As we sit on the cusp of baseball’s opening day, the time has come for me to discuss our current reigning champions: My Chicago Cubs. I suppose they’re also your Chicago Cubs, if you’re so inclined to claim them. But until quite recently, I was very reluctant to let you have them. This was my team, this was supposed to be my World Series. It was the only thing I’d ever wanted, but yet when it happened, I was totally unprepared for it. My lifelong wish had been granted, yet I spiraled into a hole I’m just now climbing out of. This is my story, so I’ll start at the beginning.
I actually don’t remember attending my first Cubs game. I was too young. In fact I was taken to so many games from a very young age, I suppose I have a casserole of memories from dozens of trips to the ballpark before I was even five years old.
I’ve had countless Cubs heroes over the years. Keith Moreland was the reason I wore the number 6 whenever I played a sport. But I suppose it had to be Dave Kingman who was probably my first true Cubs hero. He spent just three seasons in Chicago, 1977, ’78, and ’79. But in 1978 he hit 48 home runs as a Cub. That’s as good a reason as any for a kid to chose an idol. He once hit a ball out of Wrigley Field so hard and so far that it broke a window on one of the apartment buildings across the street. I recount this story regularly, usually inserting myself into the stands as I do so. But I can’t say with certainty that I was there for that one.
I was, however, in attendance with my father for game two of the 1984 playoff series against the San Diego Padres. We had improbably won tickets on WGN radio the night before. So the next day my dad took me out of school early, and we went to the ball game. If you’re familiar with the image of Steve Bartman from the 2003 playoffs, then based on the stone-faced kid in photograph below, you might understand why I will always empathize with him, and will forever say that were I in his seat that night in 2003, I would have done just what he did. The kid in this photograph is me. But I’m willing to bet that Bartman has a similar photo at that age.
My memories of game two of that ’84 playoff series are significant, of course, having been in attendance, but I actually remember the day before even better. As you might imagine, the buzz around Chicago was insane. This was the first playoff appearance for the Cubs since 1945, nearly 40 years. I was ten years old and in Mrs. Colodny’s fifth grade classroom at Chicago’s Peterson Elementary School in our Albany Park neighborhood. I was angry with her that day because there were other teachers who brought televisions into their classrooms to allow students to watch the game. Mrs. Colodny didn’t seem to have the same reverence for the situation as I or those other teachers did. I watched the clock that day even more closely than I had watched the NL East standings all season long. To make matters worse, I was a member of the school crossing guard and my obligation to safety would prolong the agony endured before I could run home to see the game. I only lived four measly houses away from the school, too. I finally got home having already caught wind that the Cubs had a huge lead in the game. They won 13-0 and things looked and felt good for the series. Then my dad and I went to game two and watched them win 4-2 behind a strong pitching performance from Steve Trout. Back then the playoffs were only a 5-game series. The Cubs famously lost the following three games in excruciating fashion.
That was when I learned how hard life could be for Cub fans.
There is one thing you need to know about my decision to apply to be a crossing guard. It had nothing to do with my concern for others, or a need to make sure students successfully navigated our neighborhood crosswalks, nor anything to do with the promotion of safety. Nope, it was because once a year all members of the school crossing guard were taken to a Cubs game. Having been to the ballpark so many times with my family, I felt like I was the one in charge of that field trip. Except I simply didn’t have time to guide anyone as we wandered into my world. I had my own agenda to tend to. I would always make sure to have saved up at least a couple bucks so I could buy a scorecard and pencil, and hopefully a Pepsi or two. I was mostly oblivious to the conversations of my classmates around me. I ignored their roughhousing and their teases and taunts. I had to make sure not to miss a pitch, let alone an at-bat. My mom and dad were counting on me (at least that’s what I told myself) to bring home a flawless card, so that they might know exactly what had happened in that game.
Of course it would have been silly to expect that my mother would miss a pitch herself. In the years of my childhood where she would stay at home, often mixing the usual household chores with a seemingly never ending load of freelance work in a time when freelance proofreaders and editors were not just a foreign idea to me, but to most of the world, she somehow managed to coordinate her daily routine around the Cubs’ first pitch.
Harry Carey’s voice was the ubiquitous soundtrack to the summers of my youth. If the Cubs were playing that afternoon, the TV was tuned to WGN. Even on days when the lure of my friends playing outside was too much to stay inside, I always kept an ear out for the sound of my mother’s exuberant clapping, hoping to hear it echo from the open front windows of our apartment. Those claps meant the Cubs had just done something wonderful. I was in love back then, as I still am today, with the sound of her voice as she would yell, “Al-right!” or a simple, “Yes!” to accompany those hand claps that signaled Cubby success halfway down the block. It might have meant that Bobby Murcer scored from third base on a Manny Trillo groundout to second, bringing the Cubs within six runs of the lead; or it might have been a bottom-of-the-ninth Kingman home run to win the ball game. Regardless, her enthusiasm remained equal.
This was the ritual of my summer days. There were no lights in Wrigley Field until 1988. So afternoon after afternoon would revolve around the games. On more than one occasion I found myself sitting at home in front of the television as the game would just be starting when my dad would unexpectedly come home from work early. “Wanna go to the game?” he might ask with a smile. I wouldn’t even speak but would jump up, find my Cubs hat and my mitt, and be at the front door ready to go faster than a Rick Rueschel fastball. We’d hop on the el train and would usually be at Wrigley by the time the third inning was underway.
I’ve been to hundreds of baseball games at Wrigley Field. I used to say that I’ve been to at least a thousand, though that’s certainly an exaggeration. But whether I attended two games, or two thousand, the thrill of walking up that tunnel and seeing the field forever remains something I’ll never take for granted. It’s probably my favorite experience. That fact has never, ever waned. Ever. It’s one of the single greatest feelings I can think of. I’ve never had children, and it might be best that I never do, because even the joy of their arrival would be hard-pressed to compete with that feeling of being bombarded by the sights and smells of Wrigley Field.
My grandfather is the basis for this religion. He and my grandmother were church goers, but to me it was the Cubs he seemed to worship more than anything else.
The regular trips to their house in Berwyn in the summertime always began the same way. We’d pull in the driveway, head inside the house and upstairs to greet my grandmother with the requisite kisses and hugs, then I’d immediately pull away to run downstairs, into my grandfather’s domain. He’d be seated in his recliner, his feet up, the mug full of Old Style to his left, the John LeCarre, Robert Parker, or perhaps P.D. James mystery novel he’d be currently reading would either be open in his hands, resting on his lap, or set to the side next to his Old Style. The position of the book was dictated by the state of the Cubs game.
I’d come running in and he’d lower his recliner, rise to his feet with the power and agility of a man who spent much of his life climbing up and down ladders (he was a painting contractor for much of his life), and he’d greet me with a very firm handshake and a crushing rub of the shoulder or tussle of the hair. He was passionate about his Cubs. And they were most definitely his Cubs. But he had no problem sharing them with me. I dare say he even gave them to me.
My grandfather was born on September 28, 1908 — 16 days later the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the second year in a row. As it turned out, they wouldn’t win it again for 108 years. My grandfather passed away in November of 1989, when I was 15 years old. The Cubs went to the playoffs that year but lost the seven-game series in five games to the San Francisco Giants. My dad and I share the belief that it was the Cubs that kept my grandfather alive toward the end. We had managed to purchase tickets for the first game of that playoff series, and one of them was earmarked for my grandfather. But he declined to attend with us. This is when we knew how badly the cancer had wrecked him. This is a man who broke two ribs the morning of Superbowl XX when the Bears decimated the Patriots but didn’t tell anyone until the game was over and done with, so for him to feel too weak to attend a Cubs game was particularly telling. He was dead just over a month after it ended.
Even now, 28 years after his passing, I still think about him almost every time I watch a game. I have countless Chicago Cubs artifacts displayed on shelves and walls in my apartment, some of which were his. When I was eight or nine years old, my mother helped me make him a bookmark (pictured right). It was made of felt, with a hand-cut Cubs logo glued onto it, with yarn braided from the top. He was always a voracious reader, and from the time he received that bookmark until he died, it was always nestled snugly into whatever book he was reading. When he passed away, that bookmark returned to me. I’ve had it displayed proudly on my own baseball shelf for years. But when the 2016 playoffs began, I carried it as a charm. If I was at work while the game was on, it was tucked carefully into my pants pocket. For the games I was able to watch, I usually had it clutched firmly in my hand. But for every pitch, every hit, and every out of last season’s championship run it remained with me.
I’ve often said that the Cubs have made me cry more often than any injury I’ve experienced, physical or emotional. They’ve brought me to tears with more frequency than the combination of all the heartbreak I’ve felt at the hands of girlfriends lost. No amount of bullying suffered or athletic embarrassment publicly endured has caused me more heartache than what I’ve felt over the years as a Cubs fan. And while there is a bit of hyperbole in those statements, they’re statements based in truth. However, I’ve long forgotten the anguish of most trifles I experienced as a young boy, prepubescent teen, awkward teenager, bumbling young man, or floundering adult. But I’ll never forget sitting on the living room floor after the Cubs lost game five of the ’84 playoffs, crying.
The Cubs brought me tears of anguish even as recently as 2003. In Game 6 of the NLCS that year, they were just five infamous outs away from their first World Series appearance since 1945, before they inexplicably handed the game to the Florida Marlins. The following night they again failed to hold the lead in Game 7, and as a 29-year-old man, I had to leave our local bar in an attempt to walk off the sting of the loss.
I walked around the block, turned into the alley, the misery leaking from my eye sockets. When I looked up I saw a figure approaching me. It was an acquaintance from the bar. We approached one another. No words were exchanged, but the look on his face and his tear-stained cheeks said it all. We stopped as if to speak, but neither of us really had the fortitude to muster any sort of language. I believe there was a brief embrace, then we both continued trudging onward in opposite directions. It would prove to be a long winter.
The only thing I have ever consistently wanted in my entire life was for the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series. I’d imagined it every single year, beginning from when I can first remember remembering things. I would imagine where I might be when it happened. Of course, I usually envisioned myself in the stands. Without question, I knew tears would make an appearance. For once they would be tears of joy.
I already mentioned that I grew up in Chicago proper. To be precise, I grew up 5.1 miles from Wrigley Field. Less than that, as the crow flies. The CTA’s Brown Line could deliver us just south of the ballpark in 14 minutes. We eventually moved to the near-north suburb of Skokie where I went to high school. From our house there it was 8.6 miles to Wrigley Field by car. But we also had immediate access to the Skokie Swift, the CTA’s yellow line that would connect suburb dwellers to the Howard Street el stop in something like eight minutes. In other words, I was never very far from the ballpark. I went to college in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but returned home every summer. So I never missed a season. I went to at least one Cub game every year for at least 35 years, but usually closer to a dozen games.
Not terribly long ago, I moved back to Cedar Rapids on a more permanent basis. I moved here in the summer of 2011, and remain here still. At first I made it back to Chicago for a game or two in the couple years that followed. But then it happened: I went an entire season without making a pilgrimage to the only church of which I considered myself a member. I was mildly devastated by this fact, but as a man in his late-30s I decided I shouldn’t let it bother me. But it did. Then I missed another season. And then another. This had crossed the border of unacceptable, and was blatantly trespassing on unforgivable.
By this time the Ricketts family had already purchased the club and they had brought in Theo Epstein (the man responsible for ending the “curse” endured by the Boston Red Sox for so many years) to help run the show. The direction of this franchise was clearly making a turn in the right direction. Major renovations were being done to Wrigley Field. Purists hated what it was doing to their ballpark. While I do consider myself a baseball purist, when it came to Wrigley Field I was a huge proponent of change. I was one of the few who began to argue long, long ago that the Cubs could never compete while playing in Wrigley in the state it had been in for so long. I welcomed the renovations.
Several years ago my sister and I treated our parents to the Wrigley Field tour experience. We saw the inside of the Cubs’ clubhouse. We saw the state of the facilities they had to endure every single home game 81 times every single season. The clubhouse was smaller than my one-bedroom apartment in an era when newer ballparks featured amenities that more closely resembled an airplane hanger. It was no wonder the Cubs faltered late in so many seasons. So when it was announced that major multi-million-dollar renovations would begin, starting with the clubhouse, I celebrated.
At the end of the 2015 season, the Cubs held so much promise that I decided to make myself a promise that I’d get to at least one game in 2016. So come the next season (last year) I watched as many games as my local cable provider aired, which was a relatively significant number, thankfully. But I almost didn’t make it back for a game. Finally I was able to get away and return home for the final regular season home game. It was against the Cardinals and it was a doozy.
I went alone and walked up to the ticket window asking for the best available seat. I expected the woman on the other side of the glass to laugh at me at the prospect of getting my hands on a ticket at such short notice, but I also knew that they often release unused seats shortly before game time. This secret had landed my friends and me some prime seats in years past. This time was no different. I was offered a seat four rows from the field behind home plate and looking right down the first base line. I paid a little more than $200 for the seat, but it was worth every single goddamn penny.
Of course, I kept score at the game. I took iPhone pictures of every player as they strode into the on deck circle just some 20 feet away from me. I felt like a tourist in my own city, but I didn’t care. I snapped pictures of owner Tom Ricketts who was seated even closer. I got teary eyed as a video montage dedicated to retiring catcher David Ross played on the giant HD video screen in left field. Then got teary eyed again when David Ross hit his 10th homer of the season to give the Cubs the first run and first lead of the game, resulting in one of the most incredible curtain calls I’d ever seen. The Cubs won that night, their 99th of the season, and the most in a season since 1935. (They would end the season with 103 wins.) It was also their franchise record 57th home win of the season. John Lester earned the victory, his league leading 19th win at the time. It was an amazing feeling being back there. It was an amazing feeling being home.
As memorable as that game was, it has some pretty amazing company in the list of memorable games I was lucky to attend. Here are a few, just to give some examples.
- June 3, 2003: The Tampa Bay Devil Rays were in town when Sammy Sosa broke his bat on an ordinary ground out, exposing a barrel full of cork. To this day, this event taints Sosa’s legacy as one of the greatest hitters of his generation. As the umpires conferred on the field I knew almost immediately what was happening. I also immediately recognized the long term ramifications this held for him. I’ll never forget shaking my head and speaking aloud to no one, “Oh, Sammy. No. No. No, Sammy.”
- May 16, 2000: As you may know, the bullpens at Wrigley Field are situated directly against the stands (although that will change this year ). I was at the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers when a fan ran down to the Dodger bullpen, stole the hat off the head of backup catcher Chad Kreuter, punching him in the back of the head at the same time. You can imagine how that didn’t sit well with the players, and Krueter and several Dodger pitchers climbed into the stands as a fight broke out. My family’s seats that day happened to be directly behind the Dodger bullpen. We were probably 20 or 30 rows away, in the higher section, so we weren’t near the scrum, but we had great view of it all.
- September 12, 1998: In this game, Sammy Sosa belted his milestone 60th home run of the season. The game was against the Milwaukee Brewers and tuned out to be one of the best games I’d ever witnessed in person given all the different storylines in play that season. There was the epic battle between Sosa and Mark McGwire to eclipse Roger Maris’s single-season home run record. The Cubs were also firmly in the playoff hunt for the first time in nine years. As if that wasn’t enough, the Cubs were losing at one point 10-2, fought back only to be down 12-5 after 7 innings. They finally won the game on an Orlando Merced home run (ranked here as the 7th most important home run in Cubs history – granted, that ranking was made in 2008, but I’d surely still put it in the top 20). And that was just the game itself. What made it even more memorable was that my good pal Jay and I were the beneficiaries of the late-release ticket phenomenon. We went to the ballpark fully expecting to buy lousy and over-priced seats from a scalper, but instead checked at the box-office first. The next thing we knew we found ourselves seated in the ninth row behind the visitor’s dugout. But wait, it gets even better. Seated next to us were two random and friendly girls who happened to have previously worked at Wrigley as concession attendants, and therefore had access to free beer, which they happily shared with us. I seriously couldn’t make this up. Now that was heaven.
- June 7, 2003: Just four days after the Sammy Sosa corked-bat game, I was back at Wrigley when the New York Yankees came to Wrigley Field for the first time since Babe Ruth was still an active player. Kerry Wood was matched up against his childhood hero Roger Clemens. Not only was it an historic matchup of two historic teams, but Clemens was sitting on win number 299. None of us in attendance actually wanted to see that 300-win milestone happen, and thanks to a 3-run home run by Eric Karros in the bottom of the seventh inning and some clutch pitching from the Cub bullpen, we didn’t. The Cubs held on to win 5-2. It was also the only time I’d ever seen an ambulance brought onto a baseball field as Cubs first baseman Hee-seop Choi was knocked unconscious and concussed following a collision with Wood while both attempted to wrangle a sky-high popup. (Skip to the 15:00 mark on the YouTube video below to see the collision.) Karros came in to replace Choi, who despite being knocked out cold when his head hit the hard dirt of the third base line, held onto the ball.
- August 10, 1988: My high school friends and I made our way to Wrigley Field the day after the first official night game in Wrigley. But being that this game began at 4:00 pm, it didn’t take long for the lights to come on. So we were at the first Wrigley day game to see lights illuminate the field. It’s not exactly historic, but watching those lights flicker on in the gloamin’ was pretty damn cool.
- April 3, 2008: My dad and I got some nice seats just behind the Cubs’ bullpen for this matchup against the Brewers. We were just 10 feet away from Kerry Wood as he warmed up before entering the ballgame to record the first save of his career. He would end up with 63 saves for his career. The following year I would be in Kansas City when Kerry Wood would come in to close out a game for the Indians, a bittersweet moment.
- July 9, 1990: The Cubs and Wrigley Field played host to the All-Star game in 1990. While we were unable to get tickets to the game itself, my dad and I managed to get tickets to see the festivities the day before the game. It was the Home Run Derby, and it was probably the worst Home Run Derby of all time. Yet it did feature some of the most prolific home run hitters ever.
NATIONAL LEAGUE AMERICAN LEAGUE
Ryne Sandburg Mark McGwire
Darryl Strawberry Jose Canseco
Matt Williams Ken Griffey Jr.
Bobby Bonilla Cecil Fielder
You’d think by looking at that list of hitters that you would see some bombs. In fact, as it turned out, the wind was blowing in that day, and it was blowing in hard. For their careers, these eight guys hit a combined 3,276 home runs. On that day? They hit five (5). Five home runs. Of the American Leaguers, only McGwire went yard. Once. Matt Williams hit one on the NL side. And the man who had the fewest career home runs of any of them turned out to be the winner of the Derby, and also happened to be the hometown hero. Ryne Sandberg hit three homers in that exhibition for the victory. That All-Star game did feature 13 future Hall-of-Famers, however. Oh, and we also happened to be sitting a few rows behind Jose Canseco’s wife at the time. I daresay that the fans seated nearby focused more attention toward her than they did the players on the field.
So, yeah. I’ve been to a few special games on the North Side. Some remarkable for the feats performed on the field. Some remarkable for antics not even related to baseball. In fact, I happened to be in the stands with my family when Ozzy Osborne slurred his way through “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” one summer afternoon.
One last story I have to share is about the chilly afternoon in the very early 90s when two or three high school friends and I rode the Skokie Swift down to the ballpark. We had lousy seats somewhere along the third base line, pretty much out in left field. It was cold, and the stadium was only about a quarter full. We probably could have moved wherever we wanted, but we stayed pretty close to our ticketed seats. Somewhere around the seventh inning I noticed a fella wearing a hooded sweatshirt walk past us down the aisle with a younger kid. I just caught a glimpse of his face as he passed us, but I realized immediately it was Bill Murray. He selected a relatively abandoned row just about seven or eight rows in front of us. I told my friends that the guy sitting in front of us was Bill Murray. They didn’t believe me. I insisted, but still, they refused to believe me.
They refused, that is, until a line of autograph seekers began to form down that row, to the aisle and up the steps. I’m proud to say that we never moved from our seats. In fact I think we even yelled at the autograph seekers to “let him watch the game and sit the hell down.” To Bill Murray’s ever lasting credit, he signed autograph after autograph. When the end of the inning arrived he used that as an excuse to move on. There are very few people I’ve wanted to hang out with as much as I’ve wanted to hang with Bill Murray. That was the closest I’ve come.
I often think back to those days of my youth, when I didn’t have money problems, or woman problems, or anxiety problems, or depression issues, or issues with my career arc (or very noticeable lack thereof). Really, if I had any issues at all back then it didn’t extend much further than the acne on my face. But regardless of age, whenever I let myself fantasize about the day the Cubs would finally win it all, I always imagined that I would be successful in whatever career path I’d chosen. I sort of assumed that I’d be in the stadium when it happened, and naturally I’d be sitting next to Bill Murray, who would most certainly be my pal by then. I figured I would have kids to whom I’d have passed along my passion for the game and for the Cubbies. As it turned out, none of those things are the case.
And that’s just fine, honestly. Very few people actually live the life they’ve laid out for themselves at 10 or 13 or 16 or 20 or even 30 years old. But it wasn’t until the Cubs finally achieved the single thing I’ve wanted more than I’ve wanted anything else that it came crashing down on me.
It’s been nearly five months since Kris Bryant threw across the field to Anthony Rizzo to record the final out of their Championship season, and it’s taken me pretty much every minute of those months to finally wrap my head around the fact that my Cubs are the World Champs. Bill Murray’s Cubs. My Cubs. Harry Carey’s Cubs. My Cubs. Ernie Banks’ Cubs. My goddamn Cubs! But they are not mine. They’re everyone’s. And that’s what bugged me.
When the Cubs finally won game seven of the 2016 Series, I stood and cheered and cried. I wept. I wept for my mother and my father and my sister. I wept for my grandfather, for Harry Carey, Ernie Banks, and Ron Santo. But mostly I wept for myself.
It took a little while, but I realized that of the tears I shed that day, not all of them were out of joy, or relief, or memories of loved ones. A portion of those tears were out of anger. It was anger mixed with jealously. I actually felt angry that they could win the thing that I coveted more than anything else in the world, and they won it without me. I wasn’t even in Chicago when it happened. I felt like I deserved to be in the stadium in Cleveland. But I wasn’t. Even worse, I wasn’t in Chicago. I was overjoyed, but so very conflicted because I felt detached, almost exiled. It was juvenile and it was petty, but it was very, very real. It was a brutal feeling, but it was an honest feeling. It was a painful feeling.
It’s ridiculous. Positively ridiculous. It’s ridiculous that after a full lifetime of wanting this so badly I could be simultaneously overrun with coinciding feelings of exuberance and self-pity.
That night and in the days that followed, my phone blew up with calls and text-messages and emails congratulating me on the Cubs victory, as if I had something to do with it. I understand that these were well-wishers who had known how deeply blue my Cubs blood ran, and they were happy for me. I would reply with the obligatory response, usually expressing disbelief that it finally happened. But for every one of these messages I received, I became more agitated, and receded more and more into myself. I still didn’t understand why I felt this way. Where were these feelings of jealously and resentment coming from?
They had finally done it! The Cubs had found the Holy Grail and actually won the WorldmotherfuckingSeries, yet I sank further into a depression I didn’t understand. How could I feel so thoroughly unsatisfied?
Of the 42 years I’d lived on this Earth before the Cubs finally won it all last November, all but about 6 of those years were spent living in a proximity of no more than 9 miles away from Wrigley Field. Now here I was more than 250 miles away. I felt estranged from the team I loved. My move to Cedar Rapids was meant to be a temporary fix; a quick stop before I moved back to Chicago and back onto bigger and better things. Or if life took me to another city, it would be on the dime of success, so returning to Chicago to enjoy a run like this wouldn’t be a problem. I’d hop a flight and be where I needed to be.
But it didn’t work out that way. I made poor decisions, fell back into old bad habits, and let myself wallow in a rut carved from complacency. I wanted to blame some things on bad timing and poor luck, but for years I’d often shared one of my favorite quotes by the great baseball man Branch Rickey, “Luck is the residue of design.” So I accepted that any bad luck I’d encountered along the way was the result of my own doing. The responsibility for where I live is mine.
So here I was. Sequestered away from my Gotham, my Metropolis. The Cubs were making a run to be World Series champions while I watched from afar. And I knew they were going to do it, too. I’ll admit that there was a moment when they were down 3 games to 1 against Cleveland that I thought it wasn’t going to happen. At this point I hadn’t really recognized how deeply I was actually conflicted by all this. What I did know is that my stomach hurt constantly, I had a hard time sleeping, and all I could think about was whether I could afford to take a day off from work to watch the next game. Or if I could somehow afford to get home and see a game in person.
But then there was that night when my Cleveland friends were behaving particularly arrogant and cocky. They were quite content with their 3-1 lead and used the comfort of that lead to rub it into the faces of Cubs fans on social media outlets. As every Cubs fan already knew, and as my friends most certainly should have known, this would prove to be a huge mistake on their part.
However, it was shortly after being enraged by reading their words that I was suddenly hit with that proverbial sense of calm. I don’t know why, but from that moment forward I just knew that the Cubs were going to win this World Series. But at the same time, I knew better than to fall into this trap. I’d felt similar feelings before as a Cubs fan, and we all know how those situations turned out. Yet this was different. Of course, I didn’t dare share this feeling with anyone. No one. At all! No way. Somehow that would have undone my certainty. Even though this strange, confident, calm feeling never truly wavered, I also never ceased to feel completely sick with nervousness at every moment of each remaining game. It was an odd contradiction.
But these were still the Chicago Cubs, after all. Nutty was the norm.
Even when Cleveland outfielder Rajai Davis lined a home run off Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the 9th inning to tie the game, I still somehow knew that the Cubs were going to win. In years past I would have been despondent at that turn of events. Inconsolable, even. This time, I simply put my head down and shook it a moment as I thought, “you’ve got to be kidding me.”
The calm remained. I actually grinned to myself while shaking my head. I grinned with the knowledge that they were going to do it. Again, the nervousness never went away, I’d been a Cub fan for too long not to anticipate the worst, or to think this would be easy, but I just fucking knew it was going to happen.
And it did.
But not before the game went into extra innings. And not before the baseball gods thought they’d be funny and make us all endure a 17-minute rain delay in the 10th inning. But the Cubs managed to get the lead again, and this time they held the lead. They won. They won the goddamn World Series. Screams of joy erupted from me as soon as Bryant released the ball. Tears followed close behind. I embraced friends and strangers. My cousin who lives in town appeared out of nowhere and I lunged at him and we embraced as I kept crying, thinking of our grandfather. The rest of that night is a haze.
It was when I woke up the next day that I realized I was in trouble. I should have been basking in the glow of this amazing victory. But it was the complete opposite. I didn’t want to face the world. I didn’t want people to congratulate me. I had to get up and go to work waiting tables like normal. I should’ve been walking on clouds, but it felt like I was mired in muck. Was it because I no longer had that one thing I’d always wanted? Was it because this long journey had come to a close?
No. It was because I didn’t feel fulfilled personally. The Cubs had won before I could.
The reason this was so hard for me to accept was because I was never prepared to accept it.
I wanted it. Certainly I wanted it as badly as I had ever wanted anything — right up to the end. But what do you do when the only thing you’ve ever wanted is suddenly given to you? What do you do when your wish is granted, but you’re not there to receive it?
A month-and-a-half later I took whatever money I had saved and spent it all on a road trip across the country. I traveled for four weeks. I traveled alone, stopping to visit and stay with a few friends along the way, but for a majority of time I was on the road, I was alone.
Toward the final days of my trip, I stayed with Todd in Arizona, a best friend who also happens to be a Cleveland native and one of the biggest Indians fans I’ve known. He also happened to be one of the friends who had angered me so much that late October night when so many in Cleveland took victory for granted. As we sat in his backyard enjoying the Arizona night, I attempted to explain all of this to him. This dilemma. This inner conflict. I felt I deserved this victory more than the rest of the Cubs fans celebrating worldwide. But everything I said made me sound spoiled and selfish.
It was about then that I realized the absurdity of it all. I still was still struggling to articulate what prevented me from truly enjoying everything. I just wasn’t able to pinpoint what was behind it, but I knew I had to stop harboring this apparent resentment. Because that’s not what it was all about.
Once I returned home from the road, I still fell deeper and deeper into a depression. It had ceased to be about the Cubs long ago, although I suspect I clung to that as some rational point in space and time that would allow me to pinpoint these feelings. It was only when I finally recognized that I’d never truly experienced success that I finally started to climb out of the darkness.
Seems backwards, right?
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had plenty of minor victories in my life, and generally speaking I’ve excelled at most jobs I’ve held. But in the traditional sense of “success,” I’m miles and miles away from it. I’m a 43-year-old, never-married, single male, with no kids and no career to speak of. Honestly, it wouldn’t take a huge leap for me to consider myself a failure, if I wanted to. But I don’t.
And that’s when it occurred to me that when I laid awake at night as a kid I would wish and dream not for myself to make millions of dollars as a famous actor, athlete, or best selling author. Instead I would try to fall asleep to images of myself standing in a ballpark, surrounded by my friends and family, looking on tearfully as my Chicago Cubs, OUR Chicago Cubs, celebrated winning that elusive World Series championship.
And then it happened — they actually won it all. It happened at a time when I just happened to be living a lonely existence, but didn’t realize I was lonely. It happened at a time when I just happened to be battling depression without really feeling depressed.
But because of these internal battles, I’d let myself forget what it meant to be a Cubs fan. I made it all about me. Poor, poor me. In fact, it had always been about sharing the ups and downs. It was about the unspoken bond one automatically has with a another when they are both wearing a Cubs hat in a strange city.
Shortly after leaving Todd’s home in Arizona, I found myself in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was wearing my Cubs hat and taking pictures of the city. As I explored I came across a fella wearing a Cubs championship sweatshirt and matching championship hat. He was talking to a man wearing a Cleveland Indians hat. They were both clearly enjoying this interaction and were rehashing the series in detail. As they were talking, the guy in the Cubs regalia happened to look past the guy he was talking to, and my own Cubs hat caught his eye. He didn’t break his conversation with the Indians fan, but he gave me a subtle nod and shot me a wink.
Just a few days ago I was laying sleeplessly in bed, as usual, when that memory hit me like a slap in the face. I didn’t recognize it when it happened, but that nod and that wink finally brought it all home for me. That interaction is the reason we love sports. That is why we’re all so loyal to our cities and our teams. It’s moments like the two-seconds in Santa Fe that we live and die for. Because in moments like these, in strange cities far from home, when we feel the most alone, in those moments when we feel the most lost and confused and scared, in moments like these, we can finally allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by that feeling of warmth that rushes through us like an embrace from our grandfather.
I had forgotten why I wanted what I wanted. It wasn’t just for me. It wasn’t just for my mother, or my father, or my sister, or my grandfather. It was for every player and every fan who’d always wanted what I’d wanted. But in the course of my own struggles and my own mental battles, I’d lost sight of that.
I’ll say it again. Watching the Cubs win the World Series was the only thing I’d ever wanted. But yet when it happened, I was totally unprepared for it.
But fuck you if you think I’d change a goddamn thing.