#BaseballMagic (The Best of 2016)

As I reflect on the year past and concede the death of my childhood on many levels with the loss of famed figures such as Florence Henderson, Prince, Muhammad Ali, and Pat Summit, there is one ending that occurred in 2016 that I rejoice in, and continue to process as the days and months pass.  I was born into a Cubs fan family and have bled Cubby Blue throughout my five decades on this earth.  This year I saw the end of an era – the Era of the Lovable Losers.

Like many Cubs fans, the post-season flooded me with memories of watching games with my Dad, and in particular, a late season game in August of 1984. That was the year I truly believed the Cubs were going all the way and was also the last year the Cubs only sold Bleacher seats (good ol’ Bleacher Bums) on game day. Dad and I stood in line and were able to get one of the last tickets sold in Standing Room Only in the Bleachers. The sun was ablaze and my poor Dad looked like a lobster at the end of the day. I don’t remember the game much, but there was most definitely hope in the air. I had heard from my brothers that Dad attended the last Cubs World Series game, Game 7 against the Tigers on October 10, 1945, but I also seemed to know it wasn’t something to bring up. At that game in 1984 though, I asked him about it and he told me how he took the train across town to go to the game. He stared out to the field and recalled how the Tigers were clobbering the Cubs before the first half of the first inning was over. As he unfolded the heart wrenching details, his eyes drifted back to that place and time. I silently listened as he spoke of players whose names were unknown to me, what they did during the season, how great they were, and how they came apart in that final game. It was an extraordinary moment. In it all, we stood there in the August sun with a new sense of hope.

Since that time, I never fully believed in my heart that the Cubs were going all the way like I did as a teen in 1984 — not again, until this year. As many others have stated, this team was different, this team was special.  I “watched” each post-season game with my brothers and sisters via text messaging with Dad’s spirit nearby. I also found myself connecting with old friends via Facebook, many of whom I have had little connection with other than the Cubs. That is one of the magical things about baseball – regardless of differences, depth of connections, frequency of contact, baseball seems to bring people together, even non-baseball fans. It is a common thread and it is something we need more than anything today.

So, when I wondered out loud about the possibility of going to Wrigley for a World Series game, one of my closest and wisest friends quipped, “Pay for experiences, not things,” and I took it to heart.

Long story, short, I found myself going to Game 5 at Wrigley Field which was potentially the final game of the World Series since the Cubs were down 3-1 at that point.  I knew I’d regret not going to see it if it turned out to be the last time the Cubs played a WS game in my lifetime.  So, I bit the bullet, and with a few clicks of an iPhone app, had a ticket to my first night game at Wrigley. It was glorious. My seat was phenomenal – Section 102, Row 9, Seat 1. When Eddie Vedder came out to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” I couldn’t imagine anyone better.  Moments later, Vedder topped it when he asked the fans to sing along with Harry and he and the left field jumbotron pulls up a video of Harry Caray. An audible “Oh!” came from the crowd, followed by a choking of tears, followed by huge smiles and joyous singing.  That is baseball magic. The game was a nail biter, but the Cubbies came through and held off the Indians with a 3-2 win. Until November 2, 2016 it was the greatest baseball game I had ever attended.

I bought tickets for Game 7 along with two friends on the way back from Chicago the next day. It may take another year or ten before I am able to truly process that game. There will never be another like it in my lifetime, I am certain of that. Many will discuss the highlights and dissect and reconstruct the game pitch-by-pitch, but the collective emotion that was in Progressive Field that night between both Cubs and Indians fans, was something beyond adequate description. I had a level of stress in those final innings that left me holding my pounding head and rocking side to side with only the ability to cry out, “We Love You, Cubbies!” because I remembered hearing Joe Maddon once state in an interview how he would hear that one Cubs fans up in the nosebleeds and how much that meant — I was going to do my part (which I also did by not getting my hair cut for the last two months of the season so not to jinx the team)…

What was most magical about being at that game was how much it felt like we were transported back to a 1970s baseball game (sans the electronic scoreboards and jumbotrons). Players and fans alike, displayed a sportsmanship that seems rare these days. I sat with a mix of Cubs and Indians fans. We expressed our excitement of being there, shared stories of family members passed with each other, and teased each other in good spirit as the game became more tense. Two Cleveland fans sitting behind me offered and traded seats with two friends so we could all sit together. During the short rain delay, someone yelled out, “How ’bout we just call it a draw?!” and many on both sides agreed we should. When all was said and done, there were handshakes and congratulations and empathy expressed. I’ve never witnessed a sporting event like this in my life. Then again, none of us there, ever had.

 

I will always be a true blue Cubs fan, win or lose, but can say that Cleveland is now my second favorite team and I wish them final victory someday as well (so long as it’s not against the Cubs).

Version 2

 

 

An open letter to non-Cubs fans

With less than an hour left before the Cubs first World Series game since 1945, I give you this…

To my friends who don’t quite understand us,

Explaining the emotion of Cubs fans is nearly impossible. It’s similar to being a kid and believing in your heart that the Easter Bunny exists and if you stay up late enough or wake up early enough, you might get a glimpse of that cotton-tailed wonder. Years come and go and sometimes you are teased with doors that are ajar, knowing you just missed seeing that bunny. And though the naysayers tell you the EB isn’t real, you still want to believe. In your heart you know it is still possible (after all, your Dad caught a glimpse of that bunny in 1945). And then all of a sudden, along with thousands of others who have been in search of that rabbit, holding out hope, a giant bunny comes bounding into the room sharing treats and joy and hope in the guise of a Montero pinch hit grand slam, a Contreras 2-6 pick off, an “Ice in his veins” Lester shutout, and a ridiculously acrobatic Baez defensive maneuver.

I’ve seen several pictures of fans immediately after the final outs of the NLCS who did something similar to my reaction. We cheered in victory, followed by tears of joy and bewilderment of what transpired before our very eyes. Most of us continue to be flooded with memories of family and friends and all the magical stuff that comes along with following the Cubs, and that alone, is extraordinary.

Whatever happens in this next week, I can assure you of one thing. The Easter Bunny is REAL and seeing that bunny for the first time ever is absolutely magnificent.