NEWS

Longtime Cardinals fan embraces the dark side -- temporarily

Marcia Martinez

As a credit card-carrying member of Cardinal Nation, taunting Chicago Cubs fans is part of an unspoken oath Jamie Toland took when he pledged his allegiance to St. Louis’ baseball team.

“I felt that it was sort of my duty to dislike the Cubs because of the rivalry,” Toland said. “I was ruthless and vindictive. I’ve been to Wrigley Field lots of times, but it was to root against the Cubs.”

That is why Toland’s friends and family are amazed he is living the 2008 baseball season as a Cubs fan. Toland has severed all ties to the Cardinals.

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the Cubs’ last World Series championship. That’s one reason for the switch.

The other is that Toland, 33, a literature teacher and varsity soccer coach at Riverton High School, wants to test himself.

“I’ve had a hard time convincing people I was being serious and that I wasn’t just trying to play a joke on them,” he says. “I’ve had people not talk to me. I was told, somewhat jokingly, I couldn’t come in someone’s house. People were told while we were eating, and I was told to get up and leave the table.”

When Toland told his 7-year-old twins, Carter and Elise, about changing allegiances, Carter asked if his father would be arrested for switching sides.

“I said, ‘No. I didn’t break any actual laws,’ ” Toland says. “But social laws … I guess some people would disagree.”

Cubs’ enthusiast Kyle Weber, also a teacher and coach at Riverton, falls into that category.

“Especially with the Cubs and Cards,” Weber says, “you can’t cross over.”

Long line of Cardinals supporters

Toland comes from a long line of Cardinals supporters: His father, Jim Toland, roots for the Redbirds, as did Jamie’s late grandfather, Charlie Toland.

Growing up, Jamie vacationed with his family each Fourth of July in St. Louis, where they always attended a Cardinals game. He even played twice at the old Busch Stadium as a member of Rushville High School’s baseball team.

In high school, Toland begrudgingly replaced his Cardinals’ Ozzie Smith glove with a Cubs’ Ryne Sandberg glove. When someone asked who owned the Sandberg glove, he denied it was his, then later rode his bike back to the baseball diamond to retrieve it after the other players had left.

“We have several relatives that are Cubs fans, and we never could understand those people,” Jim Toland said.

The genesis of what a St. Louis supporter might call going over to “the dark side” began with a conversation between Toland and Weber during a playoff game between Chicago and the Arizona Diamondbacks last October.

“I made a comment, probably just to be spiteful more than anything, along the lines of, ‘If the Cubs don’t win it in 2007, then next year it’s going to be 100 years (since they won a World Series) and they’re pathetic enough that I could see myself rooting for them because every 100 years I guess is not that bad,’” Toland said.

Cubs devotee Steve Bridge, Toland’s college roommate at Western Illinois University, doesn’t want Toland’s empathy.

“I said to him, ‘We don’t need your pity,’ ” said Bridge, former WICS-TV sports director.

“I did not talk to him for a while. I wanted to see if he was being serious or not.

“I don’t think I could do it (root for a rival team). I give him a lot of credit for trying it. It’s like leaving one family and joining another.”

No passing fancy

Toland is taking his conversion seriously.

He attended the Cubs’ spring training, even though he’s never gone to the Cards’ spring training.

Toland and Luke Johnston, a former Riverton teacher and coach, spent four days this spring at the Cubs’ training facility in Mesa, Ariz.

“You could see he was taking everything in,” said Johnston, a New York Yankees fan. “If the Cubs did something good, he stood up and clapped or cheered.”

This summer, Toland will attend several ballgames at Wrigley Field. He’s reading books about the Northsiders.

Another sign of his commitment to cleanse himself of all things Cardinals is a brown box marked, “Do Not Open Until Oct. 2008.” It is filled with baseball caps, a pair of flip-flops, a key ring, T-shirts, sweatshirts and other items — anything that says “Cardinals” or is marked with the team’s logo.

No memorabilia is on display in his classroom. He does not watch St. Louis games on television. He even refuses to drink from cups bearing a Cardinals’ logo.

He does, however, still use his Cardinals credit card.

Toland also is chronicling his season of self-imposed exile in a journal, with the idea he might end up with a book manuscript. So far, he’s written 140 pages. The most he’d written before was a 10- to 15-page story.

Emotional transformation

Leaving Cardinal Nation for the Lovable Losers has evoked numerous emotions in Toland.

He bought a Cubs hat and sweatshirt but hid them in his van for a week until working up the nerve to wear them. Early in the process, Toland did his best to avoid people he knew while wearing anything with Cubs on it.

There have been times during the transformation that Jamie’s wife hasn’t recognized her husband.

“I did identify him so closely with Cardinals gear, and to see him in that was really strange,” said Sarah Toland. “It took me a while to get used to it, and now I still do a little bit of a double-take.”

Sporting Cubs’ threads this season has been easier than usual, though. Chicago has the best record in the National League at 45-28.

“The Cubs are still playing hot,” Weber said. “We’ll see if he can weather the storm if they fall off a little bit in July.”

It appears Toland is already having an identity crisis.

“I wrote the other day that I woke up to see if the Cubs won and the Cardinals lost,” Jamie Toland said. “I typed, ‘Who am I?’ It has opened my eyes to the social labels that we have on people.”

Toland’s father thinks his son will return to the Cardinals’ fold at season’s end.

“I don’t see him the rest of his life being a die-hard Cubs fan,” Jim Toland said.

Then he added, “We can always hope.”

Marcia Martinez can be reached at (217) 788-1547.