Prior to New York’s 2009 World Series victory, sportswriter Bill Simmons liked to joke about the tragedy of eight-year-old Yankee fans never having seen a championship. His point was that Yankee fans are spoiled, and he’s right–they are.
But Yankee fan parents are equally spoiled when it comes to raising their children to also cheer for the pinstriped multi-millionaires. It’s easy to root for a consistent winner–to learn to love a team that makes frequent trips to the postseason, and is a perennial contender each spring.
It’s much harder to raise Cubs fans. I know, because despite growing up thousands of miles away from the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, my parents successfully raised me and my brothers to root (root, root) for the Cubbies.
That’s not to say I didn’t have my youthful dalliances with other teams–I did. While I was still childish enough to choose teams based on their uniform colors, I leaped aboard the A’s bandwagon. I think I still have a Bash Brothers poster somewhere in the garage. And later in junior high, I briefly toyed with rooting for the newly expanded Rockies. I think my idea was that it would be fun to follow a team from its inception, or something along those lines. Whatever my adolescent notion was, it didn’t stick.
That’s because in my heart, I was always a Cubs fan. It was an inescapable part of my DNA, inherited from my parents, and cemented through their diligence. And because of the high number of recent births and pregnancy announcements around here (congratulations, by the way) I wanted to pass along some of the ways my parents raised me and my brothers to love the Cubs.
And yes, parenting advice from someone with no children might be suspect. But I do have a niece and two nephews, and you can be sure I’m following these principles to help my brothers and their wives raise their kids to love the Cubs, too.
- First of all, you both have to love (or at least cheer for) the Cubs. If you and your spouse can’t agree on which team to root for, what hope do you have of passing it on to your kids? I don’t have the exact stats in front of me to back it up, but kids whose parents root for opposing sports teams are something like 800% more likely to bring guns to school, try meth as a pre-teen, join a gang, and/or wind up working as a drug mule. It’s science.
- I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but watch the Cubs games with your kids. With the prevalence of second TV’s, iPads, and smartphones, watching baseball games has never been more individualized. And chances are, if you’re watching the game on the main TV, the rest of the family–and especially the kids–are absorbed in their own entertainments. There were a lot fewer options when I was young. We had one TV, and while we did have cable, it was mainly so we could watch the Cubs games on WGN. In fact, because of the prevalence of day baseball, we’d tape the games and re-watch them again when my dad got home from work if the Cubs won or if anything notable happened. Long before I understood baseball, I knew the Cubs games were important and fun, especially when they won.
- Watching the games with your kids is more than merely sitting in the same room with them, blankly staring at the same screen–you have to engage their microscopic attention spans. Talk to them about the game, discuss the action, tell stories about past Cubs teams and players. If you’re constantly lost in the middle distance of your screen while Starlin Castro works the count against a scuffling pitcher, you’re more likely to turn your kids off to sports than pass on your love for your team. Kids–even very little kids–can pay attention to and enjoy baseball if you give hem a little help. And yes, you might have to explain the rules two or three or twenty times–as I’m sure my dad had to with us–but who cares? It’s not like the game is more important than talking to your kids.
- Load up on the Cubs gear for your kids. My nephew could recognize the Cubs’ logos before he could say his own name. That’s because he’s seen it since the day he was born on his toys and clothes. It doesn’t have too be over the top or tacky, but the sooner your kids are familiar with the Cubs logo, the sooner they can recognize the team they should be cheering for. Bonus points if you can train them to boo all the other logos.
- Going to Cubs games is a big part of passing on your fandom to your kids, but don’t be one of those fans. You know the ones I’m talking about–the face and/or chest painters, the costume wearers, the obnoxious, loud drunks, the amateur pugilists, or whatever you’d call this guy. Chances are you can get your kids to follow you only so far down the road of ugly fanaticism. At some point, they’ll have the sad realization that their mom or dad is an idiot, and is actively ruining the game for the others in attendance. You know that guy who dresses up as the Ivy Man? I’ll give him all kinds of credit for creating such an elaborate costume, but do you think his kids love coming to the games with him? Same goes for Ronnie Woo-Woo–he might be a semi-beloved Wrigley Field personality, but you never see any little Woo-Woo’s following him around the park. Here’s a general rule–if your in-game behavior is the kind of thing that would not be out of place at a Raiders game, it’s time to dial it down a few notches before you chase your children away from the Cubs altogether. And it’s not like you really want your kids to pick up your bad-fan habits. We know how that ends.
- It might be another no-brainer, but if at all possible, take your kids to Wrigley Field. Growing up on the west coast, we didn’t have many opportunities to visit the Friendly Confines. But the few times we did are cemented in my memory forever. I have vivid memories of a day we spent out in the left field bleachers, facing off against the Phillies. My brothers and I were decked out in makeshift Cubs uniforms, baking in the sun and having the time of our young lives. The game went thirteen innings, and lasted long enough for the sky to turn green and start pouring down rain. Of course the Cubs lost and we were soaked to the skin by the time we made it back our car, but we had a great time, and even the late-inning loss couldn’t ruin the day. You don’t have days like that just anywhere.
Look, maybe none of this matters. It’s entirely possible that I think (and worry) far too much about passing on my love for the Cubs to my nephews and niece, and eventually to my own kids.
That it really wouldn’t be the end of the world if they wind up cheering for the Dodgers or the Cardinals. Nope, never mind, it would be.