Barb and Nick Mazarakos have been married for five years. Barb was raised Lutheran; Nick, Greek Orthodox, but religious differences have never been a big deal, not even in deciding how to raise their 16-month-old son, Johnny.
But baseball? That’s, well, a whole different ballgame.
“We tell people we have a mixed marriage and they usually assume we’re talking about our religions,” Barb says. “But it’s really about baseball.”
When one parent bleeds Cubbie blue and one’s got a South Side heart, it can make for a long season.
That’s because the Mazarakos’ are a split family. Barb, a lifelong Cubs fan, dressed up as Ryan Sutcliffe for Halloween in fourth grade and regularly wrote Cubs president Dallas Green with management advice. As a child, Nick’s summers were spent at Comiskey Park, and he remains a White Sox fan.
The Mazarakos’ story played out all across Chicago last weekend, when split-loyalty households broke out their caps, jerseys and gentle (or not-so-gentle) ribbing for the Crosstown Classic. And that’s the beauty of Chicago baseball: two teams, separated by 11 stops on the Red Line and a century-long rivalry.
Francesca Mazurkiewicz grew up in Chicago’s west loop, but as a third-generation Cubs fan, her heart is with the North Siders.Which presents a tiny problem: Francesca’s husband, Mark, comes from a long line of White Sox fans.
When their daughter, Lucia, was born last year, the battle lines were drawn. Mark’s parents sent White Sox gear, but the family went to a Cubs spring training game in Arizona this year.
“We’ll raise our daughter to know that there are two teams but I’ll definitely let her know who the team really is to root for,” she says.
And this year’s Crosstown Classic, just like all the ones before, stirred up a few emotions. “There was a conversation the other day during which tears may or may not have been shed,” Francesca says. “It’s an emotional thing, being a fan.”
And it doesn’t get any easier when your partner roots for the other team.
“Parents are adults and should be able to navigate through that, but a kid is going to feel a little more pressure,” says John Tauer, a psychology professor at the University of St. Thomas whose blog, Goal Posts, deals with the psychology of sports. “They might be thinking, ‘Do I side with mom or do I side with Dad?'”
The result, he says, can be that kids get turned off to sports altogether — clearly not the point in a baseball-rabid house.
Rivalries off the field are like rivalries on the field, Tauer says. When it’s healthy and good-natured, it brings out the best in people. “Butwhen couples hit below the belt,” he says, “it can get kind of nasty.”
Nastier yet when there’s an actual talent gap. The White Sox won the World Series in 2003, and the Cubs, despite back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008, have disappointed again and again.
“It was always kind of a fun joke when we were dating,” says Jill McCall, a Cubs fan whose husband, Kevin, is a Sox fan. “And then we got married. And then we had kids.”
Their solution? Split the difference. They have three children: the oldest, Paige, McCall ceded to the Sox, the youngest, Chase, she dresses in Cubs gear, and the middle child they named Madison — the dividing street between the North and South Side.
“It seems to have kept the peace,” McCall says with a laugh. Until their fourth child, due later this month, shows up, anyway. “Then it’s anyone’s game.”
Liz Hoffman is the web editor at Chicago Parent.
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