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Another lost autumn on the North Side of Chicago—this will make 66 straight World Series without the company of the Cubs—and fans handle their agony in different ways. Comedian Jeff Garlin swears a lot. ("This is my least favorite f------ Cubs team," he says.) Actor Joe Mantegna drops all pretense of hope. ("I still love 'em, but I'll never invest in them again," he says. "They'll kill ya.") Other Cubs fans offer their own variations on the theme.
But in Thailand, close to the border of Myanmar, there's a Cubs fan who still believes. "You will want to talk to Steve," Mantegna says. "He's the most optimistic Cubs fan I know."
Steve Hirschtick pleads not guilty. "No," he says, "I'm not an optimist. That's not the right word... . I mean, I'm kind of an optimist... . No, not the right word."
What word would describe the 65-year-old Hirschtick? He grew up in Chicago, the son and grandson of rabid Cubs fans. Throughout his career as an attorney and law professor in Los Angeles, the Cubs meant everything to him. Spring training of one year, he and his brother were thrown out of the Cubs' dugout by Dave Kingman wielding a baseball bat. Hirschtick and a woman once broke up over night baseball in Wrigley—well, sort of. He had to be there for the first night game, in August 1988, and it just so happened that the couple was in Rome at the time. (Yes, he left. So did she.)
In the late 1990s Hirschtick retired and moved with his Thai wife, Orawan, to her village about 50 miles from Chiang Rai. If the world was flat, Steve says, he'd live on the edge. He won't say the name of the town, though, because he doesn't want tourists.
And why would tourists show up? Because Steve Hirschtick has hired villagers to build a little Wrigley Field on his land.
"I thought, If I build it, will they come?" he says. "Because, you know, I don't really want anyone to come."
It's not an exact reproduction of Wrigley Field—it's more like a Chicago Cubs theme park. It began in the spring of 1997 when Hirschtick's mother told him over the phone that the Cubs had lost their 11th straight game to start the season. (They ultimately lost their first 14.) Hirschtick muttered, "We will reverse this streak by building a monument on this spot." He gathered together some people from the village (he says that at any time he supports 20 or 25 villagers, half of them children), showed them a photo of a baseball with a Cubs logo and paid them to build a 15-foot replica with steel and concrete. "That ball will be around when I'm dead, for 50 or 100 years," Hirschtick says.
He then paid people in the village to build a baseball field with a facsimile of the Wrigley Field scoreboard. Then they built a version of the Cubs' marquee (with the special message ISABEL AND ALLAN SIGN WITH ST. PETER, in honor of his late parents). There's a rooftop with a THIS BUD'S FOR YOU sign on it. In this little town more than 8,000 miles away from Waveland Avenue, there is a school outhouse with a giant sign saying WATCH YOUR CHICAGO CUBS ON WGN TV.
Hirschtick's favorite piece, though, might be a marble tablet with a PG-13 version of former Cubs manager Lee Elia's famous rant about Cubs fans: "Eighty-five percent of the f------ world is working. The other 15 percent come out here."