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The only Cubs fan I could ever love

August 18, 2008

The only Cubs fan I could ever love

This morning the world lost the only Cubs fan I could ever love.

My grandmother, Josephine Barttelbort, passed after a short and sudden illness. I tried many time over the years to convert her to the Cardinals. But, despite the grief and the headaches the Northsiders caused her, she wouldn't give up on the Wee Bears for anything.

She looked forward everyday for years to watching Harry Carry broadcast Cubs contests on television in the days after she retired. And soon she was hooked. She watched every pitch of those games and -- even thought they were harder to find on the dial in recent years and Harry is long gone -- she still followed her team.

We had a good-natured fan rivaly. She didn't care for the throwing stuff on the field, beer swilling reputation some Cubs fans richly deserve. But I can't tell you how many times she would read this blog -- at least the version of it printed on the News-Democrat's sports page -- and I would arrive in the morning to a phone call starting with "Listen, you: I want you to stop writing bad stuff about the Cubs. Your Cardinals aren't so hot."

I'd often ask her how, at 89 years old, she could be the fan of a team that couldn't manage to win the World Series in her lifetime. I even offered to take her to the 2006 World Series if she would switch sides. No dice.

"The Cubbies are going to do it next year," she would say. "You'll see."

Over the years, I took my grandmother on occasion to old Busch Stadium to see the Cardinals host the Cubs. One of those games was June 3, 1990 -- the day Vince Coleman stole four bases in four tries to spark the Cardinals to a 7-4 win in an otherwise forgettable season for both franchises.

I'm not sure all these years later how I got them, But I had a set of tickets a few rows behind the Cardinals dugout, and when Coleman returned to the bench after he scored a run follwing the fourth steal, she stood up in a section that was full of nothing but Cardinals fans besides her and shouted at Coleman "That's not nice. You better cut that out!" I thought I was going to have to fight my fellow Redbirds rooters to protect my grandmother. But she got polite applause from the people around us and a couple "You tell hims" too.

She was impossible not to love by people who knew her for years or those who knew her for minutes.

If any other Cubs fan would have said that, I know I would have been outraged. But it was hard to be mad at Granny when she wore her blue Chicago cap with a stuffed bear sewn on top that was also wearing a little Cubs cap. You can't take yourself too seriously if you'd wear something like that.

But in all seriousness, my grandmother was the most genuine and honest person I ever met. Sometimes she told you things you didn't want to hear. But they were almost always true. She did just about everything for me that a kid could ask and lived for her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. She never asked for or wanted any credit for all of the things she did for us.

Every year at Christmas she would hand me a shoebox filled with every article I wrote for that entire year. At first I wondered why she did it. But I soon realized that she wanted me to know that she read every word I wrote. And I think it made her proud that by working for our home town paper I was sort of "famous."

Even though I'm sure it pained her, she respected my "no Cubs stuff" policy when it came to buying presents for my young son. In fact, she bought him a lot of Cardinals gear, including his favorite Cardinals jammies.

I always thought that if the Cubs won the World Series that it would be a sure sign that the end of the world was near. But if the Northsiders do ever manage to win one, I wish they could have had the decency to do it while Granny was still here to see it.

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