It’s my shtick. I’ve told pretty much everyone I’ve met in the past four-plus decades that I was born on Opening Day 1978 — often adding “a Cubs loss,” with exaggerated exasperation — as if that makes me a special brand of baseball fan.
I fancied myself exactly that for most of my life.
As a kid growing up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, in a house where Cubs baseball was (*Pat Hughes voice*) on the air, every afternoon from early April through…well, back then, it would’ve been the official drop-dead end of the regular season…sports fandom was like comfort food. It was a soothing distraction from childhood angst. It was also a pathway to social acceptance; being crazy about the Cubs gave me something in common with my dad, and a conversation starter to help me relate to my classmates.
Well, in reality, my wearing oversized polyester Ron Santo and Mark Grace jerseys mostly just gave fickle frontrunners/pubescent poseurs a great excuse to yell “Cubs suck!” at recess.
My priorities have shifted a bit since I entered recovery, to the point I didn’t even know the National League had adopted the DH until my hubby switched on Cubs-Brewers on Thursday afternoon. Never thought I’d become someone who utters the words “I don’t really follow sports,” but I have actually said that, more than once since the summer of 2019.
Still, I found plenty of reasons to celebrate on Opening Day 2022 as I busted out my old “Obvious” shirt in honor of my 44th birthday and 33-month sober anniversary. The Cubs even threw me a bone by pulling out a win.
No matter what course my life takes, that will never not mean something.
Scrolling through Twitter seeking solidarity with likeminded fans, my eyes lingered on pictures of beer cups hoisted in the Wrigley Field bleachers. It’s hard not to retreat into a flashback rabbit hole, recalling the myriad drunken moments — or, more like foggy fragments of moments — I enjoyed as a jolly face in that “typical Cubs fan” crowd.
I did enjoy them…except for the time I forgot my wallet in the old 7-Eleven across Clark Street from the stadium, or the time I had to be escorted home by my friend in the middle of a rain delay because I’d been drinking for three hours straight and the entire world was spinning, or the time I browbeat and bullied my husband into leaving in the middle of an NLCS game because I’d been drinking for five hours straight and late-stage alcoholism had spun me into an incorrigible, angry drunk with no self control…
There was another time we had Stadium Club tickets, and I ate and drank so much that I woke up later that night in a hotel room in the city (with my hubby) and had like 10 missed calls from my little sister, who I was supposed to meet hours earlier. Turns out she took the train back to the suburbs, crying on the phone to my mom because she thought something bad had happened to me (something clearly had. 🥺)
This was the same sister who came to visit us here in Philly and was scared she wouldn’t make her flight home, because after we went to the Cubs-Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park, I was supposed to give her a ride to the airport, but I was so drunk that I got mad about some BS and stormed off in Dave and Buster’s while she and my hubby were getting the check. The above was an actual “Before” photo from that day.
Was I happy because the Cubs were winning? Hell if I remember! My identity as an adult sports fan was indistinguishable from my identity as an addict, and as high as my highs could feel, I can think of nothing worse than the freefall that inevitably followed. I do not miss that near-daily descent into darkness and despair.
It’s no stretch to say I’ve been reborn in the absence of booze, and I feel a strange detachment from many of the old photos in my camera roll. I mean, I still sit around in wife-beater tank tops drinking from washed-out souvenir cups, but…well, you’ll have to take my word for it: There’s a lot more clarity under my cap now than there was back then:
Early in sobriety, I thought staying dry at a baseball game amounted to a monumental challenge. I’ve since weathered a pandemic, political upheaval, unemployment, illness, injury, a family health scare, starting grad school, applying for internships and transitioning to a new career — all without sliding backward.
That doesn’t make me a “special brand” of person; it gives me an opportunity to finally become the person I was meant to be…whoever that is!
So, here we go! Another another trip ’round the sun — of course, it figures that my birthday week has been soaked in torrential April showers — “springing” with a different kind of eternal hope.
Whether or not the “Cubs suck,” or if I get the chance to see them do it in person this season, I’ll be “flying the W” in real life — as long as I keep living one (opening) day at a time.