I was born and raised in the Chicago-area. I grew up going to Cubs games with my dad, and playing catch in the backyard. I spent most of my childhood in a suburb where one enjoyed the best of the city and ignored the worst.
The worst was the segregation, poverty, and police brutality. I heard about it, but I never saw it. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I learned about the deep divisions of my city. In some Chicago neighborhoods one can feel as if every step is scrutinized. Although I loved it here, I began to be uncomfortable in my city; uncomfortable with what my moving into the neighborhood meant for my neighbors (who were mostly African-American and Latino).
I moved to New York eventually and experienced a place where virtually anyone could walk down Manhattan’s streets without attracting attention. I felt anonymous and free. Of course New York has its own set of issues, and soon enough I started thinking about my neighbors back home. I wondered if the kids on my block, who I used to tutor, were doing okay in school. I thought maybe I should plan my next visit around the annual block party. Then summer came and I started to think about baseball.
Any Cubs fan who moves away will probably tell you that the thing they miss most about Chicago are games at Wrigley Field, and that’s exactly what I was craving.
The funny thing is I don’t even like baseball all that much. It can get kind of boring. And let’s face it, if you’re looking for superb athleticism you might want to try another sport. I was missing what happens once you walk into the stadium. The love of Cubs fans for their players is hard to explain, and I’m not sure most would want to understand it even if they could. There is one universal fact though, baseball fans love a good player no matter where they come from.
When I sat down at my first game of the season this year my heart swelled when I heard the crowd chanting Kosuke Fukodome’s name (our star left-hander from Japan). Imagine arriving in a strange country with no friends and have 40,000 people rise to their feet to welcome you - every day. Kosuke may not have realized it, but in the hearts of Chicagoans he was one of us.
The same with Carlos Zambrano, who embodies the dreams of all the big farm boys pitching away in small towns across America. Then there’s the story of Jim Edmonds…oh wait, he was actually born in America - well he used to be a Cardinal, so he’s actually the most foreign of all. And even though we needed some time to warm up to him, he’s now loved like he’s been a Chicagoan all along.
Most people who watch baseball understand that it’s no longer a national pastime - it’s an international pastime. It wouldn’t be any fun without immigrants. Imagine turning on the game and not seeing Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Marmol step onto the field. What if all the immigrants disappeared from baseball? Would we even bother watching anymore? Now think about how we would feel if all the immigrants disappeared from our city and then our country.
We don’t often like to admit it, but immigrants make this city and this country more vibrant. How would our lives change if we could transfer our loving embrace as baseball fans into other areas of our lives? What if we could take this love and bring it home or to our jobs or on our morning commute? What if we could look past an accent and block out the noise on Fox News and just see people for who they are? I think it would make this good city even better, maybe even as great as a summer day at Wrigley Field.
(Images gratefully borrowed from Wallyg’s photostream (statue of liberty) and Chicago photogirl’s photostream (Chicago skyline) at flicker.com/creativecommons)