Rediscovering baseball joy through my kids, not my Cubs

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Tween Me would loathe Dad Me.

Tween Me is a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan: calling the local D.C.-area cable company on a weekly basis to beg that they add WGN to our system so I can watch Cubs games. Playing the 1984 Strat-O-Matic season as the Cubs over and over, for years past the actual glorious "Next Year Is Here" '84 season itself. Showing up at baseball camp insisting I play second base, just like my hero Ryne Sandberg.

I came by my Cubs fandom honestly, like all of our kids do: biologically. My dad is from Chicago and is a lifelong Cubs fan. He passed that down to me. At that formative moment when I was creating a fan consciousness, his fandom was imprinted on it.

To his credit, he didn't impose it on me; I embraced it, most certainly as one meaningful way to connect with him. Family trips to Chicago to visit my grandparents would include breathless El rides to Wrigley, slack-jawed access to watch all those day games on local TV and mornings poring over the local newspaper coverage I didn't get at home.

When I got to college in Chicago, I was sure I was in heaven -- my freshman facebook entry (lowercase "f," obviously) included "Chicago Cubs" among my declared interests.

Twenty-five years later, that die-hard Cubs fan is long gone. I'm wearing a Nats hat. My kids and I are glued to Bryce, Max, Trea and the crew in the playoffs. If it comes down to the Nats and Cubs for the chance to play for a World Series title, my allegiances will be with my hometown team.

Tween me is more than a little upset. He is desperate to know what happened. How does that kind of childhood passion for a team fade?

I have thought about it a lot. Ironically, I think that relocating to Chicago for college most changed the dynamic for me -- I thought I would love the shared, social immersion of my fandom with legions just like me. Instead, I found that part of my love for the team was precisely because I felt a form of exceptionalness about it. Growing up in a sea of Orioles fans, being a Cubs fan gave me an identity. Among millions of other Cubs fans -- many of whom were vastly more invested than me -- I felt a little lost. Partly, it was also because I found a new sport to become obsessed with: college football. And, yes, partly it was the Sisyphean task of being a die-hard Cubs fan.

Tween Me would be beside himself over this treachery. However, Dad Me is heartened by the fact that my kids have developed their own "nature-and-nurture" connection to a team -- it's not my childhood team, of course; it's their childhood team.

As a parent and a fan, it is so fulfilling to have introduced them to a team and had it "stick." (As fans born in the aughts, many of their other team allegiances are as defined by geography-defying NFL Red Zone or NBA League Pass as any other factor.)

Meanwhile, their enthusiasm for their home team enhances my own feeling about that team. It is so easy -- too easy -- to take a wearying, anxiety-laden adult perspective on your team, but proximity to child-like enthusiasm is the antidote.

I find it impossible to project too far down the road with their fandom -- after all, when I was their age, I could never could have predicted where things would have ended up three decades later.

Instead of a Cubs hat, I join them wearing a Curly W. Instead of a Sandberg T-shirt, we put on our Bryce Harper shirts. We commiserate and celebrate with the other fans in random moments, like on line at the grocery store. They clip and save the newspaper sports section front pages and would certainly beg for us to buy all the garish championship merchandise. Through them, I am trying to recapture the unbridled baseball-fan joy of Tween Me.

Unquestionably, I forfeited the opportunity to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime moment for die-hard Cubs fans who have been willing to put in the effort and embrace the kid-projecting earnestness of being a real fan. But sharing in my own kids' enthusiasm during this playoff run is not a bad consolation, regardless of how the team finishes the month.

That said, from my own experience, there is a lesson I want to impart to them from this: You can pick up new favorites along the way, but don't ever lose the original fan faith you had as a kid.

Tween Me deserved better, but Dad Me is trying to make up for lost time.

Dan Shanoff writes about parenting for espnW. You can connect with him on Twitter at @danshanoff or follow along with his sports-parenting adventures on Instagram at @danshanoff.

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