Attend an MLB meet-up in the UK and you’re likely to meet a whole bunch of Cubs fans. Maybe it’s because of their 2016 World Series win, or their UK-friendly 1.20pm starts, or perhaps it’s because of beautiful, historic Wrigley Field.
Whatever the reason, the Cubs are well-represented over here. And as they’ll soon be heading across the Atlantic for the 2023 London Series, we thought we’d speak to some UK Cubs fans to find out why they started following the team, who their all-time favourite player is, what they’re most looking forward to about seeing the Cubs play here in the UK, and more.
Next we speak to Renee Francis, @Ren_Francis, a lifelong Cubs fan and longstanding member of the UK MLB fan community.
When and why did you start following the Cubs?
The Cubs have just always been there. My dad came from a family of Cubs fans, so games were always on the telly. In the 80s, WGN used to use a sample from Van Halen’s Jump when they went in and out of ad breaks, and whenever I hear that song, it still reminds me of summer and Cubs baseball.
My dad has been known to have a go at me for interrupting him watching the Cubs beat the Giants 10-2. He’d been watching the game in the hospital canteen, and I had the cheek to be born during it. Ron Santo went 5-for-5 that day. Why would I want to miss that?!
My dad and my grandfather used to take me to Wrigley. We would always get there early to watch batting practice. One time, I really wanted to get Ryne Sandberg’s autograph (I did have a bit of a girly crush going on!). He walked straight past me and I never did get his autograph. Ryno, if you’re coming to London, this is your chance to redeem yourself!
What are some of your favourite things about Chicago?
Chicago is a great city with loads to see and do. Of course, there’s Wrigley, which is my happy place. The lakefront is amazing. I love the Art Institute, and I also recommend the architectural tours led by the Chicago Architecture Foundation (www.architecture.org) for a great way to see the city from the river or on foot.
What’s the best thing about being a Cubs fan?
My dad says learning to be a good loser! He is on to something though – Cubs fans are resilient! The history of the team and the mythos that is woven through that 108-year drought gave the Cubs a special place in popular culture. And when we did finally win the World Series in 2016, the celebration showed how many people (5 million!) wanted to celebrate with them.
Who’s your all-time favourite Cubs player and why?
Ernie Banks – he is, after all, Mr. Cub! He had such a huge love for the team and the game. And of course, the way he broke boundaries in moving from the Negro leagues to MLB must never be forgotten. It is right and proper that his number was the first retired by the Cubs.
It’s good to see that positive outlook reflected in the current players too. Guys like Adbert Alzolay and Marcus Stroman always try to have the right mindset to be able to achieve, show respect for the skills of their teammates and are clearly grateful for having the opportunity to play.
Tell us about your involvement with the MLB fan community in the UK
My son Joe and I started going to meet ups early on when they were held in the sports bar above Victoria station, and we went to the first Home Run Derby in Hyde Park. Joe started working with Mike on the UK Cubs Twitter account and podcasts. It was great being able to see him share his knowledge and love of the Cubs with the wider world.
Joe and I made friends within the MLB fan community through the meet ups and social media. When Joe died at the beginning of 2022, the whole MLB UK community rallied for us. Led by Mike and Rachel from the UK Cubs fan account, they held a meet up on Joe’s birthday in his honour that loads of people attended. Thanks to Mike’s publicity, we also had several donations to what eventually became bursaries at Joe’s university and college. The love and support everyone has shown since Joe died has been amazing. That’s something special and I think unique about our community. There is no tribalism between fans of different teams. Everyone comes together for the love of our sport.
What are you most looking forward to about the London Series?
Having been to the previous London Series, I know that these games will have an amazing buzz about them. It is always exciting to see baseball here, and when it’s your own team as well…. I just can’t wait.
I’m also looking forward to catching up with friends and making new ones. From Thursday’s pep rally at the Horse and Guardsman, through Friday at the Trafalgar Square, and the series itself on Saturday and Sunday, we will celebrate all we love about this simple, yet so complex game.
Photos: Subject’s own
Sean Guest is the Chicago Cubs correspondent for Bat Flips & Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter @SW_Guest