I discovered baseball when I was in the third grade–the joys of watching professional baseball, that is. My team? The Chicago Cubs. Pa Jaracz was a Cubs fan, and sports was our way of bonding–Cubs, Bears, golf, Indy car racing. It was what we watched together.
He took me to my first game in 1982–Baseball Card Day (I still have the set). I got to go to an Opening Day (rained out, naturally), and a few others with him.
Of course, little did I know that choosing to become a Cubs fan would be an exercise in futility. When the Cubs lost, they lost big. When the Cubs won, they figured out how to lose it all. 1984, 1989, 2003…all years that were bright spots of heartbreak among the dismal years of failure.
But they were still my Cubbies.
I lived in Chicago for 15 years and would usually catch at least one game a year. It didn’t matter where I sat or stood–it was just magical to escape from the city and be within this little sanctuary where time moved slowly. Where you could have a hot dog and a beer and keep score (if you’re single and interested in meeting someone who also has a passion for baseball, I highly recommend learning how to keep score. It can be a total turn on).
For the last five years, the Boy and I lived within the Wrigleyville neighbor zone. Close enough to be annoyed by all of the traffic the games caused, but far away enough to not deal with the public urination of idiotic attendees who didn’t really watch the game; they basically walked around with stacks of empty plastic beer cups. If the wind was right, you could hear the crowd cheer and know it was time to check in on the game.
One year we won the Wrigley Field neighbor lottery and got to spend an a few hours at the park, playing catch on the field (I PLAYED CATCH ON WRIGLEY FIELD!) and eating hot dogs. To this day, it’s one of my favorite memories of living in Chicago.
The Boy really isn’t into baseball, so regular season viewing tends to be what I catch in bars and am tracking on my phone, but during these Playoffs, we started watching the games religiously. During the series against the Dodgers where the Cubs lost 1-0, the old heartbreak started looming in my chest. I still hoped, but I knew we were losing that game–and that it spelled trouble.
But this year’s Cubs didn’t let that get to them. The next day they completely turned it around and crushed them. That might be the point where I really knew it would happen, because I decided to make a W flag, and after every win, I made the Boy get the stepladder and hang it from our porch. Even though some losses made me a little ambivalent, I never again got that feeling of despair that I had with that Dodgers game.
This weekend I’m leading a crew of officials for the WFTDA International Roller Derby Championships. While the Cubs were heading back to Cleveland to close out the series, I reminded my crew that some of us would be watching Game 6 and Game 7, and remember to get some sleep (the games ended brutally late on the East Coast). The one other Cubs fan on my crew loved that I knew we’d be going seven games. The rest of them indulged me.
You couldn’t ask for a better, crazier way to get that final win–this year’s Cubbies knew how to hold it together on defense; they knew how to create offense; they made it happen. It’s inspirational, really–a great lesson at keeping your head in the game, believing in yourself and your talents and making things happen.
Between the joy and the cheering of the generations of Cubs fans who witnessed history, there are tears for the all of the die-hard Cubs fans who didn’t get to live to see this moment.
What makes me love the Cubbies even more is the fact that they honor those fans. They won it for them, of course, but they won it for us too, and the organization understood that they also won it for the greats who weren’t able to win it. They won it for the broadcasters who helped create some of the most beloved traditions in baseball (want to see the 7th inning stretch on national TV? Be at Wrigley. Want a fountain of tears? Announce Eddie Vedder as leading “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and have him introduce Harry Caray singing via Jumbotron).
A day later, and it’s still a little surreal. I’m so used to not winning that it’s hard to believe that it happened. But it did–we no longer have to say, “Wait ’till next year.” Though with a team that’s this good, I can’t wait until next year to see what they can do.