I'm pacing outside the Chicago Cubs clubhouse at their winter training facility, Fitch Park in Mesa, at about 8 a.m.
Beyond the foyer is a gaggle of Chicago beat writers who cover baseball's only remaining "cursed" team. You know, the middle-aged, flabby guys who look like they've never touched second base, much less gotten past it. I'm not as uptight as these guys, these daily newspaper hacks who write the same, tired spring training stories every year about who's emerged as the "face of the team," and who's pulled a hammy.
I've got the confidence of a Boston Red Sox fan, which, after all, I am. The Biggest Choke in Professional Sports (i.e., the Spankees) has made it easier to see the rainbow beyond the dark clouds (no Sammy, no Beltran, no Big Unit . . . yes, Barry's still here) that hang over the 2005 Cactus League -- both figuratively and literally.
The Chicago Cubs
Phoenix Municipal Stadium, 5999 East Van Buren Street
Open their Cactus League spring training schedule at 1:05 p.m. Thursday, March 3, against the Oakland A's. For ticket information and complete team schedules, see www.cactus-league.com.
That's not to say that catching spring training in the Valley is such a sacrifice, like Curt Schilling and his sutured ankle taking one for the team. After all, for the price of a hot dog and a beer (okay, a soda) at a regular-season game (most Cactus League tickets run from $4 to $20), I'll watch the Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Oakland A's, Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Kansas City Royals, the Cubs, our hometown D-Backs, and the Anaheim, er, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, mix it up in games that don't count -- at fields from Surprise to Tucson, and Peoria to Scottsdale, until the end of March.
For today, since the games won't begin until March 3, I'll play the goofball reporter, like those standup comics who score credentials to Super Bowl Media Day -- the guy who's not afraid to ask the important questions, like, "Any chance, given the Cubs' fan base here, that you guys will follow the Angels' lead and rename the team the Chicago Cubs of Mesa?"
But, just as I'm editing my thoughts, Nomar Garciaparra approaches the double doors that lead into the clubhouse. Yeah, the same guy who's swinging for the fences on my holograph Fenway Park souvenir cup, the guy my beloved Red Sox traded to the Cubs midseason in 2004, a move that led to Boston's first World Series title in . . . oh, you know how long they waited.
Nomar walks toward me. No, he struts, ripped and -- according to him -- not on the juice. It's just me and Nomah. Or is it now "Nomars" in Chicagoland? Whatever. Hey, maybe after this, we'll be buds and play long toss in my backyard.
Anyway, Nomar glances my way. And in that nanosecond, Garciaparra's glorious 1997 rookie season in Boston, his .322 career batting average, his three-homer birthday bash back in 2003, and his wife, Mia Hamm, all flash in my scattered brain.
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And suddenly, I think, I'm cursed by the cursed.
"Hey, how's it goin'?" I ask, my head down, and my mind lost in carpet patterns. And my voice! I just sounded like I was 12 again, before I started doing Barry White impersonations at parties.
Accordingly, Nomar gives me an awkward stare and makes his way to the clubhouse where those beat writers will hang with the guy for the next four weeks, asking him if he believes in curses, and if the Cubs just might win it all this year for the first time since 1908.
Uptight I'm not. Cursed? Nah. I guess I'm just a giddy baseball fan at heart, after all. Just like you.