Yes, I realize that it’s now been five days since the Chicago Cubs won the World Series (and yes, that is a very strange sentence to type) and that some of you may be sick of all of the posts and memes and stories about it, but I just can’t pass up this chance to share my thoughts on the matter with you, especially with those of you whom I know have been asking and waiting patiently for them. But honestly, I really wanted to let everything sink in and see the rest of the stories come out that go along with this monumental occasion. And I’ve also had to deal with my two daughters being sick and everything that goes along with that, I had a wedding to attend and of course had some actual work to do. But with the short time I do have available today (and wanting to get it in before so many of you get angry about the election tomorrow), here it goes.
It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.
I want so badly to be able to take credit for that line but that actually comes from Moneyball (a movie that just gets better with each and every viewing and something I may or may not have watched multiple times in the past week) and it fits so perfectly with everything that took place during this World Series run by the Chicago Cubs. Now, I could go on for hours and hours on why exactly I love baseball so much. I could pull the James Earl Jones speech from Field of Dreams and just break that down line by line and likely get 10,000 words out of it but I’ll try to keep myself reeled in as best I can as I go along here.
But I do love baseball. As far as sports are concerned, it really was my first love. Like so many other kids that grew up in my generation, I was just drawn to it from the start. There was just something so simple about it when you were a kid, wasn’t there? This was obviously before I realized how much actually goes into a baseball game what with the strategy of a hit and run or a pitching change to get the lefty vs lefty matchup or a double switch or any of the numerous other little things that each and every Major League game contains. But when you’re a kid, you’ve got a ball, a bat and a glove and everything seems so simple. I hit the ball. You field it. I throw the ball. You catch it. I mean, we could make a game out of anything, couldn’t we? If we didn’t have enough people to play a real game, you just improvised. Remember 500? Or 700? Or 900? It was a game where you just threw the ball up in the air and yelled a random number of points that was awarded to the person who caught it. If it sounds that simple it’s because it was. Even if it was only myself and one other person, we could still find a way to somehow play some kind of full game, even if that meant that one of us had to play both pitcher and hitter by throwing the ball up and hitting it yourself while the other person attempted to catch the ball before it crossed a line in the street or a rock trail in a random field in the neighborhood . While it was essentially a home run derby, my friend Bob and I called it the “3-Out Game” and we would play a full nine-inning game multiple times a day until the street lights told us it was time to stop. That was our life and that’s what we did.
And I love the Chicago Cubs. While I’ve got a favorite team in every sport, there’s never been one that I’ve rooted for as much as I have for the Cubs. And again, that just goes back to when I was a boy. I mean, one of the ways I learned to read was from sitting with my grandfather reading the Cubs stories in the Chicago Tribune. I went as Andre Dawson, still my favorite Cub of all time, for Halloween. I wore a Chicago Cubs uniform for my school picture in second grade. With that being said, I also wore a Cardinals jersey the following year because my father, who was a huge Cardinals fan, essentially forced me to do so. But that was part of the fun of loving the Cubs so much. While most boys end up rooting for the team that their father does, I went the opposite way and we would just go back and forth at each other, obviously with Pop being able to use the 1908 joke whenever he felt like it to win the discussion. But that was also just part of the fun of where I grew up. Peoria, IL is basically halfway between Chicago and St. Louis and the fans around here are split right down the middle…with a few White Sox fans sprinkled in here and there.
And growing up as a Cubs fan in Peoria was pretty awesome as one of their minor-league affiliates, the Chiefs, were here in town and I was able to see so many future greats like Greg Maddux and Mark Grace before they were stars at this little rinky-dink ballpark in the center of town (there’s a much nicer stadium downtown these days) and I thought it was the greatest place in the world…until I went to Wrigley Field. I’d watched so many games on WGN and walking up that ramp and seeing scoreboard and the field and the ivy for the first time is a moment I’ll never forget. Walking into that place was like walking into a church for me and even now, as a guy in my late 30s, I still get that feeling every time I go there because it really does, even if only for a few hours, take me back to a simpler time. You sit in those stands for a few hours and you can forget everything else that’s going on around you. It doesn’t mean that everything else goes away, but for nine innings you can sit and worry about nothing else besides if you’re going to see that “W” flag fly. Unfortunately, the Cubs just didn’t win that much when I was a kid.
I was only five years old in 1984 so I can’t really pretend to remember feeling any heartbreak when the Cubs lost to the Padres in the NLCS after holding a 2-0 lead. But I do remember the feeling I had in 1989 when they lost to the Giants. Or how heartbroken I was when they let Greg Maddux get away. And I honestly was mad at them for a long time, so much so that I once wore an opposing player’s jersey into the Friendly Confines just to let them know. I sure showed them. And like so many others, I got away from baseball for a while after the strike in 1994. Sure, I still followed what was happening but basketball had then become the sport that I played the most and paid the most attention to during my teenage years. But also like so many others, the home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in 1998 coupled with the Cubs’ playoff chase brought me back. I remember parading the streets in college when they won the Wild Card that fall and once again being disappointed when they couldn’t advance. And of course there was the 2003 season.
2003 had to be the year, right? With that team and with that pitching staff, there was no way in the world that the Cubs could blow a 3-1 lead in the NLCS, right? Well, I think we all know how that turned out and in case you’re wondering, no, I was never one to blame Steve Bartman for anything. I’ve felt so sorry for that guy since that fateful night and I honestly hope that this year’s happenings has given that man a little bit of peace. But it was just so unbelievable to watch. And then I watched in horror over the next three years as the Boston Red Sox broke their 86-year “curse”, the crosstown Chicago White Sox bring a title to Chicago for the first time since 1917 and watched as the rival St. Louis Cardinals win their 10th World Series crown. Of all of the teams that could win titles after the Cubs blew their best chance in nearly sixty years, it had to be those three? Throw in the fact that the Red Sox won two more and the Cardinals won another before the Cubs even got back to the NLCS and you just couldn’t help but feel that a World Series win wasn’t in the cards for the North Side. Even their playoff runs in 2007 and 2008 never had that championship feel to them.
As the decade turned, I sat and watched five straight last-place finishes, including the 2012 season when they lost 101 games. But we were told to be patient. There was a plan in place that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were sticking to and Cubs fans just had to wait. After more than 100 years without a title, what’s a few more? So we waited. We watched as these kids were drafted and developed. We watched as trades were made and free agents were signed, all with the hope that this tortured fan base would someday get to feel what so many others had felt. And finally, in 2015, the plan truly began to take shape as the Cubs won 97 games and took the second Wild Card spot. And we watched as Jake Arrieta threw a gem in Pittsburgh. And we watched as for the first time in history, the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals played each other in the playoffs. And the Cubs actually won. Could this really be happening? If the Cubs finally bested their bitter rivals, they could do anything, right? Well, the New York Mets had something to say about that and championship hopes were dashed once again as the Cubs were swept in the NLCS and the “wait until next year” slogan once again had to be thrown around and Cubs fans had to once again be ridiculed mercilessly. It’s just something that comes along with the territory and is just that much worse now that social media is around. Honestly, could you imagine some of the Facebook or Twitter posts that would have come along with any of those Cubs teams (’69, ’84, ’03) that blew big leads?
But then it happened. Next year was finally here and someday became a thing of the past last Wednesday night (or Thursday depending on where you live) when the Cubs won that epic Game 7 in Cleveland. I suppose I probably didn’t need to get into all of the history that I did but it all plays into what happened during this World Series, doesn’t it? Cubs fans have had to deal with more loss and more heartbreak than any other franchise in sports in the last century. I mean, even the Cleveland Browns won a championship in 1964. And that feeling was there on numerous occasions throughout the series. The Cubs got blanked in Game 1 so there was an immediate need to fight back, which they did in Game 2. But then they lost Game 3. And then Game 4 to go down 3-1, which usually means that you’re going to lose. But this is the beauty of baseball.
I’ve long said that more than other sport in the world, any given team in baseball can win on any given day. A last-place team in baseball can win more easily against a first-place team in baseball. For instance, and I’m sorry to Cleveland for once again going back to the Browns, there’s essentially a zero-percent chance that they could go into Foxboro and get a win against the Patriots. However, the Minnesota Twins, who had the worst record in baseball this season with only 59 wins, can go into Cleveland and take three out of four games (this actually happened in early August) from the Indians at any time. That’s just how baseball works. There’s a reason that MLB hasn’t had a repeat champion in nearly two decades. It’s really hard to win the World Series and while it was going to be very difficult for the Cubs to win three games against a very good baseball team, it was still possible. But that Cubs fan feeling was still there. But then they won Game 5 and hope began to build. And then they won Game 6 and let’s get real. For the Cubs to win the World Series, there had to be the drama of a do-or-die Game 7. It just wouldn’t have felt right any other way.
So the Cubs jump out to an early lead in Game 7 and we’re feeling pretty good. Then the Indians tie it up. Then the Cubs take a four-run lead after two runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth. Cleveland gets two in the bottom of the fifth but the Cubs get another run in the sixth and take that three-run lead into the eighth. But then that old-fashioned feeling comes roaring back when Aroldis Chapman gives up that home run to Rajai Davis to tie the game at 6-6. All the momentum is with the Indians at this point and you just couldn’t help but think that any chance the Cubs had to win was gone. And for those who are yelling at me through your screen that I’m supposed to stay positive and believe and such, just save it. You know that even if just for a split second that you were thinking the same thing. And just for a little added drama, the game goes to extra innings….and we have to wait out a rain delay for the finish. Are you kidding me?
Now, I’m in a bar for this entire thing. I work at a local tavern a couple of nights per week for some extra cash and I’m just a wreck. I told myself all day not to get too worked up about this game but as the start time drew closer, I just couldn’t stop pacing behind the bar and I was as active as could be during this entire thing. Everyone in the place was so focused on the game and it was a very cool environment to be in charge of. I’m usually a pretty reserved guy during sporting events. I usually don’t allow myself to get that worked up on something I have no control over but I was trying to keep everyone involved that night. I was the guy running down the line giving high fives after a big hit or a big strikeout and just doing that whole thing. So after the rain delay is over and the Cubs come out and get two runs, I’m going absolutely insane. But then that feeling crept back in for a moment when the Indians scored in the bottom of the tenth. As Michael Martinez stepped to the plate, I was terrified on what could happen. But I’ve been very impressed with Michael Montgomery in these playoffs but the little dribbler that came off of the bat of Martinez looked like a hit if I’m being honest here. It seemed like one of those balls that just wouldn’t be gotten to in time but then Kris Bryant came flying into the screen and hit Anthony Rizzo with a perfect throw and I’ve got no problem admitting that things got a little emotional.
I didn’t even see the big pile on the infield until later. As soon as Rizzo caught the ball and stuffed it into his pocket, I was out the back door and into the alley. There was no yelling. There was no jumping for joy. There was me, dressed in jeans, a backwards Cubs hat, a blue Cubs jersey with a “1908 World Champions” shirt that I had made into a “2016 World Champions” shirt by using a little bit of blue painters tape at about 4:00 that afternoon that nobody saw until I went back inside, doubled over with my hands over my face and crying….over a baseball game.
But it just wasn’t one baseball game to Cubs fans, was it? Just like it wasn’t just one baseball game for Red Sox fans in 2004. Or White Sox fans in 2005. It was realizing that the first team I ever loved just did something that they hadn’t done in 108 years. Is it any more special than any three of the titles that the Giants have won recently? Or any of the 27 titles that the Yankees have won? Or any of the 11 that the Cardinals have won? No…not to them. But it is for us. And whether people want to admit or not, there is something to be said for all of the stories about grandparents and parents that never got a chance to witness this that makes it that much more appealing to us. You don’t think I wasn’t thinking about those times reading the Trib with my grandfather? Or that I wasn’t thinking about how much I wish my father, who always rooted for the Cubs when the Cardinals weren’t in it, were still alive so that I could share this with him? That’s where the tears came from.
Look, sports are a huge part of my life. They’re part of what I do for a living. I get to write about a sports and collect a check for it. But with that being said, I don’t let them run my life. Do I want my teams to win? Of course I do. But I refuse to get mad when they don’t. I don’t let the outcome of a game ruin the rest of my day if it doesn’t go my way. Nor do I throw the result in someone else’s face if it does. I know plenty of people like that and it’s just absolutely ridiculous. I don’t get into sports arguments. I get into sports discussions, where people actually listen, and those are much more rewarding. Just looking at social media since Wednesday is somewhat hilarious. The “1 year of success doesn’t erase 108 years of failure” posts and people that just refuse to let Cubs fans enjoy this is actually somewhat comical. Is your life that empty where you just have to try and make everyone as miserable as you? And just to even things out a bit, there are plenty of Cubs fans that have posted things that I don’t like and I’m never one to say that Cubs fans are the best fans in the world. Every fan base things that theirs is the best and that’s the way it should be. It’s just that Cubs fans have had to be more patient. As far as being a sports fan, I’ve now been lucky enough to watch every single team that I root for win at least one championship. But like every other title win I’ve watched before, this World Series win from the Cubs doesn’t really change anything that “matters”, does it?
Watching the Cubs win the World Series didn’t make my bills magically disappear. It didn’t change the fact that I still have to wake up and work every day. It didn’t change the fact that I deal with a consistent number of problems on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis. But what this run has done has allowed me to do is watch a Cubs World Series game with my children, something my father never got to do. What this has done is bring a community of people together, which is something that happens in sports every day that so often gets overlooked. What this has done is allowed me to take myself back to a simpler time, a time when I was that kid with a ball, a bat and a glove dressed in number 8 Andre Dawson Cubs jersey that wanted nothing more out of life than to watch the Cubs win the World Series. It allowed millions of Cubs fans around the world to take a quick break from their lives and be a part of something special, something that so many other fan bases have gotten to do while we waited patiently for our turn. For a split second, all of the failed attempts over the past 108 years didn’t matter because they got the last one right. And that’s a feeling that the players can hang on to until the spring when they and 29 other teams and all 30 fan bases have to start all over again. No, the Cubs winning the World Series doesn’t really change anything in the grand scheme of things. But for one night, we were able to take a break and witness something we’ve never seen before. And while it may be just a game, it’s so much more than that to so many people. It’s our childhood. It’s something we shared with those that are no longer with us. It’s something that taught us about winning and losing. It’s a game that’s so simple on the surface while so unbelievably complex at its core. And it’s a game that for one night brought a brief moment of pure joy to millions of people around the world.
What’s not romantic about that?