The Bartman Game: 10 Years Later

So here I am, a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, watching the St. Louis Cardinals play in yet another NLCS. Every year, I tell myself that I’m not going to watch if the Cardinals are in it, but I can’t help myself. I love baseball, especially in October (and it seems as if they’re always playing this time of year). There’s a different feel to it, a different atmosphere that comes with playoff baseball. It’s a feeling I wish I could enjoy even more than I already do. I would love to be able to cheer on my beloved Cubs in October, but sadly that’s not a feeling that I get to experience that often. So as I sit and watch the 2013 edition of the NLCS, I can’t help but think about what happened ten years ago at Wrigley Field. Some would just call it Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, but most people know it as “The Bartman Game”.

For those who don’t recall, allow me to repaint the picture for you. It is October 14, 2003, Game 6 between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins. Chicago holds a 3 games to 2 lead, lead the game 3-0 and are a mere five outs away from their first World Series appearance since 1945. Basically, it’s the biggest game that the Cubs have had in nearly 60 years. Mark Prior (remember him?) is pitching a three hit shutout. So with one out in the eighth, Luis Castillo comes to the plate and hits what looks to be just a normal foul ball down the left field line. Cubs leftfielder Moises Alou begins to race towards the wall because it looks as if there is a chance he can make the catch. As the ball begins to drop in foul territory directly above where the field meets the stands, Alou leaps and multiple fans reach for the ball as well. And then the moment that will live in Cubs folklore and baseball history forever. One of those fans makes contact with the ball as Alou attempts to make the catch. Chaos ensues! Alou is absolutely livid, as he jumps up and down in anger, pleading for a fan interference call, a call that would never come as the ball had crossed the plane of the wall separating the fans from the field. And a man that would later be identified as Steve Bartman became part of history. The blame would start immediately. Neighboring fans began to hurl insults and Bartman would later have to be escorted out for his own safety. However, this was only step one in a series of events that could only happen in Chicago.

Castillo would continue his at-bat and eventually walk, with ball four being a wild pitch by Prior allowing base runner Juan Pierre to move to third. Ivan Rodriguez would single to make it 3-1. A young rookie named Miguel Cabrera (yes, that Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera) would hit a grounder to shortstop Alex Gonzalez, setting up a potentially inning ending double play. Gold Glove candidate Gonzalez would misfield the ball, loading the bases. Future beloved Cub Derrek Lee would double to chase Prior from the game and tie the score at 3-3. Reliever Kyle Farnsworth would intentionally walk Mike Lowell, followed by a sacrifice fly from Jeff Conine. Cub legend Sammy Sosa would miss the cutoff man allowing Lowell to move to second, setting up another intentional walk to Todd Hollandsworth, again loading the bases. Mike Mordecai would then double to clear the bases and make it 7-3. Mike Remlinger would come in and give up a single to Juan Pierre to drive in Mordecai making it 8-3. And in a cruel twist of irony, Luis Castillo would pop out to finally end the inning that would once again dash the Cubs hope of returning to the World Series. Yes, I know there was a Game 7 with Kerry Wood on the mound, but after that night, I don’t think there was anyone in the world that thought the Cubs would win that game. They would lose 9-6 that night and the Florida Marlins would go on to defeat the New York Yankees in the 2003 World Series to collect their second championship.

I love the Cubs and what happened that night was heartbreaking as a fan. To make matters worse, the next three World Series champions were the equally “cursed” Boston Red Sox, the crosstown Chicago White Sox, and archrival St. Louis Cardinals. But the real tragedy would come in the days and months following Game 6. This young man, Steve Bartman, actually had to go into hiding to avoid death threats and the media onslaught. A devoted Cubs fan, a baseball coach to young children, a normal guy who did what anyone would have done, including multiple people around him, had to change his entire life after that night. He would issue statements apologizing to Cubs fans around the world, some of whom I’m sure still haven’t forgiven him for something that simply was not his fault. Moises Alou would later admit that he wouldn’t have caught that ball anyway. Steve Bartman did not cost the Cubs that baseball game. I don’t remember him giving up any hits. I don’t remember him misplaying a routine ground ball. I don’t remember him touching any ball in Game 7 either. What I do remember is the image of this poor guy sitting in Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113 at Wrigley Field with a blank stare on his face. I don’t think he ever thought the fallout would be what it became and I feel, using his own words, “truly sorry” for this man.

The Cubs will enter next season 106 years removed from their last World Series championship and ten years removed from their last playoff win. So I sit and I watch the NLCS as I always do, hoping that someday I will again watch the Cubs make another run at the World Series. I put my trust in Theo Epstein as he tries to build a winner on the north side. I still believe that I can have the feeling that I had when Game 6 started ten years ago. I just hope that someday Steve Bartman can have that feeling back too.

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How To Root For The Chicago Cubs

As baseball once again rolls into the dog days of summer, we Chicago Cubs fans will once again struggle to find meaning to this season. As each division starts to take shape, we will find ourselves looking up at the Cardinals (again), and simply counting the days until football season starts. The annual “wait until next year” conversations will begin and the clock will continue ticking towards another year that we must add to the total that have passed since 1908. So why do we continue to torture ourselves year after year? The answer is that we just do. Cubs fans have long been used to dealing with the fact that perhaps it just isn’t in the cards (please forgive the expression). It does become frustrating, so I am here to explain how it is that I keep coming back every season to root for our beloved Chicago Cubs.

1. Make fun of the Cubs before everyone else does.
I know this may seem counter-productive to being a fan of any team, but when it’s the Cubs it really does become easier and easier to do. It’s not that I really always think that they’re terrible and they will never win a World Series. It’s the matter of having to listen to everyone I know that isn’t a Cubs fan tell me these things over and over and over again. And please don’t let me forget about the insufferable posts on Facebook, as if I’d somehow forgotten that the Cubs had just lost five straight games because Carlos Marmol is still on the roster. Therefore, I’ve found it much easier to stop people in conversation before they get going. It’s funny to see the looks on their faces as they begin to tell me how awful the Cubs are and I chime in with “Yeah, the Cubs suck. They haven’t won since 1908. I get it. Do you have anything else to contribute?”

2. Stop listening to St. Louis Cardinals fans
We need to stop comparing ourselves to the St. Louis Cardinals, period. The Redbirds certainly have their own way of doing things and it has worked amazingly well for them. If anything, a Cardinal fan makes himself look terrible when he insults the Cubs because he lowers his team down to the Cubs’ level (see how I made fun of them before you could). Again, I get it. Your team has won more championships. I am aware of your team’s accomplishments in relation to ours. If Cardinal fans want to be as classy as the media makes them out to be, then please just keep quiet.

3. Stop believing in curses.
We need to stop whining. It wasn’t the goat’s fault. It wasn’t the black cat’s fault. It certainly wasn’t Bartman’s fault. We lost.

4. Remember how great the Wrigley Field experience really is.

For those Cub fans who have never been to Wrigley Field, please put it on your to-do list. Through the great seasons and the awful seasons, the record doesn’t matter when you walk up the ramp and see this ballpark. From the ivy to the old scoreboard, there really is no experience like watching a ballgame here. I know many will say that it’s filthy and outdated and the possible renovation project is necessary and those people are certainly entitled to that opinion. Change can be a good thing. But if Wrigley Field stayed exactly the way it is now for another 100 years, I would be okay with it. Every time I walk that ramp, I turn into my eight year old self again. I remember every single reason my grandfather persuaded me to become a Cubs fan as a boy. It truly is one of the most special places in sports, and honestly, one of my favorite places in the world.

5. As hard as it may be, continue to be patient. You still love the Cubs.
This reason alone may be the only one we really need. Chicago Cubs fans are the most loyal fans in sports, and the reason we are that way, is because we have to be. Generations upon generations of us have watched in agony as our beloved Cubbies have knocked on the door of greatness only to be turned away time and time again. Believe me, it does get very frustrating. I will make fun of the Cubs. I have been to Wrigley Field and booed the Cubs. But at the end of the day, I will always come back. I continue to believe that someday, somehow they will find a way to win another World Series. Through thick and thin, I love the Chicago Cubs. I always have and I always will. That’s what being a real fan is all about.