The Cubs are special.
When I was maybe 10, my grandmother decided to take our whole family to Wrigley. All 4 of her children and their spouses and their children got on a train in Princeton, Illinois, and rode into Union Station. I don’t remember if we took taxis or the ‘L’ to Addison, but we sat in the upper deck off of 3rd base.
We played the Cardinals. We won that day. That was my first Cubs game, and the day I became a Cubs Fan.
Through college, I never paid extremely close attention. Through a complete fluke, I was watching the 2003 NLCS Game 6, which is the now-infamous game when Chicago blew a 3-0 run lead against the Marlins, and didn’t win another playoff game for 12 years.
The next year, I watched the Red Sox win the World Series, and I remember thinking, “If it can happen to the Red Sox, it can happen to us.”
My real love affair took off when I moved to Chicago in 2006. During the Lou Piniella era, there were great expectations (Cubs clinched the National League Central 2007 & 2008) and bitter disappointments (they were swept both times in the playoffs, never winning a single game). It was a good, short, sharp (re-)introduction to the life of a Cubs fan.
The Cubs are special, and after all the next-years and somedays, they’re no longer Lovable Losers, they’re venerated champions.
So after it’s all had a little time to sink in, here are some different thoughts on what it means to me that we conquered America’s Pastime after 108 years:
Generations and Generations
I’m a Cubs fan because I’m from generations of Cubs fans. My Grandpa Bohm was a Cubs fan since his childhood. I was only recently told the story that when my grandfather was young, he won a memory verse award at Vacation Bible School. His reward was to go to a Cubs game, much like the gift that my grandmother gave us when I was young. If he wasn’t a Cubs fan before that day, that clinched it.
Although my Grandma isn’t a huge sports fan, she’s pleased that this is a part of him that we can keep alive.
My grandfather on my other side wasn’t a baseball fan, but he used to ride the streetcars past Addison & Clark during the Great Depression.
My Grandpa Hall passed away last month, and my Grandpa Bohm died in 1986, almost exactly 30 years before I got to see his team win the World Series. I’m connected to them, and their memories and experiences are still living.
The “Definition of Insanity” is Real
Let’s jump to another venerable Chicago institution. The Chicago Bears, as I write this, have a record of 2-6. The owners, the Halas-McCaskey family, are sitting on a $2,450,000,000 gold mine that won’t break .500 this year. Understandably, the Halas-McCaskey family doesn’t have much of an incentive to take financial risks and improve the team.
The Cubs didn’t start to take Championship form until they were sold from the ownership of The Tribune Company to the Ricketts Family. (The Cubs, by the way, were sold for a mere $850,000,000 or so.)
It’s true: to get different results, something different has to be done.
Curses Don’t Exist
This piggybacks on the idea that only different efforts yield different results.
At some point, believing in magical goats or ghostly Bambini is only going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I remember watching the 2003 NLCS when Moisés Alou couldn’t field a frustrating foul ball for an out. After that, the whole game pivoted. I watched the Cubs go on to lose the lead in runs, then spectacularly lose the series.
I couldn’t tell whether I believed in The Curse of the Billy Goat, or whether I believed that the players believed, or whether the players just felt a century of fans’ hopes and dreams on the trail of every ball and strike.
I had the same thought when the Cubs’ bats went cold against the Dodgers in this year’s NLCS. I tried to tell myself that any team’s hitting can slump for a few games. As more and more scoreless innings piled up, though, the same thought went through my head. Is this pressure? Or is it the image of a goat that is supposed to cause us to lose?
People say grit (or mental toughness, or tenacity, or whatever you call it) is the most important ingredient of success. The main thing about this 2016 team is that they scored when they had to and got outs when they needed them (yes, Lance, that’s how you win a baseball game).
I saw a team, though, that’s different because they’re mentally tougher. Everyone knows Yogi Berra’s irrefutable wisdom that “baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.” Whether they genuinely didn’t believe in the Billy Goat, or they just kept at it because they know they’re a historic 100+ win team, they delivered.
That’s why Benny Zobrist deserves the MVP award, among many other reasons. The bunt in Game 4 against the Dodgers was exactly what the team needed to be reminded that yes, North Siders, we’re a team built to win.
My fifth grade Social Studies teacher, Mr. Kopp, was a big baseball fan. As a class exercise once, we wrote a letter (the paper kind, this was 1995) to a baseball team, asking for some information about the team, and obliquely asking for some swag. In the course of the exercise, he told us some good advice: pick your team, and stay with them. He never used the words “fairweather’ or “bandwagon”, but that was my first inkling of the idea.
Make no mistake: I welcome bandwagon fans with open arms. The Cubs are important to me, and if you want to cheer for them, I’m your friend. Let’s cheer together.
There is great value, though, in a certain level of expertise and connoisseurship in a team. It’s more fun that way, to cheer for Heyward to finally get that on-base, or to feel the adrenaline rush hoping Javier Báez is going to do one of his superhuman no-look double plays.
All the jokes aside that loyalty to the Cubs teaches patience and persistence (true), it does take discipline to cheer for a team when they’re at the bottom of the NL Central. It takes character to go through an entire season and then lose well or — once in a while — to win well.
The Importance of Having a Place
When my Grandpa Hall passed away last month, the one thing that my sister and I were fixated on was our land. We grew up there, and the place contains so many of our memories, like my wedding reception. My father worked tirelessly to make sure that the land was transferred to our names. Now, it’ll be in our family for generations.
Part of the magic of the Cubs is Wrigley. You can feel the history in the old-school coziness, the ivy, the rooftops across the street, and the hand-operated 1937 scoreboard. Addison, Sheffield, Waveland, and Clark have been the boundaries for pilgrims in blue since 1916. It meant a lot to me to go the day after the Cubs won it all. I went just to see the fans taking pictures of the famous red marquee, writing memorials on the brick, and simply being present to history.
Most sports facilities are suburban car-centric megaplexes, and Wrigley is a refreshing little American Jerusalem. It’s a physical place that connects us to the rituals of our past, and promises some hope for tomorrow. I feel some of the same things about Wrigley I feel about our own land. It’s something I want to experience with my future children.
Don’t Jinx It
I don’t believe in curses. I also don’t believe in counting my chickens before they hatch.
That means I don’t even want to say anything about next year. There is cause for hope and genuine, sunny optimism. These are hallmarks of being a Cubs fan, anyway. This team is young, they’re talented, and they’re still growing.
Whatever way it goes next year and in the next years to come, the Cubs will always be special.