Growing Up Blue in Red Country

How a kid from Springfield became a Cubs fan in the heart of Cardinals Nation

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“Dad, was that a burp?”

That was my first recollection of the Cubs. I remember it distinctly as my Dad and I were sitting in the living room of our house in a small suburb of Springfield, IL (shout out Rochester!).  We were taking in an afternoon game on WGN around ’88, maybe ’89, and five-year-old me just heard an old guy burp on air. My dad simply said:

“Yes son, Harry might have had a couple already.”

Boom. Chris Kimmel is a baseball fan and, not only that, he’s a Cubs fan because of Harry Caray being Harry Caray.

Could I tell you anything about that year’s team? Sure, but I would probably have to check good ole baseballreference.com because I was just five-years-old and my memories at that age were playing outside, hanging out with my folks, and Harry burping.

Fast forward to 2015, and I might have suggested to my wife Laura that we name our first-born Kris Bryant Kimmel. We went with Jude instead because we’re music freaks and she is a music teacher, but it was a strong suggestion on my end.

Anyways, my life has revolved around baseball in some way, shape, or form since then. As mentioned above, I grew up in wonderful Springfield, IL. I have a slight drawl when I speak. I know how to detassel corn. Most importantly, I grew up in Cardinal country. Ouch.

Springfield is a two-hour drive from the Lou and we had the Single-A affiliate of the Cards playing in wonderful Lanphier Field. I grew up going to their games.  I remember the Bernard Gilkey’s and Ray Lankford’s of the world coming up early in their careers. Hell, Ozzie Smith was my favorite shortstop of all time until Javy Baez started doing Javy things (yes, I know Javy was previously a second-baseman, but come on, the man was born to play the six). Don’t hate, I grew up surrounded by Big Red. It was kind of hard to get pumped about Shawon Dunston when The Wizard of Oz is out doing things that didn’t seem natural at that time.

Now, there were some lean years there. Yeah, Ryno was consistently great and Mark Grace was ripping through Marlboro’s in the locker room postgame. We had Jody Davis being an amazingly marginal backstop as well. BUT, we sure as hell weren’t the Cardinals. Let me tell you, being a Cubs fan in Springfield at that time was the equivalent of a hipster living there now. There were odd looks and silent disdain everywhere you went.  It wasn’t comfortable, but whatever, Harry was out there singing the stretch and getting lubed up on air. That was enough for me and the small band of Blue fans in Red country.

So, why the history lesson?

Because my time down there taught me to respect the hell out of our rivals.  Much like Bears fans SHOULD respect the Packers (I know y’all don’t), Cubs fans should respect that team that plays on the big river. They have been the model of consistency over the course of time. They are second in World Series championships all-time behind only the Yankees. They have a market lock for random white dudes from Missouri and southern Illinois that don’t look like ballplayers but can play some solid ball (David Freese, anyone?).

So here we are in 2019.  The North Siders have had a nice little run on the Cards in the past few years. I was genuinely concerned in the 2015 playoffs when we had to play them in the division series, but we were too young and dumb to be intimidated by their history, stature, and whatever ‘get off my lawn’ crap that Mike Matheny was all about. I’m a bit wary when I see a series with them on the schedule, but I feel better than I did the 90s and 2000s when it was a foregone conclusion that we weren’t winning.

As I write this, the Cubs are kind of reeling. We got ourselves a bonafide closer in Craig Kimbrel and a nice 3-1 win on Friday, but there is still a lot of baseball left to play in 2019. We will have our great ups where we hit nine million home runs in a series followed by a week where I am a better bullpen option than whoever is out there bent over on the mound staring blankly at Willy giving the sign.

All I know is that I want every freaking W we can get against the Redbirds because you never know what might happen. We play them in bookend series at the end of the year, and they are always lingering. Win as many as possible of the 19 we have scheduled against them because, if not, our luck lately says we’re playing them in game 163, and I don’t need that heartburn-inducing game in October.

Hey Jon Lester, go get back to early-season form and snap up a winner tonight….please.


Featured Photo: Cubbies Crib

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