Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Nor'east Substitute
2004-09-07 08:47
by alex ciepley

The Cubs are still undefeated while I'm in Maine. Last time I was up north, the ivy was orange at Wrigley and the Cubs won three straight in the NLCS. This time, no losses but no wins either. No games.

I didn't really know any of this while away, since I had no access to the web and only occasionally check newspaper headlines. Baseball was still all around me, though. As background, I have a bit of the love-hate thing with Red Sox fans. I empathize with their all-too-familiar pain and devotion, but the crowds you see on TV at Fenway and some of the online voices of the Nation can rub me the wrong way. A bit mean, perhaps, for my tastes.

But not in Maine. This is baseball territory like I've never witnessed elsewhere. To say they're Red Sox fans seems a slight, like saying Mario Batali likes to dabble in the kitchen. It isn't that they are raving fanatics that scream and shout at the TV, though I did witness some of that during last year's playoffs. It's just that it seemed baseball was woven into their daily routine. Cook dinner, wash the pots, watch the Red Sox, go to sleep.

*** In the tiny town of Newcastle, I was staying in a bed & breakfast tucked away on a beautiful piece of farmland. The hostess was a big, older woman -- portly may be the word -- who showed me and my companion our room, made some tea, and then cozied up to a small TV in one corner of the house. On the tube, the Red Sox game. I asked her if she was a fan.

Oh yes, she said, startled that I would think otherwise. And you?

I told her I was a fan of the Cubs.

Oh dear, you must be heartbroken. And she turned back to her tea and the game.

*** Another night, another city, a small bar with great - but expensive - seafood on its menu. There were about five people lounging around, not counting the three women manning the tap. Our waitress casually took our order between glances at the TV set up on the counter. Manny was at the plate.

*** Sunday night dinner out in Portland. We splurged on fantastic courses of lamb, duck, and smoked seafood at one of the Northeast's top restaurants, Fore Street. The atmosphere is far from stuffy, with an open air kitchen and relaxed clientele. Still, this was fine dining, so it was with some amusement that the guy manning the wood-burning stove had a baseball cap on, brim backwards. A Sox hat, of course.

There was something about seeing these scenes in Maine that made me extremely happy. The Red Sox are performing wonderfully right now, but this wasn't a scene filled with the braggadocios and snippy bitterness I sometimes associate with the Nation. I felt a certain amount of contentment among the residents in just following their team. Grow up, go to college, watch the Red Sox, and pass away. My Cubs weren't playing, but witnessing the people's care for the game made for a nice substitute.

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