- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 21, 2002

Understand first of all that "Bleacher Bums," the original film about Chicago baseball fans, has nothing to do with the Cubs or Wrigley Field.
It is purely coincidental that the Chicago Bruins play in a ballpark with vines on the outfield fences where fans stand in the streets waiting to chase down home runs. Never mind that, like the Cubs, they have not been in a World Series since 1945 and haven't won one since 1908 four years before the Titanic sank.
Pure coincidence.
As Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse once observed, "Any team can have a bad century." And the fictional Bruins are experiencing one, the same as that other Chicago team.
Each day, the bleacher bums assemble, a fraternity of fans determined to see their heroes through this little slump. It is a Spartan setting, but this is a hearty group. When a couple of newcomers show up, one of them wonders how in the world they wound up in this peculiar place.
"We're a million miles away, there's no backs on the seats and you can't see anything," one of them wails in the film, being shown this month on Showtime.
That, of course, is the appeal of the bleachers: The game is secondary, the ambiance is everything.
"How are you doing?" one regular asks another.
"Better by the minute," his friend replies.
Then he looks around the ballpark, takes in the smells and the setting, and decides he has truly found nirvana. Peanuts and beer, pop corn and soft drinks. All of it accompanied by baseball. What could be better?
It's true now, and it was true in the 1970s, when actors Dennis Franz and Joe Mantegna, along with nine others, wrote the show. They were in the original cast when it was produced by the Organic Theater Company of Chicago.
The bums spend the day betting, batter by batter, inning by inning, on anything and everything. A cloud shows up and they're immediately betting on the weather. It would be the perfect place to start a chapter of Gamblers Anonymous.
Inside the scoreboard, where inning-by-inning scores are posted by hand coincidentally, just like at Wrigley Field the operators also are wagering. One of them offers a little baseball philosophy that is worth repeating and remembering.
"There's an ebb and flow to the game," he explains. "A guy doesn't blow a save all year until the World Series. You've just got to respect the ebb and flow."
Good advice, especially for Mariano Rivera.
The bums occasionally can border on vicious. When they briefly run out of things to bet on, one of them decides to take on a special challenge. He offers some action on his ability to drive the opposing right fielder over the edge.
"I will make him climb the vines," he announces.
This is an appealing prospect to his neighbors. They not only back his bet but help him achieve his goal with some awfully personal insults.
Sure enough, the right fielder scrambles up the vines like a squirrel pursuing a chestnut. Mission accomplished.
It should be noted that two years ago, a band of Los Angeles Dodgers charged into the stands at Wrigley Field, resulting in some unpleasantness. That involved the Cubs, not the Bruins. But it was strikingly similar.
The Bruins lead for a while, then fall behind, then stage a late rally. The bums, eternally optimistic, pump each other up. There are a few realists among them, though.
Urged to listen to the fans cheering for the Bruins, one man frowns. "All I hear," he says, "is 35,000 people, about to get their hearts broken."
But, of course. That is part of the charm and fabric of the game. Bart Giamatti advised us that baseball is designed to break hearts, and few activities do a better job of it.
The game is like a roller coaster. Old-timers advise newcomers never to get too high and never get too low. Good advice. Difficult, however, for fans to follow, because it ignores the emotions of the moment.
In the middle of the rally, as one bum wavers, another tries to encourage him. "Keep the faith," he says. "Never give up."
In the end, though, the Bruins surrender, beaten again, one more galling loss in a dreary string of them. The faithful are not deterred, however.
"Tomorrow, they'll win," one departing bum announces.
Sure, they will.

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