All around Wrigley Field on Tuesday, the White Sox and Cubs sharing a ballpark for the opener of a two-game interleague series, it was cold, dreary, foreboding and miserable.
And then there was the weather.
They say misery loves company, and a pair of teams sitting at four games below .500 less than a month into the season went hand-in-glove with the gray, gloomy skies and the frigid dampness that pressed down like a half-defrosted hotdog bun.
We want to be excited about the Sox and/or Cubs, but so far neither team is good enough. We want it to feel like baseball season, but so far, well, you don’t need anybody to tell you about the alleged springtime in Chicago.
And many of us surely would love for the Sox-Cubs rivalry (or do you prefer to call it the Cubs-Sox rivalry?) to be all it could be again, or at least more than it is now. All is pretty quiet on the rivalry front these days, which tends to be the case when only one team is in win-now mode. Factor in a dearth of star players on the Cubs side, a long list of prominent Sox injuries and an absence of live-wire personalities (Michael Barrett, A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Zambrano, Ozzie Guillen), and what you have here is a failure to exhilarate.
It was different, wasn’t it — almost a perfect storm — when Guillen was the skipper in one dugout and Dusty Baker or Lou Piniella in the other, when there were serious playoff hopes both South and North and the sense of rivalry (with games counting in the standings starting in 1997) was fresher and more vivid. Guillen still says it felt like the World Series when he managed against the Cubs, a sentiment that undoubtedly goes beyond where most Sox-Cubs combatants of any mini-era or decade would go.
The rivalry has probably never been that big a deal to players, and why would it be? The games aren’t even division games. It’s not like the Sox and Cubs are forced to look at one another’s mugs 19 times a year.
“I really don’t think so,” said Cubs second baseman Nick Madrigal, who has experienced these series from both sides. “I know it’s a crosstown rivalry … [but] I really don’t think this game means anything more than any other game.”
Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito enjoys seeing the Cubs, not so much because of what games are like inside the lines as what sometimes happens beyond the walls and in the stands. Incessant banter between fans. Loud arguments. Of course, fights. The players get a kick out of all that, sure, but does it breathe fire into their play?
“I wouldn’t necessarily say so,” Giolito said. “I think that the atmosphere adds just enough. For us, we play in different divisions so we get to just kind of enjoy everything about this series.”
It’s no wonder that Cubs manager David Ross referred to it as a “semi-rivalry,” or that Sox skipper Tony La Russa described the Cubs as a “natural rival and competition, but no different than any other of the 162 we’re going to play.”
Then again, a night such as Tuesday’s could cloud a person’s judgment. Baseball fans enjoy baseball weather, not swordfishing, ice-fishing or Iditarod weather. When Sox shortstop Tim Anderson homered in the third inning, just to pick a moment, the Sox fans in the house rose to their feet before immediately appearing to ask themselves, “What the hell were we thinking?” and disappearing back inside their rain ponchos. There’s no such thing as stealing Mother Nature’s thunder.
But into each life, some rain must fall. Into each rivalry, too. The Crosstown Throwdown, or whatever we’re calling it these days, will do a better job of living up to its billing when the skies are blue, the sun is out and — especially — when the teams are both built to be dangerous. That’s when it gets good. World Series good? Of course not. Maybe someday we’ll get to learn what that’s actually like, a rivalry redefined forever.
But Tuesday? This game, these teams, this meteorological mess? It was a good night to take a rain check.