The Beauty Of Fan Loyalty

Chicago CubsWednesday night marked the last game of the Chicago Cubs regular season. A season that ended with the second most losses in franchise history. Though it’s not in my nature to share personal preferences, I must admit in this case that as a fan, the 2012 season did sting a little bit. There was new management, a flurry of new talent and players, and in many ways a cleaning of house. The end result was a chaotic, rollercoaster of a year. And still the last game of the season left a taste of hope. After a walk-off game winning home run in the ninth inning, the team reminded their club and fans that the 2013 season is still full of hope.

I’ve been a Cubs fan for fourteen years. I got hooked when I was five, during the Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire home run chase of 1998. Sosa later left (and to my disappointment his career crumbled soon after) but my enthusiasm for the team never faded. Call me a sucker for the underdog, partial to the loveable loser. I witnessed the Bartman ball of 2003, watched Dusty Baker and Lou Pinella leave, Kerry Wood retire, Theo Epstein take the reins, and even managed a trip to Wrigley myself. I can’t say I’ve known the same pain as so many other Cub fans before me, but I do find myself in the company of those who have stayed loyal to a sometimes frustrating, discouraging, and dare I say unlucky franchise.

George Wills perhaps said it best when he described Cubs fans as being “ninety percent scar tissue.” It’s been over 100 years since a World Series win and yet support for the team has never dwindled. Wrigley is still full on a Wednesday afternoon, fans still ardently show their colors, and hope for a winning season is always alive – because for Cubs fans, there is always next year.

Perhaps we’re masochistic; perhaps we’re a glutton for punishment. Honestly, part of me thinks it’s because there’s some sort of pride in rooting for the underdog. There’s an ownership in being loyal to one’s team in all its ups and downs. It says something about a person’s character to not jump ship when things head south.

By now I’m sure you’re wondering what the Cubs have to do with anything. This is supposed to be about Oregon sports after all. But if you were paying close attention, maybe you uncovered the same parallels I did. It’s not just about the pride and hardship of supporting the Chicago team but about retaining loyalty and integrity despite disappointment. It’s a philosophy that should be dear to the hearts of Oregonians. A sentiment familiar to the true Blazer and Timber supporters who have gritted and suffered through loss and frustration season after season.

While Portland’s teams are far different than Chicago’s cursed baseball club, I think in many ways fans are of the same breed. It’s easy to love a winning team. It takes a special kind of loyalty to stay positive, enthusiastic, and to keep coming back. The Blazers and the Timbers have never been looked upon as leaders in their sports but it doesn’t take away the hope there is for a better season, for another win, or for a shot at the playoffs. I think for those reasons Portland fans should retain the same pride as Cubs fans in their place as the underdog.

As talk of the upcoming basketball season draws closer and the Timbers try to redeem themselves during their own league play, it’s easy to become pessimistic, discouraged, and prepare to abandon a place in the stands. But what shapes the beauty of a team fan base is that sliver of hope. The continuous optimism in light of failure, the ability to be more than a fair weather fan, to find joy in just one last win despite a losing season is worthy of as much pride as supporting a victorious team.

Because there is always next year. And next year could be now.

About Arran Gimba