As a Met fan of a certain age, few things are as simple and satisfying as beating the Cubs by a healthy margin in a summer game at Wrigley Field.
I have nothing against Chicago — hell, I was just there and had a grand time. I love Wrigley Field’s essential simplicity, which still shines through more than a century of additions and supposed refinements. I’ve enjoyed talking baseball with Cubs fans in Wrigley’s seats and away from them. I’m not sent into a frothing rage by the mere existence of the Cubs, which happens when I spend too long considering the Yankees or the Marlins.
But still, they’re the Cubs.
I grew up on tales of the Cubs as our antagonists in the summer of 1969 — the black cat, Ron Santo clicking his heels, Leo Durocher shooting his mouth off, Randy Hundley‘s disbelieving leap, and all the rest. I was a babe in arms that summer, but I consumed the stories so many times as a child that pretty soon I knew them by heart. As a kid the Cubs were the team I hated in the NL East — and oh, how it stung when the Mets emerged from their years as baseball’s North Korea in 1984 only to have the Cubs throw them off the mountaintop at summer’s end.
All that’s long gone now — when I explained to my kid that I hate the Cubs and Cardinals and have to reminded to get worked up about the Braves, he was understandably nonplussed. I suppose childhood trauma leaves a mark deeper than anything that Bobby Cox or Chipper Jones could inflict on tougher adult skin. (Let’s agree to ignore the fact that Atlanta being in the NL West while Chicago and St. Louis were in the NL East never made a lick of sense.)
The Cubs are now in the Central and have dwindled into a curiosity, but when I see the Mets in road grays at Wrigley, with the fans right on top of them like spectators at a gladiatorial exhibition, my heart starts thumping just like it did when I was seven. And on summer nights when the Mets start ripping line drives into the ivy and depositing them into that quaint-looking basket, my heart grows at least seven sizes bigger.
The Mets did all of that Thursday night in what had been muttered about as a trap series after taking two of three in Atlanta but sure didn’t start that way. They strafed poor Keegan Thompson and vague relation Mark Leiter Jr., while Carlos Carrasco baffled the Chicago hitters en route to winning his 10th game of the year. I admit most of this year’s Cubs could be winners of a fan contest for all I recognized them, but that doesn’t matter — they’re still Cubs and that’s enough to leave my teeth bared and make me bay for their speedy demise.
(Can we note, by the way, that Carrasco is 10-4? Or that the Mets are now a season-high 22 games over .500? For all our screaming that the sky is falling, it seems to be up there intact and in fact quite a bit higher above our heads than we might have guessed.)
Anyway, the Mets beat the Cubs in pretty much every aspect of a baseball game and I enjoyed it thoroughly, though we’ll give the home team a point for the cup-snake tradition, spied upon by a bemused Gary and Ron and explored in Steve Gelbs’s wonderful interview with a young man named Jake. Jake was pretty much a certain slice of Chicago transmuted into human form: sweetly mindful of his family, dogged in pursuit of a questionable goal, well-served in a beverage capacity, not entirely factually engaged, and somehow completely charming. (Jake thought it was the eighth inning; gently informed by Gelbs that it was the seventh, he smoothly issued this blithe non-correction: “Basically the eighth, Steve.”)
It’s a great town. Doesn’t mean I want to beat its National League team any less. It’s been that way since I was seven and it’ll be that way when I’m 77.
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