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What’s state of Chicago baseball? Cubs, White Sox weigh in.

Fans often have a “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” mindset about their teams, but after the Cubs and White Sox had less than stellar seasons — though one was expected — the Tribune spoke with four lifelong fans about the state of Chicago baseball, how they think their teams can improve and what it would take to abandon their fandom.

Growing up on the corner of Irving Park Road and DuSable Lake Shore Drive — about a mile from Wrigley Field — Simmons could hear fans celebrating home runs in the distance. That connection to the Cubs carried over to last season when Simmons attended 70 games.

Simmons’ mother, a chemical engineer, immigrated to Chicago in 1981 and became a manager of a manufacturing company in Niles. In an effort to connect with male co-workers, Simmons’ mother taught herself sports — and passed down her fandom to her daughter.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Cubs coming off the 2022 season?

On paper it looks like a rough season. But I’m not that person. I identify as a pessimist more than an optimist, but I think the future looks bright. That second half, though? We were 39-31 after the All-Star break. I don’t think people are talking about the bullpen enough. We were among the best in baseball, especially after the All-Star break, and were fifth behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, Cleveland Guardians and Atlanta Braves, teams that went way further in the (post)season. But the starting rotation had a 2.89 ERA in the second half.

Our prospects are really promising. There’s (Javier) Assad and (Hayden) Wesneski. I’m really excited about what they’re going to bring to this team and what 2023 could look like. And there’s still so much more young talent. I like Christopher Morel. I was at his debut game, and it was so exciting. I don’t think he fizzled out. He’s hungry and ready for more. Nelson Velázquez was a great addition.

I think their dynamic is so good. People aren’t talking enough about that Franmil (Reyes) pickup. That’s my kind of movement. It feels more cultural. It feels good.

Q: What does the team need to do this offseason to bolster your optimism?

I think we have something that’s working very well. In mid-September, it felt like puzzle pieces were clicking. I think just continuing to harvest the talent on the team, and our bullpen will start us off on the right foot. It’s hard to even have an opinion because we have expected to be aggressive in the offseason for so many years but then are aggressive in the wrong ways.

It hasn’t been a while where after the season I think, “OK, next season I won’t be a season ticket holder. Next season I’m not going to put myself through this again.” When we ended (last) season, I still felt a spark. It ended way too early. And it’s because of some of the moves we made midseason.

The feeling I get from the end of the 2022 Chicago Cubs is the same feeling I got with that rookie Oklahoma City Thunder team (in the late 2000s). They had nothing to do so what did they do? They just practiced all the time and they got really good at knowing one another. And I feel like this team is starting to jell like that. So I’m really optimistic for 2023.

Cubs fans Amanda Simmons and Jeff Gorski jump for a portrait outside Wrigley Field on Nov. 17, 2022.

Q: What would it take for you to no longer be a Cubs fan?

It’s already starting. I don’t mind the idea of sportsbooks or betting, but I don’t like that a piece of Wrigley is being converted into this entertainment center. It’s a little bit gaudy. Certainly not why I attend games, and even if I do (want to place bets) I use apps.

Deep in my heart, as corny as that sounds, Wrigley is changing in a very robotic way. It’s very sterile. It has been since 2016, but even more so lately, so I’m just holding on to the memories. That’s part of the reason why as a season ticket holder — I prefer to be press box level because I can see everything. You’re not there to impress anyone. My season ticket holder neighbors, they’re my family.

But I think (if there is) support (for) racial injustice, societal injustice, a lot of political views (of the Ricketts family). I’ve tried not to want to meld sports and politics, but if they’re going to do it, then we can talk about it. There would have to be even more aggressive changes that I just wouldn’t be able to sit with. Like I said, I’m a loyalist, but there’s a certain point where I don’t feel right supporting this group of people no matter what this team means to me. I’ve done that with a lot of artists already and I can’t treat this differently just because it’s a sports team.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of Chicago baseball?

Chicago baseball has a little ways to go. I don’t know if it’s because this past year I immersed myself a little bit more on Twitter and that in turn made me a little bit more jaded, both as a Cubs fan and as a general baseball enthusiast. There were some rough days on Twitter during the season, and I see more and more of the ugly sides of both. I will not speak on behalf of the White Sox but I feel optimistic about their future too. I know it felt like a promising year.

I’m a die-hard Cubs fan, but most of the people I surround myself with are Sox fans. I love it because I feel connected to their baseball team, too. We get to share what we love together. At the start of the year we were all excited. I couldn’t help but get swept up in the excitement and so I also feel that disappointment. But this year for the first time in a long time I’m choosing to be optimistic about the state of baseball in Chicago.

Chicago White Sox fan Nick Murawski stands outside Guaranteed Rate Field, Nov. 17, 2022.

For Murawski, being a White Sox fan was “the language you spoke in the summer.”

Though he has been a lifelong fan thanks to the passion of his parents and grandparents, he believes his fandom really started to kick in when he was about 8 years old. Murawski lives within walking distance of Guaranteed Rate Field and has a significant amount of White Sox memorabilia in his home.

Q: What are your thoughts on the White Sox coming off the 2022 season?

I wish I was more optimistic with the direction that they’re headed. I’m uneasy, I’m anxious. We’re about to approach the six-year anniversary of when the Sox traded Chris Sale away for Yoán Moncada and Michael Kopech, essentially starting this great rebuild. There was so much excitement at the time the Sox finally picked the direction that they’re going to go.

They tore things down, gathered young prospects and tried to make some moves here and there in the offseason. We knew the Sox were going to struggle and be bad for a little while, but we saw great things ahead.

One division title and two playoff wins — not series (wins), just games — two playoff wins in six years. And now we’re going through another managerial search and I feel the organization has taken steps back since the fall of 2020. I’m not as optimistic as I was years ago.

Q: What do you think the team needs to do to bring your optimism back?

There is a disconnect with fans right now. This past season was difficult. They underperformed in so many ways. I didn’t think the Tony La Russa hire was at all the best hire. He obviously can’t be blamed for everything — there were many other things going on with this organization.

You can start by making a true commitment to try to pay premium money for premium talent. There’s a lot of talk that the money might not be out there, but instead of trying to have these quick fixes and put Band-Aids at positions they’ve been looking to solidify for years — namely right field, designated hitter, second base — and address those in a serious way, make a serious commitment for long-term solutions.

I’m not saying I speak for all fans, but there’s definitely a feeling like true change won’t happen until there’s an ownership change, and that has been something we talked about for a long, long time. This is Jerry Reinsdorf’s world, we’re just living in it. Until there’s a real shake-up at the ownership level, we might not see the real change we’re looking for.

I thought we were going to see that when the rebuild started. And during those first few years, it sure seemed like we were able to sell off assets to start acquiring all of these prospects. It seemed like we were heading in the right direction, but then they hired Tony La Russa as almost a capstone in a way. All we can do is look at the decisions that are made with eyebrows raised.

Q: What would it take for you to no longer be a White Sox fan?

Oh, they would have to move. There was talk of that in the late ‘80s. I probably wouldn’t have followed them and I wouldn’t have been a Florida White Sox fan. The franchise would have to be sold off to a different city and the White Sox would have to cease to exist.

The White Sox existed well before Jerry Reinsdorf and hopefully will after him, and I tend to be a fan of the front of the jersey, not necessarily the back. Names come and go, but I really celebrate the entire experience: the past of the White Sox and the connections I have to that, the present and the future. I have hope, just not as much as several years ago.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of Chicago baseball?

If you were to put it under a microscope, you would see the nuances that are happening with the White Sox, kind of taking a few steps back with the hiring of Tony La Russa and how all of that has gone. And after winning the division, not being able to even make the playoffs.

You see the Cubs not really announcing a rebuild but it kind of seems like it. They seem to be on the up and up when it was the Sox that were really supposed to be on the up. Yes, both teams failed to make the postseason, but if you pull back the curtain, I get the impression the Cubs seem to be trending in a better direction, and that hurts. As a die-hard Sox fan I don’t know why it matters to me, but it does because I want my team to be the best. I want them to be on the front of the Trib. I want them to be the first team that gets talked about on the evening news. I want to see merchandise everywhere. I want people to be excited about the Sox. I think the South Side mentality is you’re either with us or you’re against us.

Q: The White Sox hired Pedro Grifol as their new manager. What do you think of the hire?

I was surprised by the hire and found it to be a confusing choice. It sounded like the White Sox conducted an actual managerial search, which was refreshing to hear, but I was hoping that if the new manager was not going to have prior MLB managerial experience they would have at least been involved in an organization that experienced recent success. Rick Hahn seemed to be very happy, and I believe he was able to finally do his job and hire the candidate that he wanted. But I expected a more dynamic hire.

Grifol said all the right things during the press conference. His baseball resume is impressive, but will he be able to get his players to buy into his philosophy? I was struck by how many steps backward the White Sox organization has taken over the last few years. The bar at which the Sox operate seems to have dropped drastically and Grifol/Hahn were talking as if a whole new foundation needed to be laid down before a successful team could be built.

I am encouraged by the fact he was an outside hire. The White Sox seem willing to clean house and allow Grifol to surround himself with his own coaching staff. A lot will depend on what type of roster they construct this offseason and if they prioritize the things they mentioned in the press conference: defense, base running, preparedness, understanding of analytics, etc.

The easy part was hiring a manager and choosing a direction. Now the difficult part is following through.

Chicago Cubs fan Jeff Gorski stands outside Wrigley Field, Nov. 17, 2022.

Gorski’s fandom began when he was an infant.

“I was born in December and by April or May I was going to games with my grandma and my mom,” he said.

Now in his 40s and a season ticket holder, Gorski is one of Wrigley Field’s “bleacher bums” and has become a favorite of Cubs outfielder Ian Happ, getting regular shoutouts from Happ, the Cubs Twitter account and Marquee Sports Network. Despite the local celebrity, he said he’s there to be a decent person, have a good time and hopefully see the Cubs win.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Cubs coming off the 2022 season?

I’m generally positive. I mean, obviously my expectations were low going into it. I didn’t expect a playoff berth. I didn’t expect to be a .500 team.

I think that’s part of it, tempering expectations a little bit, but I was pretty pleased with how these players played and how they battled even though they knew they were going to be down most games or would not be in most games. They were in more games than I thought they would be, so it was a fun watch even though the results weren’t really fun.

Q: What does the team need to do this offseason to bolster your optimism?

We need another power bat at first base. It’s a big hole with (Anthony) Rizzo gone and (Frank) Schwindel on his way out. So that’s a big, big hole. Third base I don’t think will last forever either. That’s another big hole that we need to fill. I like (Patrick) Wisdom, don’t get me wrong, but he’s not a long-term solution there.

I like our corner outfielders. Obviously I like Ian Happ a lot. He’s my guy. He’s going to get better the more he sees more American League-style pitching. I’d like to see some more speed in center field. And catcher is going to be a giant hole depending on what they do.

Q: What would it take for you to no longer be a Cubs fan?

That’s a really tough question because I’ve seen ownerships come and go now. I’ve seen general managers and front offices and coaches and players all come and go. What’s constant is us being there, the people that are there all the time in the stands are the constant rooting for the laundry.

The Rickettses, not necessarily Tom, are pushing it a little bit with a political opinion. And stuff like bringing in Aroldis Chapman, we weren’t big fans even though he brought a World Series. That was a sour taste in the mouth. That took a little bit of shine off of it.

I don’t want to say nothing would make me stop being a fan, but that’s one of the things, we are the constants, not the bad stuff, so we can outlast anything that’s too bad with our own powers as a fan base.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of Chicago baseball?

I think the state is fairly positive for the Cubs. I feel like we’re going to have some money to spend and we have a decent core of people we can build around. Build up the bullpen. I feel pretty positive about where we’re going.

The White Sox’s new manager (Pedro Grifol) move is big. That was the big thing (two seasons ago) — the manager choice. I think all of Chicago can agree on that. They’re still in a good place. They’ve still got good pieces and they can bounce back. I’m generally positive. Possibly optimistic.

Chicago White Sox fan Janice Scurio stands outside Guaranteed Rate Field, Nov. 17, 2022.

When she was 5 or 6 years old, Scurio turned on the TV to a White Sox game and sat down to watch.

Her dad, who stopped being a Sox fan because he was angry they won the 1959 American League pennant the season after his father died, rediscovered his fandom through his daughter. Scurio’s mother, an immigrant from the Philippines, didn’t know much about American culture but she would wash beans and watch the White Sox with a young Janice.

Q: What are your thoughts on the White Sox coming off the 2022 season?

The easy thing to talk about is ownership. You essentially just have the same ownership, the same front office persisting with the same types of values and in a vacuum. Maybe it’s acceptable if you are unaware of how other ballclubs are operating, and I think a great example of this is looking at the Dodgers or the New York Mets or — I hate using this example — but even to a further extent the Yankees. You see all these other teams just actively (care).

You could be the type of fan that is completely complacent and just goes to crush a couple of Miller Lites or Old Styles or whatever in the parking lot. You go in, crush a couple more. And then you go back home, right? You could be that type of fan and that’s totally valid.

But if you pay attention to what else is going on with the White Sox thelast couple of years, you’ve had a couple of scandals, especially with Omar Vizquel. You learn the details and it makes you less enthusiastic about what’s going on behind the scenes.

Of course, I can only speak for myself here, but you want to cheer for an ethical organization. You want to make sure that the team you root for is carrying themselves to at least the highest ethical degree that they possibly can.

Q: What do you think the team needs to do to bring your optimism back?

There is the perpetual need for second base and right field and maybe left field too. Getting an actual left fielder instead of throwing poor Andrew Vaughn out there all the time is definitely going to be another need.

I thought the Tony La Russa hiring was very unserious. And if you go a couple of years back, they signed Adam Eaton to play right field, that is also another very nonserious move. When I see the organization bringing back these washed-up veterans, I don’t take that seriously. I just take that as ”OK, we’re just going to win. We’re justgoing to get wins and completely cash it in by July.”

I’m going to still go to games. I’m still going to get my Topo Chico hard seltzer and hang out in the outfield (stands). But I’m not going to take the team seriously. If I want to watch some winning baseball, I’ll watch the Dodgers. I’ll watch the Mets. But when it comes to Chicago baseball, I’m not going to take any of that seriously.

Q: What would it take for you to no longer be a White Sox fan?

I was a fan since I was a kid, but it was very on and off, mainly because the team wasn’t very good and you can just pick any time between the 1990s and today. There were times where I also just didn’t follow the team at all. I was just disenchanted with management and the organization. The games just did not become pleasurable to watch. There’s a good span between 2010 and 2016 when I wasn’t watching much. If another team is playing better baseball, I’d rather watch them instead.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of Chicago baseball?

It’s a lot more fun when both teams are doing well. The last time I can remember this happening is 2016 when the Cubs won the World Series but both teams started off (well) that April. It was a lot of fun.

This year was not very fun. There is a lot of commiseration between fan bases when both teams aren’t fun. When I interact with my Cubs fan friends, it’s this communal-like — not necessarily misery — but understanding that “Hey, y’all suck, we suck too. So let’s all flock together.” I also jokingly referred to the City Series as a mid off, and I think a lot of Cubs fan friends of mine found that funny.

I always want to see both teams do well. It’s good for the city. It’s good for baseball. It’s good for the sport. But when the exact opposite happens, you have to find other ways to define joy in it. It’s like a universal type of misery, I guess.

Q: The White Sox hired Pedro Grifol as their new manager. What do you think of the hire?

It is a step in the right direction. Just from an optics perspective, (general manager) Rick Hahn has more control over hiring and doesn’t seem as if he’s being superseded by (Chairman) Jerry (Reinsdorf)’s will. Maybe this will empower Hahn to hand out better contracts to deserving candidates and also make Chicago an attractive destination for free agents. It is also a good sign they went for a candidate not only outside the organization but someone with no major-league managerial experience. Nepotism is bad, as history has taught us.

Grifol already seems like he (cares), which is also a great sign. The school visits and FaceTime with Eloy (Jiménez) posts on social media were definitely political fluff, but Tony wouldn’t be caught dead doing any of that.

Turning over the coaching staff was also much needed, and I think new faces and fresh ideas will stomp out the “we’ve always done it this way” White Sox mentality we’ve seen throughout the years. A manager who is analytically minded and places great importance on defense is what this org needs.

I am cautiously optimistic but we need to see the rest of the offseason play out. I am still not necessarily counting down the days to when tickets go on sale, nor am I really making any solid plans to attend any games next year.

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