Playin’ in a Travelin’ Band: Following the Cubs Through Time and Around the World

Some of you know who I am, but most of you probably don’t. And that’s okay. Who am I? I’m a fairly obscure Chicagoland-born musician and lifelong Cubs fan who has followed the team incessantly since about 1982. At the age of 9, I remember going to Australia for a month in the summer of 1984. Dad and I read the Melbourne newspaper daily and of course scoured it for any baseball news, which usually amounted to a Cubs line score — from two days prior.

Stories of the games, let alone television broadcasts, were not available on the other side of the world back then where other sports dominated the Australian landscape. Even in Chicago, the information and video you could digest was limited to live broadcasts, local newspaper, and local television nightly news programs.

[beautifulquote align=”right”]It’s incredible how much deeper a fan can get into nearly every aspect of one’s respective team.[/beautifulquote]

It’s incredible how much deeper a fan can get into nearly every aspect of one’s respective team. I missed out on watching lots of the games back in the summer of ’84, but I’m now fortunate enough to be alive in 2016 when seemingly everything about following your team has changed.

My life is pretty similar to a traveling businessman’s, except that I criss-cross the country on a Prevost tour bus instead of a rental car. I also fly around 150,000 miles a year to play concerts in the US, Europe, Japan, the Caribbean, or even Australia. And when Umphrey’s McGee is out melting faces off on a nightly basis, we make absolutely sure we have MLB package subscriptions before we hit the road.

We have Cubs, White Sox, Pirates, and (gasp) Cardinals fans in our band and crew, which always provides for healthy banter on the road. You know it’s summertime when there are different games on in the front and back lounges of the bus. Watching Cubs baseball just has some sort of a grounding effect that makes me feel that no matter where I am, part of me is always at home.

[beautifulquote align=”right”]I’ve listened to radio broadcasts in Fiji and set the alarm for 3 am in Greece in October to watch a playoff game.[/beautifulquote]

I’ve listened to radio broadcasts in Fiji, set the alarm for 3 am in Greece in October to watch a playoff game, and flown around the country to catch games in San Diego, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Cleveland, St. Louis, Mesa, and Los Angeles over the past couple years.

Reading up on the current influx of talent or getting a preview of the next wave is something I crave whether on the road or at home. As some of you know, I follow (and occasionally joke around with) lots of the Cubs beat writers and bloggers on social media. We are incredibly lucky to have so many passionate writers out there to satisfy our need for every take in the universe. I wished for that kind of access back in 1984 — even earlier, really — and I am so grateful that all Cubs fans finally have the opportunity to watch their team and farm system develop day-by-day.

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I can’t overstate how mind-blowing this aspect is when it’s compared with the pre-internet days. See, it’s not just #CubsTwitter meltdowns that the Al Gore’s legacy has created.

Speaking of all the changes in the way we follow them, let’s talk for a minute about where the Cubs are in 2016 and how we got here. It’s been a pretty incredible ride following the team for the past four years as the phoenix rose from the ashes.

When the Ricketts family brought Theo Epstein and then Joe Maddon aboard, the leadership aspect of the team leapt forward. From the beginning of the prospect call-ups (Arismendy Alcantara in June of 2014 was the first big one to catch my attention) to the daily excitement of an MLB-leading Cubs team, the changes have sometimes been large but often subtle.

There were trades for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta/Pedro Strop, Addison Russell, Kyle Hendricks, and Dexter Fowler. Then the big Jon Lester free-agent signing, which felt like the first time in a long time the Cubs actually got their guy. The draft produced Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, and Albert Almora. They picked up Jorge Soler as an international free agent.

And then there’s the 2015 offseason bonanza when it seemed the Cubs were attached to nearly every free agent, many of whom openly voiced their desire to join the young core in Chicago. And then the front office went out and acquired the best closer in baseball, essentially saying if this isn’t the year to go for, when will it be?

[beautifulquote align=”right”]Javier Baez represents the passion and the potential of the whole group.[/beautifulquote]

While it’s incredibly tough for me to choose a favorite Cub on this team, I’m going to go with Javier Baez. I think he represents the passion and the potential of the whole group, rarely letting the pressure exceed the pleasure. From his spectacular defensive efforts all over the diamond to his ability to change the game with one swing of the bat, Baez makes plays that few other MLB players can make.

Javy’s still young and occasionally makes outs by being overly aggressive on the basepaths, but I challenge you to name a more exciting player on both sides of the ball with more potential. On top of what he does on the field, he dealt with the loss his sister (who was also his best friend) last year at a very young age. It’s incredible to see a player who strives for success and who has also been through so many challenges personally. If I could live my life the way Javy plays on the field, I don’t think I’d have many regrets.

Above all, I’m thankful that we as fans are now experiencing what we’ve all hoped for…a team that is built to succeed not just this year but for many years to come. As I write this from 35,000 feet somewhere between Los Angeles and DC, I love that I can either watch the game on my MLB app or listen to the radio broadcast as it’s happening live.

Enjoy the ride, Cubs fans, this is what we’ve been waiting for.


Ed. note: Joel sent over a few pictures of Umphrey’s McGee singing the National Anthem a couple years back and of him throwing out a ceremonial first pitch more recently. I’m sure the UM fans out there will be happy to know that lead vocalist and guitarist, Brendan Bayliss, will be singing the Anthem at Wrigley on Monday, September 19.

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