When I was a young boy
Said put away those young boy ways
Now that I’m gettin’ older
So much older
I long for those young boy days
Hurt so good
Come on baby, make it hurt so good
Sometimes love don’t feel like it should
You make it hurt so good
I wear my heart on my sleeve, literally. Stylized versions of my children’s names are indelibly inked on the inside of each bicep, which is sure to come in handy as I age and forget them. It’s also a way for me to keep them forever in my arms, even as they grow older and want nothing to do with an embrace from their old man.
Now, I’m far from a perfect parent but I don’t think anyone would ever accuse me of lacking passion. Nowhere is that more true than my love of sports, an affection that I’m passing on to my kids through a carefully-crafted indoctrination program that began from the moment they left the womb.
If I was a better or smarter man, I’d probably leave off guiding them into the life of fandom I’ve led, though after spending last night yelling at the TV and high-fiving my son as the Badgers proved to the world that good can indeed triumph over evil, I fear it’s already too late. And that celebration wasn’t even for a team we love.
Johnny Cougar wasn’t singing about sports, but I can’t help but feel his words reflected in the way I know watch them. I’d love to back to a time when the players on the field or floor were my heroes, when I could watch with more of a detachable fixation that could be easily transferred to the next task at hand.
Blogging has given some of that back to me, but I don’t think I’ll ever truly erase the sense of gut-wrenching anxiety that comes with watching one of my teams in a meaningful game. You want to hear what might be a really unpopular thought? Well, I’m going to share it anyway: I almost like it better when my team is out of contention. Sound weird?
It’s not because I want my teams to fail, but rather because I invest so much of my emotional capital into the Cubs or the Bears or IU basketball that each game feels as though it could rend my very being. A little hyperbolic? Perhaps. But the bigger the stakes of the contest, the more heavily invested I become and the more sway the outcome has on me.
When Indiana was playing Wichita State in the NCAA tournament a couple years ago, it was a nip-and-tuck game that came down the the wire. IU, a #1 seed, had looked sluggish and was trailing late, which prompted me to bring a shovel handle and the box from a recently-purchased vacuum cleaner into the living room in order that I might physically manifest my anger.
Good thing for the box, IU ended up pulling it out. The Cubs, however, have not made me feel like that in quite some time. Sure the playoff teams from a few years ago had me staying up late and feeling disappointed, but it wasn’t that sort of visceral ache that comes from truly believing your team can do it.
I believe that may have been because I still hadn’t completely recovered from the aftermath of the 2003 run, as the existential numbness had paralyzed that portion of my soul like metaphysical novacaine. I had pushed all of my chips to the middle of the table only to see them raked away following the ultimate bad beat.
The Marlins caught a straight flush and my heart was straight flushed down the toilet (likely one from Sloan, since I didn’t even need to use a plunger at all). That’s why, as hard as this may be for some to understand, I’ve actually enjoyed the last few years to a certain extent. They’ve allowed me to rebuild my stack, to put some funds away in my emotional savings account.
But all the losing has taught me something as well, and that’s that I want to feel bad when watching my team. I want to have something on the line when I tune in Cubs baseball, to be on the edge of my seat knowing that this next pitch or next at-bat could have implications beyond this night.
I want to experience a joy from Cubs baseball that is borne on wings of relief, because it’ll mean that I actually expect them to win again. And when the moment comes that I can experience that ultimate relief, I’ll perhaps be able to live once more in a state of childlike affection, even if it’s only for a few months.
C’mon Cubbies, make it hurt so good.