My ESPN Experience
By now many of you have probably seen the ESPN story. On my part, it all happened rather innocuously - several months ago, Wayne Drehs EMailed the blog informing us that he was writing a piece about Cub fans and was looking for some unique stories about our passion for the team we follow. I directed him immediately to one of our own, Rob Letterly, and also to another fan who's actually old enough to remember the last time the Cubs reached the World Series. And for kicks, I sent him my own story as well. (You'll be reading it tomorrow.)
Surprisingly, Wayne appreciated my tale of Cubdom. This was especially unexpected because he ultimately said "thanks but no thanks" to Rob and Stew, and at one point it seemed as though he was mostly interested in famous Cub fans rather than us working types whose combined life-time incomes would struggle to buy Billy Corgan's house. (More on that later.)
The Agony of ... Agony
After telling me that I was on his short list, I spent an agonizing handful of weeks sweating over whether or not a more prominent Cub fan would bump me. I'd later describe it to Wayne as a Cubbie-Fan Mentality of oops, almost. As in, Wayne would call me up one day and say, "Well Kurt, we were going to schedule a time to come and interview you but, oops, Charlize Theron has been calling me day and night to be a part of the story and how could I say no? Cheer up, though. We almost went with you!"
Finally, the date was set. Wayne, his producer, and a camera crew would fly - and drive - into Toronto, visit me at the house, and sit me in front of a camera for a few hours to pick my brains about the Cubs.
When he arrived, I think that Wayne - and his crew - were surprised by a few things. First and foremost, I am an immigrant of Canada engaged to a teacher, both of us seeking regular work, and so we essentially rent out my fiancee's parents' basement at a pittance rather than spend more than a thousand dollars monthly to live in a Toronto apartment. (Although we will be buying a house after we get married next June.) Consequently, I live in a house and a neighborhood vastly superior to what you'd expect from a 20-something blogger, and I'm pretty sure the backdrop was not what they had in mind. Apparently, they didn't think it would be very authentic if my backdrop was valuable Royal Daulton plate-ware stored in a gorgeous antique oak cabinet. In his article, Wayne dorked me out in the first paragraph, explaining that I blog from the basement of my future in-law's house. Ouch. Shame. I only wish they'd permitted me to be photographed with my Dungeon Master's handbook as I had originally requested.
After spending about an hour negotiating the space, Wayne and his crew sat me down in front of a camera and a bunch of hot lights and began asking me questions. Lots of questions. Fortunately or unfortunately, I'd had an idea about what was to come for a few weeks, and so I'd been rehearsing my answers. This would lead to both positive and negative results.
I think the highlights of the interview were vastly beyond anything that you'll see in a one-minute clip or read in a 500 word piece. I'm not saying that Senator Obama comes to me for speech-making advice, but I'm comfortable with speaking.
However, to be fair, there were a couple of lowlights too. For example, while I was explaining the origins of the blog name, I elaborated deeply on the well-known story of the billygoat, but I kind-of/sort-of totally forgot to explain the Apocalypse part. Whoops.
Second, the house's air conditioning made too much noise for the microphone, and so we had to shut it off. After a couple of hours, I was a glistening, sweating ball of sweaty sweat. It was apparently at around that time that I dropped the line of the day, "it's not that it's gonna happen, it's that it's gotta happen," and so the footage used shows a soaking wet me smiling exhaustedly at the camera.
After the main part of the interview wrapped up, the ESPN crew put up a green screen and asked me to recite the part that everybody recited. "The first question people ask ..."
Me, I take being a Cub fan very seriously. I thought that they'd want it read in the same manner. Turns out I was very, very wrong. They wanted exuberant. Energetic. Excited. Maybe a touch of crazed. I did my best, and you can see the snippets of the results on ESPN's site.
After the interview ended, my brain fell into an exhausted haze unlike anything I've ever experienced. I was not tired physically, but I was mentally worn down. It is my first real taste of what it must be like to be a radio personality in a gig where you talk non-stop for 4 hours a day. I couldn't concentrate. Two days later, it would continue.
That Thursday, Wayne's photographer Ross Dettman drove in for the still photos. He was supposed to stay for an hour at the most, he wound up with us for close to five, not that he took that many photos. It just turned out that he was a cool guy, and we spoke a lot between shots.
It didn't take long for Ross to make clear to me that, as with the recital from two days before, he wanted me to emote exuberance. Or, more accurately, he'd visited the blog and saw GROTA as being a silly place. He told me that he had felt a few brief moments of panic and concern before we met face-to-face, as I was all business on the phone and called him "sir" on a handful of occasions. However, once we started chatting he was quickly exposed to my naturally smart-assed sense of humor. He wanted that in the photos, pictures of me being expressive and amused, and so I called C. into the room, sat her on a couch, and teased her for 20 minutes while Ross snapped my picture. I haven't seen too many of them yet, but I suspect that he probably took some great pictures. I can confirm that some of them include me giving out a double tall man while screaming "eff you, Cubs!", and he also snapped a shot of me sticking my finger up my nose. Ross claims that he will use those pictures against me should I ever run for public office, but I assured him that they would actually help me get in touch emotionally with the common human who often sticks his finger up his nose when he's not preoccupied with flipping people off.
More Waiting and Ridiculous Worrying
After Ross left town, I spent a good two weeks waiting to find out when the pieces would be released. Wayne had thought they'd come out around now, and that the TV segment would air on Sunday, but he wasn't entirely certain. Worse, I continued to struggle with that Cubbie Fan Mentality, and I started to think that the interview I gave sucked, that Wayne would be disappointed with it, and that, at the last second, he'd find some other twenty-something Cub fan and interview him. Luckily, it turns out that I'm merely paranoid and suffer from a problem with self confidence.
When we found out that the article would be released today, I began to doggedly beg Kevin - our web designer extraordinary - to move up the time table on the blog's redesign. We'd originally intended to launch the New Look GROTA on October 1, but it occurred to us that we might get a lot of new readers through the ESPN article, and first impressions are hugely important. Despite going through moments in which he probably saw red, Kevin came through with flying colors. The blog looks great.
At this point, I'm still awed by the article. I mean, I'm really just a schmuck with a story, but mine is not special. Every Cub fan could tell the same tale as me, and many probably could do it more eloquently... and without rhyming unintentionally. Of course, I have to thank Wayne for contacting us, and Ross, for being incredibly cool and reminding me of my brother (also a photographer with a lot to say).
The Other Subjects
I think the coolest behind-the-scenes aspect of the interview was actually in Wayne and Ross's description of the other guys they spoke with. You can read all about them in the article. I'd thought previously that Wayne was bouncing from celebrity Cub fan to celebrity Cub fan, but I was wrong. Sure, he went with a few guys who were very well known, like Billy Corgan and David Diaz, but they actually have stories that make them unique and worth hearing about.
From the perspectives of Wayne and Ross - at least, how they conveyed it to me - perhaps the two most interesting interviews were Jordan Gaffman and Ronny Woo. Gaffman, a physicist who could have been as boring as a Steve Traschel complete game, apparently turned out to have a wealth of stories and some really cool facts about the brains of Cub fans. He also apparently gave a hell of a rendition of the "Go Cubs!" speech that I surely must not have come close to matching.
Ronny Woo is also a fascinating story. Actually, I would love to interview him myself. A lot of Cub fans hate the guy, and it's a sentiment apparently shared by the organization. People see him as being an attention seeking, annoying, creepy old man. You wouldn't have to travel far on the blogsphere to find a few people with prominent voices remarking their disdain for him.
But, you know what? He's a person. I think it's ridiculous to hate anybody, and I can't understand how anybody could feel contempt for someone who is essentially a stranger who has experienced unbelievable tragedy. Ronny Woo has been homeless, he's come home to find his girlfriend dead, he's been ridiculed, and he's been mistreated, and yet some arrogant jackasses out there have room to feel full-blown hatred for the guy.
My message to those people: get over yourselves.
Maybe he's annoying, maybe he's an attention seeker, maybe he's dangerous - although I don't know of any serious crime that he's committed, or maybe he's helpless and harmless. Either way, "annoying" and "attention seeking" could easily describe anybody who blogs, so let's not get too full of ourselves, okay? In my experience, nobody is as great or as bad as they appear to be, and Ronnie Woo-Woo Wickers is a guy who breathes Cubs baseball, who wears it 365 days a year, and who has experienced enough tragedy to deserve the break from his worries that baseball gives him. Anyway. I digress.
Billy Corgan, by the way, apparently swore like a sailor during his interview. He also commands great camera presence. Ross apparently wanted to get a shot of him talking and acting naturally, but Corgan exerted his rock star presence any time the shutter went off and would completely shift focus from Conversation to Christ Pose without hesitation.
Richard Savage, the oldest member of our group, was apparently feisty. He validates my theory that you can't live to be 100 unless you've got some feist, and a lifetime of following the constantly-disappointing Cubs can apparently serve as a feist injection.
Helen Kieling is my hero. She's deaf, she's blind, and she's a Cub fan. Somehow I suspect that when they get that final, World Championship Clinching out this year, she may not be the first to know, but she'll find out quick and she'll be the happiest.
All you need to know about David Diaz can be seen in his picture, taken while watching a Cubs game with friends. I've got to admit that he seems to get more enthusiastic during games than I do. Maybe he should write this blog. I bet his posts would be fused with emotion.
With only a few weeks remaining on this season, and with perhaps no more than a little over a month before baseball ends for the year, a lot of things could happen. The Cubs very well could make this their year.
In Wayne's article, he's quoted me saying something like "if the Cubs win, GROTA becomes irrelevant." I said it, but I wouldn't characterize it as being accurate of how I really feel.
GROTA is and should always be a place for Cub fans to gather and talk about their love and faith in the Cubs. And, sure, when times are tough, we'll hate on them. We'd be dishonest if we didn't. But the point is, maybe you have to be a little silly - if not a little crazy - to be Cub fans. I'd hardly characterize any of Wayne's 11 subjects as being "normal," and I think that's accurate of us all. GROTA is the epitome of what it means to be an average Cub fan. We're passionate, we're dedicated, we're maybe just a touch of crazy.
The Cubs could win this year, and they could win for the next ten years, but GROTA will always be here to talk about them. And as long as Cub fans remain silly, crazy, and most importantly passionate, GROTA will be relevant.
Today, you read Wayne's story, even if the subjects were 11 people other than him. Tomorrow, you'll read mine. After that, I will want to read yours. We all have tales to tell, and while many of them are common and shared, they are all unique at their core and worth expressing. I hope you'll express yours here. I look forward to seeing them all.