Suddenly, the choppers and the chanters are getting skittish. They’ve always fretted over the aches and pains of Mike Hampton, but now they have the Braves’ horrors in most road and close games. John Smoltz also is history for the year with a bum shoulder. Mark Kotsay has that creaky back. Plus, the bullpen often implodes, and injuries threaten to quiet Chipper Jones’ bat more than pitchers.
Yeah, well. To see baseball fans who really are obsessed with searching for dark clouds in the brightest of skies, you needn’t go further than the shores of Lake Michigan. That’s where the Braves are spending the next few days seeking to end their recent struggles against the traditionally jinxed Cubs. It’s a franchise that nevertheless owns the game’s best record. It’s also a franchise that entered Tuesday night’s action at Wrigley Field among baseball’s elite four in hitting, pitching and expectations.
None of that matters when it comes to the doomsday psyche of the Cub Nation. I mean, you think Braves fans are panicking right now after just a few rough spots? Chip Caray laughed, before saying over the phone from Chicago, “Fans panic here when the first pitch of the game is ball one.”
Caray laughed some more, because he’s an expert on those who follow the Cubs and the Braves. He spent seven seasons through 2004 as a play-by-play announcer for the Cubs, who once featured the famous voice of his grandfather Harry. And he’s in his fourth season as a play-by-play man for the Braves, who still feature the famous voice of his father, Skip.
Added Chip, laughing some more, “In Chicago, every game is a microcosm of, not just a season, but of a Cubs fan’s life. There are people who live and die " literally " with the way that this team plays.”
Not so much in Atlanta. If the Braves disappoint the local masses just a little during a season, there always are the Bulldogs and Larry Munson " at least, that’s the way the feeling goes. That’s also partly why you had all those empty seats during home playoff games at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and later Turner Field despite the Braves managing 14 consecutive division titles.
In contrast, the Cubs haven’t won much worth mentioning in decades. They last took the National League pennant in 1945, and maybe you’ve heard: Courtesy of a billy goat curse or just shaky players, they haven’t grabbed a world championship in exactly 100 years. Still, they are hugged everywhere. They even are doing the outrageous at the moment by playing before home crowds that are nothing less than 97 percent of capacity.
It’s like this: The majority of the choppers and the chanters like the Braves, especially when they flash signs of possibly winning it all again, but those in the Cub Nation love the Cubbies no matter what.
The choke of ‘69.
Leon Durham becoming Bill Buckner before Bill Buckner.
That Steve Bartman thing.
Cubs fans are there mentally, physically and spiritually within reach of the flowing ivy, but they are fretting all the way, wondering when " not if " a choke, a Durham or a Bartman is coming.
Here’s another difference between Cubs and Braves fans: the timing of their panics. “Often times the Braves start slowly and turn it on, and they just seemingly have found a way to win,” Caray said. “In Chicago, the Cubs are noted for their fast starts, and they call it the June swoon. … So, for lack of a better way to put it, to be a Cub fan, you have to be fatalistic. The metaphor would be summer up here. It’s very short. It’s very sweet. It’s very wonderful. But you always know it’s going to come to a bitter end.”
Caray said the Cubs will go farther this time. How much farther? Holy cow, only that billy goat knows.
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