As always, I’ll be rooting for the Saint Louis Cardinals in their coming series with the Cubs. But this time around I have a queasy feeling. Unlike other Cubs teams that found themselves in the playoffs, this 2015 team isn’t there by accident. The Cardinals won most of their 100 games early in the year; the Cubs won most of their 97—now 98—in the second half. They might be the best team in the majors.
I don’t look forward to this: rooting for my hometown team while my wife, daughters, in-laws, and friends root—with varying degrees of passion—for the enemy.
“I’m hardwired to be a Cardinals fan,” I told a son-in-law a couple of years ago. And when a sister asked in an e-mail who I’d root for if the Cubs and Cardinals met in a showdown, I felt the sadness of the existentially misunderstood.
Forty-some years spent living just blocks from Wrigley Field has done nothing to shift my allegiances. On the contrary, my time here has set them in stone. But the other day I asked myself if anything imaginable might have undermined my loyalty to the Cardinals. I had to face it that the answer is yes. I guaranteed my fidelity by moving to Chicago.
Alienation is one of life’s quiet pleasures. I’ve enjoyed it all my life—as an American living in Canada, and later as a Canuck-a-phile living in the U.S., and ultimately as a Cardinals fan living in Chicago and as a journalist living anywhere. The mob goes its way and I go mine, marveling at the willingness of some people to put on garish jerseys and silly hats and dissolve their beings into something they think is bigger: the collective identity of young athletes who don’t know they exist.
When the mob wears blue, it’s always been very easy to scorn. But what if it wore red? In Saint Louis, Cardinals loyalty is taken for granted, and when I was 12 I happily obliged. But if I’d stayed home, what measures would I have been driven to in order to assert myself as a freethinking, independent adult?
I could never have gone to a game dressed in scarlet. I’m hardwired that way too.