Editor's note: The Herald & Review each day is listing a reason the Decatur region is loved. We're profiling people, places and history that are special to our region — and that make it a great place to live. See more here.
Study a map and you’ll never see it. There is no official Mason-Dixon Line when it comes to the imaginary fence that separates one group of baseball fanatics from another.
But when it comes to the simmering rivalry between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals, Central Illinois is where the battle line is drawn. Decatur is the logical line of demarcation.
When Festus Paul owned “Paul’s Puttin’ Place,” a miniature golf operation in Nelson Park, each summer he let patrons vote for their favorite team — Cubs or Cards — by depositing their colored golf ball into one hole or another.
He used to say that the annual vote would vary. “If the Cardinals are doing well, they’ll win,” he said. “If the Cubs are having a good year, they’ll win.”
Translation: It’s an almost dead even split, spiking in visibility and verve based on current team performance.
These days you’ll see an awful lot of Cubs apparel bouncing around town, much of it still celebrating the team’s 2016 World Series championship. But there’s no shortage of Cardinals T-shirts, caps and hoodies because over the years, the Cardinals have won 11 World Series, the Cubs have three titles.
When it comes to winning, the Cardinals — and their fans — simply have more practice
Each team helped build its substantial local fan following through the media.
For decades, the Cardinals have cultivated a multi-state fan base through the powerful reach of its flagship radio station, KMOX, and a broad list of affiliates.
The Cubs helped build their own following through the radio and TV arms of WGN. Now, cable, satellite and internet signals bring every Cubs and Cardinals game to Central Illinois sports watchers.
For every den or “man cave” that is boldly decorated with the theme of Bob Gibson, Lou Brock or Ozzie Smith of the St. Louis Cardinals, there seems to be one that rejoices in Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg and Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs.
For the most part, these residents of Central Illinois are able to coexist peaceably. There’s the requisite amount of trash talking and water cooler bluster, but even in “split homes” we rarely hear of it getting downright nasty.
Oh, yes, there are split homes, where love somehow trumped team loyalty and managed to bring a Cardinal fan and a Cub fan together in sickness and in health, ’til death do they part.
Once again we’re in the midst of a baseball season where Cubs fans and Cardinals fans could go at it right up to the end of the start of October.
When the Cubs won it all last season, Cardinals fans could shrug it off as a once-in-every-108-years occurrence. But if the Cubs win it all again in 2017, well …
Here where the battle line is drawn. Here is where another title might test the bonds of our baseball friendship.