[Image swiped from Friends of Crazy Joe Davola]

You never realize what a great big country we all live in until you drop an East Coast sports writer into the Midwest. Case in point, the Kansas City Star’s Joe Posnanski, who manages in the space of one day’s work to reveal his astonishment that a) ranyone could hate the Cubs (at least for the new “Cubs Hate America” campaign), b) that a post-steroid Yankees = the 1919-2005 White Sox (sic), or c) his further astonishment that a good but not “scary good” team like the Angels (also not from New York) can take a division where they only face three teams, none of which play .500 ball.  Of course, Posnanski is still under the impression that Lou Piniella is a “ferocious” manager.  And while there is some reason to “hate” the Tribune Co., one thing you can say in their defense, they never gave Jay Mariotti a home for 17 years.  Now that Joe Pos resides professionally at the KC Star, he can tell you:

Seriously, how could you not love the Chicago Cubs?

Well, as it turns out, there are a lot of ways. You could grow up on the Southside of Chicago, where Cubs fans are viewed as a whole tribe of spoiled Ferris Buellers. You could be a St. Louis Cardinals fan raised to believe the Cubs are only cute and cuddly to the people who see them from afar. You could be from the greater Milwaukee area, only two hours north of Chicago, where maybe you have had the whole lovable Cubs thing rammed down your throat all your life to the point of bursting.

The shocking thing isn’t that these people don’t love the Cubs — it is that their hatred can border on pathological. I have in completely random ways met three people — THREE — who still feel frightening hostility toward Ryne Sandberg. I mean, seriously, Ryne Sandberg. The guy retired more than 10 years ago and, from afar, he never seemed like an especially disagreeable or threatening player. But one friend from St. Louis told me she doesn’t believe in the devil, “except, of course, Ryne Sandberg.”

This is all relevant right now because something unusual is happening in baseball. There’s a chance that for the first time since Bill Clinton told military personnel not to ask and not to tell, we might have a postseason without the usual villains. Yes, times are tough these days in Boston and New York. The Yankees and Red Sox are playing their final series ever at beloved Yankee Stadium*, and all that is at stake is a place closer to the exhaust of the Tampa Bay Rays and a little better standing in the wild-card battle with the Minnesota Twins. The Bronx bursts with excitement.

*Officially declared “beloved” when New Yorkers realized how much tickets would cost at the new place next year.