Welcome to Cub Town


If any baseball blog can be called the “voice of the fan,” it’s Cub Town.

It’s a place that seeks to lessen Cubs fans’ suffering. Before the final game in this year’s Cubs playoff run, with the team down two games to none, after the Arizona Diamondbacks’ venom had started draining the life out of Cubs fans, Derek Smart wrote this entry in his blog:

Perhaps today is the end, perhaps the beginning, or even something in between. No matter what, it’s baseball, and you know, things could be worse, so we may as well enjoy it.

Derek co-founded Cub Town in 2004 with Alex Ciepley, who no longer contributes. Since January, Phil Bencomo has been writing the blog with Derek.

Though Derek was neither born nor raised in the Windy City, he’s been a Cubs fan since 1982 when he lived in Portland, Oregon. Here’s Derek’s description of the path he’s traveled.

I was born and grew up in Portland, OR, becoming a Cub fan through the emergence of cable television in the area circa 1982. I moved to Chicago in 1993 to get my graduate degree in Acting at The Theatre School at DePaul University, which is just as useful as it sounds, and have lived there ever since. I’ve since ceased acting, the biggest reason being the birth of my daughter in 2004, and writing has become my primary outlet. I currently live with my wife and daughter on Chicago’s far North Side, where we realize that our attempts to instill in her a solid grounding in Cubfandom are merely an indoctrination into a deep family commitment to overwhelming institutional mediocrity.

What distinguishes Cub Town from the many other baseball blogs I’ve encountered during my Web travels is the quality of its writing. Here’s a taste of the appetizers that Cub Town offers:

Sure, the Cubs handed Dontrelle Willis his first career April loss (a meaningless accomplishment, if ever there was one), but the real story was the way Sean Marshall pitched. For the first time since the season started, he really had his curve going, and it was obvious how much having that pitch at his disposal opened up the rest of his game, and he just got better as the contest went along.

And here’s some dessert, compliments of Derek:

Like everyone else in the National League, the Cubs were and are a deeply flawed group. Decent enough, to be sure, due to some significant star power in a couple spots, but miles away from a dominating force, or even consideration as a sure-fire contender. This is, as currently constructed, a .500 team that could swing several games in either direction based on the whims and vagaries of a long season. Sticking with the status quo could result in a similar ride in 2008, one that would have the potential of another run to the postseason, or an equally likely yearlong slog in the muddy, mid-pack, March to Mediocrity.

Now that you’ve sampled an appetizer and dessert, here’s the main course, my interview with Derek.

Question: You became a Cubs fan while you were living in Oregon. How come you became a Cubs fan rather than a Dodger or Giant fan, clubs which played in cities much closer to Portland.

Derek: TV coverage. In theory, I really should have become a Mariners fan, since they were only a three-hour drive away. The problem was, there was absolutely no way to follow them beyond the newspaper, and since there was something of a rivalry between the two cites in general, the idea didn’t have a lot of appeal on that score.

However, once cable came in, suddenly I’ve got daily broadcasts on WGN and WTBS, so what I think you’d find if you did a survey is a generation of baseball fans around my age — figure somewhere in their early to late thirties — who lived in cities without any easy Major League affiliation during the 1980s, who wound up following either the Cubs or the Braves simply due to the level of exposure.

When choosing between those two teams, the tiebreakers for me were Harry Caray, and the fact that on the west coast, Cub games at Wrigley all started at 11:20 A.M., which is just about the perfect time to snare teenage boys who are too young to get a summer job. That was the case with me, so I think you can say that this obsession came about in large part due to a combination of the charisma of Harry Caray, the appeal of Ryne Sandberg, and simple teenage, mid-day, mid-summer malaise.

Question: To start, tell me a bit about Cub Town. Why did you start it?

Derek: Cub Town grew out of a couple different iterations of my blogging life. I started off on my own with a blog called The Big Red C, which kicked off on Blogger back in August of 2003, and later migrated to it’s own URL (which I’ve since let expire, and has apparently been snapped up by folks advertising porn sites, so beware). I had been wanting to write for a while, but I’d always had trouble coming up with subject matter, and after having spent a few years getting exposed to some of the emerging sabremetric thought on the internet, and in particular after stumbling across The Cub Reporter, it dawned on me that writing a blog about the Cubs was the perfect vehicle for me to start putting pen to paper, if only in the figurative sense, since I’d essentially have daily doses of potential content thrown at me nearly year round.

Later, I had the honor of being asked to join the team at The Cub Reporter, along with the founder, Christian Ruzich, and the excellent Alex Ciepley. I was there for a few months, and then me, Alex, and some of the other bloggers at the site decided to start Baseball Toaster, and thus came the birth of Cub Town.

Question: It’s been more than than three years since you started Cub Town. How has Cub Town changed since you began it? Has it developed the way you expected?

Derek: It’s changed in a couple of ways. First, Alex, while with us in spirit, no longer contributes. I was writing the blog on my own for a while, until the start of this year when I asked Phil Bencomo to come on board and write Cub Town with me. This is where things get especially odd, because my intent had been for Phil and I to be writing side-by-side, but the reality wound up being that I practically dropped out of site for nine months, only recently resurfacing to be a regular contributor again. Phil did a great job of making sure the site didn’t suffer in the interim, and I can’t say how grateful I am that he was able to make things work during that time, as I’m pretty sure he thought I was going to be around a lot more than I was. I’m back now, though, and hopefully, we’ll be able to make this thing work in a way a little closer to my original intent.

In terms of the site’s development and my expectations, I can’t say I actually had any, other than to write as much good stuff as possible while enjoying myself. We all started Baseball Toaster because we’re a bunch of guys who like to write, love baseball, and take pleasure in each other’s company. We’re here to have fun, and as far as that expectation goes, it’s been met in spades.

Question: What affect has blogging about the Cubs had upon you as a Cubs fan?

Derek: What I think it’s done most is increase my awareness of various things. Big things like the status of the minor league system or the club’s financial situation, and little things like the flow of a particular at bat, or the way a managerial decision in the fifth inning resonates throughout a particular game. I find myself always looking for something to write about, always trying to think how I could take a particular idea and make it into a post, or at least part of a post, which leads to me nearly constantly having my analysis hat on. It’s not that I’m looking for story – often, I write in bullet points, so I’m usually not concerned with being able to hold a longer narrative together – rather I’m looking for some nugget of an idea that I can expound upon in two or three paragraphs, either to make a wider point, or just to have some fun.

Question: After blogging about baseball for more than three years, what lessons have you learned about doing it?

Derek: Know your stuff. That’s the key. People are willing to agree to disagree if you have a different yet well-reasoned opinion, but toss something out there that you’ve pulled out of darkest nether-regions, and they’ll be all over you – rightfully so. Blog readers tend to be some of the most well-informed fans around, so if you’re going to express an opinion in their general direction, you’d best have the facts to back it up.

Question: Of all the blog entries you’ve written, tell me about the one that readers responded the most to.

Derek: That’s a really hard question, in large part because we’ve never been a comment-heavy blog. I think the stuff I’ve seen the most direct linkage to from other sites, along with generating some discussion on the site itself, is when I used to do a series in the spring called “Know Your Enemy,” which was just a basic set of previews of the other teams in the NL Central. I haven’t done them for a couple years because they’re tremendously time-consuming, but I’ve been toying with the idea of bringing them back this season, as long as I can figure out how to do the work over a longer period of time.

***

About 1100 pages link to Cub Town.

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