With so much legend & drama behind it, Wrigley Field was quite simply the perfect place to attend my 6th and final baseball game in the United States, just as Chicago was the perfect city to end my journey. Now leaving earlier than expected, i'm a little disappointed i can't go to watch a playoff game, but the Sunday daygame between the Cubs and the Houston Astros gave me an idea of what playoff baseball feels like - maybe not in terms of the excitement (as usual, the cursed Cubs are already eliminated from the playoffs) but in terms of the weather - the baseball playoffs start in October and are often accompanied by harsh weather conditions - conditions that Chicago already had to offer in mid-September:

With a 50/50 % chance of rain, i doubted whether the game could actually be played but the staff at Wrigley Field seemed less worried - i guess they are used to these conditions. And they were right, the game started on time and was carried on even though it started drizzling around the 3rd inning, which led to a few "interesting" plays on the field. The Cubs were trailing 2-3, but scored what seemed like a 2-run-homerun in the bottom of the 8th, when Carlos Pena drove a pitch just over Wrigley's famous ivy-covered outfield wall. However, the drizzle apparently prevented the umpires from judging the play correctly, because after declaring it a home run, it was reviewed, and finally ruled a double only - Pena had to return to 2nd base, and Starlin Castro to 3rd. The Cubs then failed to score both runners & tie the game.

Since it had started to pour down heavier, the game was suspended at the top of the 9th, which caused me & my guest Danika (she had helped me out with cash on the train ride to Chicago, and i had invited her to the ballgame in return) to head out for a drink at one of the nearby Cubs-themed bars. After 45 minutes, just when we had finished our drinks, we saw on TV that the game was being carried on and hurried back to the ballpark for the last inning, but - just as Murphy the goat - we were denied re-entry... and the Cubs lost 3-2.

I had personally tried my best to lift the "Curse of the Cubs", even before coming to the US, in placing a 10 Euro online bet for them to win the World Series (with a chance of winning 400 EUR!) I knew it was unlikely, but what would we be without wishful thinking? Originally having planned to be in Chicago by mid-October, i was hoping to witness the historic event personally, should the Cubs indeed make it to a World Series again. But obviously it didn't help, as so many other things the Cubs fans have tried over the years. Multiple times they have tried to bring descendants of Murphy (the goat) into the ballpark, even rolling out a red carpet at one point! See, that's how much Chicagoans love their baseball team... but well, i guess we'll just have to "wait 'til next year!"

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