Cynthiana, Kentucky couple are Cubs fans to the core

Cynthiana, Kentucky couple are Cubs fans to the core


The four unmistakable signs of spring time in Cynthiana, Kentucky: The Cynthiana Democrat’s Home and Garden Show, the opening of the Farmer’s Market at Flat Run Veterans’ Park, dogwoods and tulips in full bloom, and the annual unfurling of the Chicago Cubs flags in the front yard of Jamie and Karan Russell’s home.

 The Kentucky Wildcats can boast all they want about the national appeal of the Big Blue Nation in NCAA basketball. In the world of major league baseball, at least as far as the Russells are concerned, there is only the Chicago Cubs. And they are as mad for the Cubs’ season-opening game as Wildcats’ fans are for Midnight Madness.
Any other time of the year, the Russells’ home is just as quietly dignified as any other family dwelling on Church Street. But on opening day, the Cub’s signature blue and red colors blossom all around the yard, along with images of the baseball team’s famous logo.
Pinstriped cards featuring the numbers and names of past Cubs’ hall of famers line the sidewalk leading to their front door.
In honor of Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary celebration this year, the Russells had an image of the ballpark’s famous sign custom-painted to the rear window of their car.
Now, if they were just Chicago area residents, the level of the Russell’s Cubs fandom would barely register. They’d still be considered diehards, but they’d hardly be alone. Anyone who has visited Wrigley Field for a Cubs’ home game knows the extent to which the fans will express themselves.
But when fans live six hours south of the corner of W. Addison and N. Clark Streets, the Russell’s home is a Wrigleyville oasis that adds a unique note to their block in downtown Cynthiana.
The decorations don’t fail to make an impression on passers-by, especially those who are unfamiliar with the passion of the Cubs’ fanbase.
“Jamie had some friends who didn’t know that we were such huge Cubs fans. They were coming to our house and the woman saw our decorations and said, ‘now that’s tacky.’ I quickly owned up to them and said I aspire for the tastefully tacky,” Karan said.
Karan can’t help it. She and her husband love their Cubs.
“We have Braves’ fans in the neighborhood who threaten to sneak little tomahawks onto our lawn. Our friends who are Reds fans tease us every year we fall short in the playoffs. But someday…” Karan said with a prayerful gesture to the baseball gods.
Karan introduced her husband to the pleasures of wearing the red and blue.
She grew up in Rockford, Ill., which is still about two hours away from Chicago.  Her family got cable television in 1980, that ancient time when there weren’t 500 stations on the box.
When it came to baseball,  there was the so-called “America’s Team” on that Atlanta station, but Karan and her dad preferred to watch the Cubs on WGN.
That was the beginning of the one relationship that has lasted longer than her marriage. In fact, Karan said, she and Jamie planned their honeymoon vacation around Cubs games.
Just as some Kentucky boys realize that marrying a young girl meant marrying into her family, Jamie knew soon after he’d met Karan that the Cubs were going to be a part of his wedding vows.

He’s never regretted accepting the Cubs into his life, although early on he still had some learning to do about being a fan.
His first lesson came before they were even married.
“He [Jamie] suggested we just take off for Chicago one morning for a game. This was before we had kids, so we could do things like that. Or at least he thought so. I kept saying it wasn’t a good idea. But next thing I know, we were arriving at Wrigley Field at 3:15 in the afternoon,” she said.
Unfortunately, the game was sold out and scalper tickets were just out of their range.
They managed to make the best of it, Karan said, but from then on, they’ve made sure to get tickets before taking off to a game.
“I wasn’t all that into sports when we first met. But I keep up with them in my own way now,” Jamie said.
For Jamie, that means not only traveling to Cubs games, but also taking in games with the minor league affiliates like the Tennessee Smokies and the Daytona Cubs.
For the family, vacation planning often centers around Cubs games, even if their trips are to destinations down south to Georgia or Florida.
Their kids, Westin and Miranda, have shared the Cubs experience with their parents, but have not yet acquired the same level of appreciation for the team.
“We once asked Westin where he wanted to take a family vacation and he said anywhere where there wasn’t a ballpark nearby,” Jamie said.
The Russells acknowledge, grudgingly, that there exists a rival fanbase for some New York team. They have even heard rumor of another professional baseball team out of Chicago’s southside.
But the Cubs rule their household. And just as the spring season brings about all kinds of re-birth, so too do the Russells’ hopes, along with countless other fans across this country, that this year will be the year the Cubs make the Series.
Maybe they’ll even win it!
After all, it’s gotta happen sometime.

Teenagers can be sooo … infuriatingly generic sometimes

On the subject of one-man shows, I had the privilege of covering the “Mr. Mojo” talk at Harrison County High School last Monday.

There was a lot to admire about the anti-bullying message and Travis Brown’s high energy “talk.” The kids weren’t bored. He also made clear that he didn’t expect miracles to happen after his speech. Teenager cliques weren’t suddenly going to stop persecuting the socially awkward, shy and different among them. But after four suicides in a year among the student body in a school of just over 1,500 kids, any message that not only warns kids about being cruel but also their culpability in that cruelty by standing silently on the curb saying nothing, is important.

But I’ll tell you what I loved most about this presentation?  Seeing schools do exactly what I think schools do best. They put every kid in the system into that auditorium to hear Mr. Mojo speak. The “MojoUp” message probably didn’t reach every student. A good portion of them probably thought it was a hokey message, like all “good for you” messages can be. But at the very least, they were required to be in the auditorium to hear that message.

I was reminded of an episode of The Simpsons from one of the earliest seasons – where Marge Simpson led a parental movement against the violence of Itchy and Scratchy only to have the tables turned on her when concerned parents got outraged about Michaelangelo’s David on display at the local art museum.

At the very end, Marge, an art lover, laments that few kids will get to see this special display of the statue. Homer ends the episode by reminding Marge that every Springfield kid will see Michaelangelo’s David. Why? Because of the school field trip.

“They’re forcing them!” Homer exclaims.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the teenage mind. However, from five consecutive years of hosting a different teenager in the EF foreign exchange program, the similarities between American and foreign teenagers amaze and infuriate me.

Teenagers are so … generic.

One thing my wife and I like to do for our exchange students during the year is take trips to places that make Kentucky unique. Every year there is usually weekend trip to Cave City, a day at the races at Keeneland or Churchill Downs — which also involves a visit to the Louisville Slugger museum.
Last week, I bought four tickets and took my hostdaughter Lea and two other exchange students to Meadowgreen Park in Clay City, Kentucky to see the Grascals play a traditional bluegrass show. We’ve also taken them camping at a state park. A major highlight of their year was coming to the heart of Cynthiana, Kentucky for the second largest car show, The Cynthiana Rod Run, last August.
But we understand that the kids want to see more than just the Bluegrass state, so in different years we have taken them on trips to major US cities like Las Vegas, New Orleans, Nashville, Chicago, Orlando and Washington D.C.

The two sides of every city
As adults, we all know that major cities the world over have two sides.
There are those things that make every city unique.

Chicago, for example, has Wrigley Field and the Cubs (sorry, White Sox. You’re just not the same.) It has the Bears, of course, and the ugliest football stadium in the NFL. (Seriously, what’s been done to Soldier Field borders on the criminal.)

I could spend hours wandering around Lincoln Park and there is a perfectly wonderful hole-in-the-wall bourbon bar in the center of town called Delilah’s (I do not take my teenagers to Delilah’s, but they will have sampled a good bourbon before they leave for Europe.) Then there’s the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, The Best Hot Dogs in the entire universe, especially at the Superdawg just south of Niles, and Chicago-style pizza … is okay, I guess. (To those of you who just gasped, I’m sorry. I’m not a deep dish pizza fan.)

Chicago is the birthplace of Second City improv comedy, the Blue Man Group and the Steppenwolf Theater and a whole bunch of other stuff that I don’t have the space to list.

But there is also the generic stuff: the national chains common to every metro area and none of them bearing anything at all distinctive of the city that hosts them, except at the bottom of their marketing signature, which might as well have a dotted line beneath it.

It is consistent with every teenager I have ever hosted. We arrive in New York or Washington DC or Chicago and where do they ask to go first? The FUCKING Hard Rock Cafe or, worse, The Cheesecake Factory that’s not even downtown. It’s out in the suburbs. Michigan Avenue shopping is choked with all these national chain stores whose interiors are exactly the same as when I see them at Kenwood Mall in Cincinnati. I’m sorry. I did not travel the entire, interminable length of Indiana to visit the Kenwood Mall.

But this is how the teenage mind works — it gravitates to the generic because it fears new experiences. It fears the “new,” which goes a long way toward explaining the bullying.

We’ve all experienced the frustration of just convincing a teen to try new foods.

“Can’t I just order chicken fingers?”

It was no different at that age. All I wanted to do is hang out where the big crowds gathered. It was safe and I associated the mass of humanity  — and the 45-minute wait times for a restaurant table — as somehow cool.

I’ve forgotten why. Thank goodness we get older and learn that the really good stuff is where the crowds are thinner. Not where there are no crowds at all, mind you. An empty city street usually means nothing’s there, or worse, you’ve wandered into a dangerous neighborhood.

But, as a hostparent, I sometimes see that my job is to do exactly like the schools do.

I buy tickets to the plays, tours, games and the restaurants and let them know that we’re going to do this stuff. I’ve learned that exposing kids to “this stuff” will not result in a sudden change in attitude. Or, in the case of your own kids, even gratitude. But that’s okay. After they reach their 20s, the brain releases chemicals that cause young people to become adults and the things they appreciate are the unique experiences they had growing up.

Teachers are frequent witnesses to this phenomena.

Let me suggest a good way to start. Get tickets to a local live show – doesn’t matter what – this weekend and tell your teenagers that “we’re all going to go.”

It doesn’t have to be all the time. But in the name of Homer and Marge Simpson, I suggest that once in frequent while you “force’em.”

Extra stuff

I was going to upload video of the Grascals playing at Meadowview at the show I took my hostdaughter to see, but I somehow managed to record video on my I-Phone without sound. So I’ll just link to a Grascals You Tube video that works.

Also, continuing with the theme from my last column, I am linking to “The Beer Poem” from the IndieFeed Performance Poetry podcast. What can be a better subject for a poem than BEER!