(Photography by Derek Tsang, ’15)
Playing the game
Networking at a UChicago-sponsored Wrigley visit.
The biggest question for a University of Chicago first-year isn’t which major, which job, or which dorm—those are transitory. It’s which team: Cubs, White Sox, or neither? Hometown affiliations aside, the White Sox have all the tangibles going for them. They have three World Series titles to the Cubs’ two, with their most recent in 2005. Plus, the Sox are 13 “L” stops closer to campus via the Red Line, and, let’s be frank, they have the snazzier uniforms. To the Cubs’ credit, Wrigley Field wears its timelessness on its sleeve, and for our resident existentialists and hipsters, their 104-year title drought might be a badge of pride. The infamous 1919 Black Sox game-fixing scandal? Not as philosophically sexy. I’d like to think that’s why the good folks at Career Advancement chose the Cubs’ August 20 game against the Washington Nationals for their annual Metcalf reception, where interns receiving Metcalf grants (like me, here at the Magazine) gather to network. Or, maybe, they wanted to bring out the tapestry of sports affiliations that UChicago students carry with them from hometowns scattered across the country. And it was free. Like I needed any other motivation to go.   [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"874","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"326","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"460"}}]] I hadn’t been to a professional sporting event in over a year, and there’s nowhere else where the mass of humanity is as vividly on display. My Red Line car is crowded near its capacity of 123, but there were 30,975 fans in attendance that night. Wrigley’s accommodation for 252 CTA cars worth of Chicagoans: bathrooms with lines of troughs instead of urinals. With the Cubs already down 1–0 in the first inning, I take my seat—next to the aisle—in the mostly empty upper deck. The Metcalf group seems split, with lines of five in the section to my left, with a handful of stragglers closer to the rooftop seating outside the right field’s ivy-covered walls. For a few minutes, I sit quietly, admiring the surprisingly acute viewing angle. On TV, foreshortening places pitcher and batter side by side in the canonical face-off. In person, the pitcher—the Nationals’ Dan Haren, a three-time all-star rounding back into form—is remote, and seeing the fielders all tense in unison with Haren’s windup is surreal amid the perfect squares of the bright green grass. Eventually I get around to networking with a cheerful UChicago couple left of me. James, ’14, is a New Jersey native doing his rounds at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Double majoring in public policy and theater arts and performance studies, he says that he wants to start his own theater company someday. The idea behind the TAPS major, he says, is that “you can’t produce great work unless you understand why you’re doing it.” His date, Eleanor, ’16, hails from rural Connecticut and is helping with cancer research on campus. She’s premed but refreshingly nonchalant about her major and career. “I’m probably going to end up a psych major,” she says, but after that, the conversation strays away from our work. As James puts it, part of the UChicago ethos is that “we’re interested in everything.” Amid the ballpark’s din, we have to lean in to talk, and when I look back at the field, the score is still 1–0 through three innings, with neither team having cashed in on men in scoring position. I start to miss television; the announcers and limited purview provide a focus and rhythm to the game that’s missing from the ballpark experience. By the time the crowd reminds me to look at the fielding, erupting after a hit or a soaring fly ball, I’ve missed the spark-plug swing. James starts explaining the game to Eleanor, so I tune out. From so far away, the big names—the Nats’ wunderkind Bryce Harper and the Cubs’ surprising rookie Junior Lake—are barely distinguishable from their teammates. The Cubs tie the game with a solo home run from Brian Bogusevic in the bottom of the fourth; it’s his first shot of the season, a glimmer of excitement. Games don’t get much more meaningless than this, with both teams all but mathematically eliminated from play-off contention. The players are focused, but the crowd is reserved. They’re watching men—supermen, but still—at work. We talk about hometowns (pretty forests in Connecticut, the Nets leaving New Jersey for Brooklyn), what music we’d choose to enter the game to (I suggest John Cage’s silent 4’33"), and hobbies. Eleanor had a gig taking inventory pictures of jeans spring quarter—artistic license not encouraged, she says—and James is a big fan of Moby-Dick. In the fifth, Cubs pitcher Chris Rusin gets three groundouts, but he’s grinding compared to Haren, who strikes out the side, stranding Lake on third base. We’re still tied at one run each, but the Nationals are more impressive. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"875","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"505","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"460"}}]] The Metcalf Interns in the section next to ours are rowdy—maybe they had some of the stadium’s $8 beers—but the crowd as a whole stays relatively quiet as the Nationals get a run off of a four-hit sixth. Haren and then a cadre of a relief pitchers keep the Cubs scoreless through eight; the crowd gets moderately hyped, though, for the procession of “Happy Birthdays” and well-wishes that flash on the old-fashioned scoreboard. The game is dragging—Eleanor and James leave in the seventh, and most of the Metcalf Interns are gone by the ninth. White-haired Cubs relief pitcher Kevin Gregg struggles in the top of the final inning, and an RBI single by Nats substitute Darren Span sends at least 5,000 fans, including this one, to the exits. We miss Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro’s solo shot to lead off the bottom of the ninth, but former all-star closer Rafael Soriano gets three ho-hum outs to end the game 4–2. I know that the Cubs aren’t always as frustrating as they were that day—they had blown the Nationals out 11–1 the night before, and they took them into extra innings two days later—but as I begin the hour-plus trek back to Hyde Park, I start to answer that lingering question. Next time I root-root-root for the home team, they’ll be the White Sox.