Understanding Cubs fans in their natural environment

A Cardinals enthusiast himself, Lonnie Wheeler nevertheless recognized that there was ``a mystical attraction'' between the Cubs and their fans. So with his notebook this free-lance writer from Cincinatti went off to Chicago in the spring of 1987 to discover the compelling elements that made Cub fans what they were. His first discovery was that ``they all kind of belonged there. You really did feel like an outsider which made it strange for a ballpark.'' Wheeler sat in the bleachers making friends with many of the regulars. ``I never really stood in as one of them because I didn't take my shirt off and I don't drink beer. It's a little more irregular for someone to be there keeping score. It's become more of a party place. ``The Cubs are the vehicle to show why people feel the way they do about baseball,'' says Wheeler.

The fans Wheeler describes are often vile, often drunk, and mostly noisy. Where the bleachers used to be a place for old men that made small bets on every pitch, and young kids who ran after the home-run balls, Wheeler feels that Wrigley has now become more a part of pop culture. ``Cable has to do with Cubness because it pervades the country,'' Wheeler explains. ``The Cubs have a wider audience than any other team.'' And what is ``Cubness?'' According to Wheeler, it is all that ``defines the special specific situation which is the Cubs. It has to do with day baseball, and losing forever, and it has to do with the charm this team seems to have and the hold it has on everybody.''

``Baseball is the one slow thing we have held to ... it is a good commentary that we have retained the pace of baseball. It's Americana because so many people care so much about it.'' Wheeler explains that Cub fans in particular are not fair-weather fans. ``They are the only team that consistently loses, yet manages to have a contingency of support who honestly believe that the Cubs will win.''

Wheeler says the aim of his book was to get an understanding of the Cubs fans as they are, in their natural environment, not to draw long character sketches dealing with their life outside the ballpark. What he finds is a large group of distinct characters coming together for one purpose. ``The bleachers have become ageless, classless, sexless, and moneyless. They really cross all aspects of society.''

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