Postcards from London: Baseball Blues
Airdate: January 31, 2013
Although my obsession with the Chicago Cubs has relaxed somewhat in the past couple years, I still get that rush of excitement at the first hint of Spring, and the feeling that anything’s possible on opening day. I would hang a team flag outside my house on such occasions, to demonstrate my team loyalty to all my Ohio neighbors. Here in England I have my Cubs jacket and blue cap, and I wear them around town sometimes, but it’s a different experience. And that’s because in London, baseball caps are just something novel to wear on your head. There are shops where you can buy a sort of generic version of a major league ballcap, but I suspect it’s more of a fashion choice than a statement of loyalty for most people here. Either that or London has the highest percentage of Yankee fans outside of New York City. Occasionally, I think I pass a tourist sporting authentic team apparel, but it’s not too often, and I’m never quite sure it’s a real fan.
As a Cubs fan abroad, I am mostly an odd blue fish in a sea of football fanatics. And by “football,” I mean the English game. You know—soccer. But I’m no bigger fan of that game here than I was in the U.S. In fact, the only sport I’ve ever gotten excited about is baseball. And now I’m struck by how much of my enjoyment actually came from sharing the experience with other fans. Isn’t that the true appeal of spectator sports? To be part of a tribe--to belong, at least within this invented kingdom with its odd but agreed upon rituals. And there’s an unspoken kinship with these others around you, even if the only thing you all have in common is the team you support. What exactly is a baseball fan in isolation? Is she even a fan? Or just some odd expatriate who offers nonsensical comments whenever the topic turns to sports? Or “sport,” as they call it here.
I’d been afraid that this would be the first year I would go a whole season without actually being at a live game. I was resigned that the highlight of 2012 would be catching Kerry Wood’s final pitching appearance before retiring from the Cubs—leaning into my computer speaker to not miss a moment of the live internet stream.
But then, good fortune struck, and I found myself back in Toledo for a few weeks in August, lucky enough to catch a Mud Hens home game with some friends. Walking into that small but friendly ball park was like coming home to my “tribe.” Okay, it wasn’t Wrigley field, but the Toledo fans were in fine form, as was the home team. I thought I would burst with happiness as I sat in a fabulous seat behind home plate, clutching a ball park frank and a draught beer, overwhelmed by the sounds and smells of the game. And the Mud Hens topped off the evening by pulling off a very exciting 9th inning victory.
When people here in London ask me if I miss the States, I answer, “Not exactly.” I really don’t miss living in U.S. But what I do sometimes long for are those small snapshots of life—the intoxicating smell of fresh grass on the field, the unmistakable crack of a home run hit, and the closeness of old friends, kind enough to take a transplanted baseball fan out to a game, and show her a wonderful time.
— Wendy Sherer