I know it’s March. Endless talk of brackets, buzzer-beaters and basketball. Blah. So what. Boring. Who cares? Instead, how ’bout beers, beanbags and baseball?
There’s real March Madness in Mesa, where my beloved Cubs will call home for another 25 years.
“The Cubs might move to Florida,” someone told me months ago.
“That’s funny,” I said. “Look, I’m the comedian here. Lemme handle the jokes.”
But they weren’t joking, and immediately an uneasiness washed over me. I actually felt nauseous.
You see, I moved from Chicago to Tempe in 1997. I lived 15 minutes from Mesa’s Hohokam Park, Spring training home of the Chicago Cubs. Born and raised in Joliet, Ill., as a die-hard Cubs fan, I’d never been to a March baseball game before.
“Six bucks to sit in the outfield grass and watch the Cubs?
Forget Dyersville, Iowa — Hohokam is the real Field of Dreams.”
Especially for a 22-year-old, line-dancing waiter and novice stand-up comedian. I was broke, living on my buddy’s futon and riding his bicycle to work.
I’ve missed one spring training in the 13 years since. I now build my February and March stand-up schedule around the Cubs. Cactus League Comedy. New and old friends meet, we have drinks, we share stories. I invite them to my shows.
Cubs fans from all over the country converge on the Valley, turning it into Wrigleyville West. And for some, it’s easier and more affordable than coming to Chicago.
For me, being a Cubs fan is a way of life, and every March, Mesa gives birth to a new life. One with promise. With hope. With SPF 102 for my bald head.
But it doesn’t stop in March. Since 2003 I’ve been a server in the Wrigley Field Skyboxes. I’ve met Hollywood celebs and sports legends. Once Ernie Banks called me “Scott” without reading my name tag. Last season I waited on my childhood crush, Alyssa Milano of “Who’s the Boss.” She hugged and kissed me. I didn’t wash my cheek for a week.
I’m a 35-year-old waiter serving hot dogs, carrot cake and Old Styles at Wrigley Field. Dreams come true in different ways.
Unlike games at Wrigley Field, though, we tailgate right outside Hohokam Park, before and after. The grills are smokin’, the coolers iced-down, the beanbag games as hot as the desert sun.
So how could they leave the Cactus for the Grapefruit League?
Simple. To borrow from a rap song, “Dolla, dolla bill y’all.”
Money. It’s always about money, which Cubs fans bring to the Valley more than any other team. A new sports and entertainment complex in Mesa will cost about $84 million, which will be funded by surcharges on spring training tickets and rental cars.
Not a shocker. The fans are going to pay for it. Even non-Cubs fans. The high volume of Cubs fans spend high volumes of money at opponents’ stadiums. The Cubs move to Florida, the Valley loses hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Cubs stay in Mesa, cha-ching!
Now while I can barely tell the difference between Jimmy Buffett and Warren Buffett, this makes sense even using my pea-sized brain.
Besides, I hate grapefruit. Yuck. Disgusting. I’m way more of a cactus guy.
Come by for some bags and Old Styles, and sing along …
“… Hey East Valley whatta ya say, the Cubs are gonna stay and play. Go Cubs Go, Go Cubs Go…”
Scott Derenger is a Chicago-based stand-up comedian, writer and bald guy. Catch his shows at The Comedy Spot in Scottsdale March 12 and March 26-27. More details at ShaveYourHead.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.