I’ve never paid attention to intrastate baseball rivalries in California. As a native Chicagoan, it’s hard to avoid the longtime sniffs of discord between North Side Cubs fans and South Side White Sox diehards (geographic lines being fluid when it comes to loyalty of any type). I also have some experience with the New York Yankees/Mets antagonism, having spent a good deal of time in the Empire State over the years.
This week I found myself in San Luis Obispo, Cali for day job purposes. On the plane westward I cursed two circumstances which at the time appeared highly unfortunate. In the first place, I’d be away for NLDS Games Three (and as it turns out, Four). The time zone difference and presumed lack of Wrigleyville Nation camaraderie presented formidable challenges to a longed for sense of immersion in playoff excitement. Secondly, I sort of figured SLO residents would be pro-San Francisco by default.
Wrong. At the risk of sounding like a total turnip, I was completely ignorant of the Los Angeles Dodgers/Giants battle lines drawn across the state. And as both teams toiled in respective NLDS series’, the taunting was rampant. On Monday, I chatted otherwise amiably with a restaurant sommelier and lifelong Dodgers fan who provided assurance in rather blue language. For the purposes of remaining family-friendly, let’s say he exuberantly wished the Cubbies luck against their Golden Gate challengers.
I sat in a tense and crowded hotel lobby on Tuesday night, a community of people staring holes through a large television as it appeared Game Four would go to the Giants. When the Cubbies ultimately prevailed with a four-run, ninth inning rally, MVP hopeful Kris Bryant threw his glove in the air. 2015 National League Cy Young Winner Jake Arrieta vaulted over the dugout railing. And in a Courtyard by Marriott in the small town of San Luis Obispo, a certain member of Wrigleyville Nation (ahem) ran in a victorious circle, glass of red wine precariously balanced, high-fiving smug Dodger loyalists. Dejected San Franciscans were less entertained. The whole scene made homesickness a little less acute.
As of last night however, the temporary bond between Los Angeles and Chicago is officially severed. The Dodgers sent the Washington Nationals packing in an exciting Game Five that put two of the oldest teams in baseball on a National League Championship Series collision course.
The series which begins tomorrow is, of course, also a shot at redemption for the Cubs. The club with the best overall 2016 regular season record found themselves swept by the Mets this time last year. While the Cubbies did Wrigleyville Nation proud in 2015, Joe Maddon’s guys were ultimately outmatched. In the first-ever postseason meeting between the two teams, a short-staffed and exhausted Chicago pitching squad underwrote an NLCS in which the losing team never held a scoring lead.
Yet and still “Wait ‘til next year” finally felt like more than meaningless consolation. Except for one lackluster pre-All Star Game stretch early this summer, the Cubbies have dominated the game. So much so that it’s almost (almost!) easy to disregard last year’s New York humbling. Theo Epstein and company have painstakingly shored up at the field, bat and bullpen weaknesses that stood between the Cubs and the World Series in 2015.
It’s certain that Dave Rodgers and his Dodger squad, hot off an NLDS victory, fancy the idea of a 2016 NLCS sweep. Sorry guys. Not gonna happen. And to San Francisco Giants fans who’d love to see Los Angeles go home empty handed: I’m happy to let hotel lobby bygones be bygones. Welcome to Wrigleyville Nation!