Rich Mayfield: Life imitates sports imitates life |

Rich Mayfield: Life imitates sports imitates life

Standing with 40,000 of my closest friends at Wrigley Field a few weeks ago, I came to an insightful, if disturbing, awareness of the parallels that can be drawn between the faithful fans of baseball’s most consistent chokers and the emerging worldview of many of America’s loyal citizens. The similarities were startling and they emerged for me on that beautiful Saturday afternoon this past September when the Cubs defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to clinch their division’s championship and guarantee their spot in the playoffs to determine which two teams would play in this year’s World Series.

The crowd was cheering wildly and the players were jumping up and hugging one another as if they’d all earned an average salary of several million dollars which, I quickly remembered, they actually did. I, of course, stood there petrified with fear. What was wrong with these people? Hadn’t they any sense of history? Didn’t they realize that their rejoicing was unrealistically, and, as we would all soon find out, tragically, premature?

When I read or listen to the political pundits’ hyper-excitement over Barack Obama’s all-but-certain landslide to victory in the upcoming presidential election, I can’t help but recall with horror the corresponding all-too-early celebration at Wrigley. True Cubs fans know the dangers inherent in such uninhibited expectations. It almost inevitably leads to profound personal disappointment and, often, deep existential despair. Granted, the World Series is of far greater import than the mere determination of the leader of the free world, nevertheless it behooves us all to pay attention to the troubling parallels. Obamania surely risks the ire of the same god who, season after season, smirks as he smites down the pretensions of baseball’s lovable losers.

As I rode the “El” away from Wrigley and in the company of thousands of overly optimistic Cubs faithful, I worried that the similarities wouldn’t stop with foolish fans counting their chickens much too soon. There were other episodes in Cubs history that provided equally disturbing illustrations of what could soon be America’s destiny …

No Cubs fan worth his or her salt can deny the ecstasy of excitement that permeated this past pre-season after executives in the Chicago organization paid out exorbitant sums to acquire and keep some of baseball’s best players. No price was too high, we all were convinced, if it meant shoring up our out-of-control confidence in the upcoming season’s outcome. We ate, we drank, we made merry, knowing all the while that our extravagant spending could not las,t but convincing ourselves it would be worth it for one winter’s possession of the World Series’ cup.

Alas, here we are in October paying the piper for our unrealistic expectations and with no congress willing to bail us out. You know whose going to pay for all this don’t you? That’s right … us fans. Like they say, the only two things you can be certain of in life are death and higher Cubs tickets.

Then there was the extra expense of this past season’s surge, justified with claims from Cubs executives that it would guarantee victory … and for awhile most of us were convinced it was true. We had winning streaks that stupidly swayed us into thinking the hype wasn’t hype and the spin wasn’t spinning. But here we are again, staring at one more wasted season and uncountable, uncertain, seasons left to come. Yes, there are some stalwarts who proclaim that even if it takes another 100 years they will not withdraw their support, but given our ballooning budget and unpaid bills, even they sound a little less convinced.

The parallels between Wrigley Field and Wall Street seemed too obvious to mention even to myself as I bumped along the tracks. Suffice to say that winning streaks create short-term excitement but all too often lead to nothing more than big bucks for a few and long-term disappointment for the rest.

Admittedly, I mused, a certain wisdom is apparently attained by the accumulation of disappointing seasons. The gathering storm that promises real change in Washington is certainly the result of eight years of a losing record and a public growing tired of ever more depressing defeats.

But as a loyal Cubs fan, you won’t find me dancing on the field Nov. 4 until we’ve scored at least 260 votes, err … runs.

Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail him at

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