I don’t write a lot from a “fan’s” perspective on here. I try to write as objectively as possible. I use a lot of statistics. I use a lot of numbers that I know can get pretty boring for people who don’t care about the analytics side of the game. This is all very intentional. I don’t want to be accused of writing something a certain way because of my own fan-based biases. I’ll admit that I have them. I’ll even admit the possibility of some of my writing being influenced by them. But, I try my best to keep my fandom out of my blogging.
So, I hope you’ll indulge me a little today, as I take just this once to talk a little about the team I’ve been watching since I was 10 years old.
I was in 4th grade. It was March. I was probably already signed up to play t-ball – the only sport I ever really wanted to play. And, in my 10-year-old mind, I began to process the fact that I didn’t really have a favorite team. I had sort of followed the Giants, because that was my first t-ball team. But, now I was playing for teams named after businesses – like Blue Ridge Trophy. So, who was I going to root for?
Somewhere along the way I had latched on to the Chicago Bears as my NFL team. I don’t even remember why. But, Jim McMahon and Mike Singletary and “The Fridge” were the first sports team I ever root for. So, I decided – again, keep in mind I was 10 – it only made sense for me to root for a baseball team from the same city. So, I thought about it, and decided, “Ok. I’ll be a White Sox fan.” I shared this information with a classmate of mine named Kyle. And he said, “What about the Cubs? They’re in Chicago, too.”
I had completely forgotten about the Cubs. So, I had a bit of a dilemma on my hands. Within a week of this conversation, I was scanning our local television guide after school to see if there was any baseball on TV that day. Low and behold . . . the Cubs were actually going to be on TV! I was shocked by this, since I lived in North Carolina. So, I turned the TV on to this station I had never heard of – WGN. And, I watched. I watched as the Cubs played the Seattle Mariners. I listened to the voices of Steve Stone and Harry Caray. And, I … was … hooked.
By the end of that 1989 season, I was completely and totally immersed in Chicago Cubs fandom. To this day I could name every starting position player on that team, but I won’t bore you with that. But, to say I was wrapped up in the team featuring Sandberg, Grace, and Dawson, is an understatement. I loved the fact that they won their division. And, I was so excited to see what they could do in the playoffs. But, they lost the NLCS to the Giants (ironically enough) in just 5 games. I was sad, to be sure. But, I knew that they would have another shot next year . . . oh, how naive I was.
Over the next 27 years, I would root for the Cubs no matter what. There were so many seasons that started off looking like they were going to be promising, but by June or July, it was obvious they weren’t going to be a contender. There were some exciting years. 1998 was fun – back before we had any idea what was powering McGwire and Sosa. 2003 was really exciting, up until the very end – 5 outs away from uncharted territory. But, the glimmers of hope were few and far between.
That all changed in October of 2011. I had heard rumors, but dismissed them as wishful thinking. But, as my wife and I sat in a pizza place in Indiana with our 2-year-old son, I was ecstatic to see on the TV screen that the Cubs had actually hired Theo Epstein away from Boston. This was going to be a turning point. I knew it was. Because if anyone could turn a franchise around that had endured decades of losing . . . well, Epstein had already proven he could.
The next 3 seasons were rough. Well, sort of. On the one hand, it was tough to see your team lose 90-100 games every year. But, I was never one of those Cubs fans who was always screaming “this is our year!” I was realistic about their situation, and I knew they had some terrible contracts, and a mediocre farm system. So, I watched as Epstein broke down the feeble excuse for a quality team that he’d been handed, and I paid careful attention to the farm system. My son (whose middle name is Ryne, by the way) got his first game-used ball when the first baseman tossed it up into the stands to him at a Tennessee Smokies (AA) game – where we went to see Kris Bryant play.
When the 2016 season rolled around, I did everything I could to keep from getting too excited. The Cubs were the odds-on favorites to win it all, according to Vegas. They had made multiple big splashes in free agency, with Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist. The youngsters that had made it to the NLCS the year before were a year older and more experienced. And, they started out on a tear. They won 27 of their first 35 games (.771 win pct.), and all my friends were asking me if I was buying World Series tickets. I blew it off as just a good streak. “The season is long,” I would say. “They’re bound to go through some rough patches.”
And, they did. Once. From June 20th – July 10th, they went 6-15. But, that was it. They didn’t lose another 15 games for nearly 2 months. They finished with the best record in baseball, and were the prohibitive favorite in the NL. But, I tried to remained calm. “They’re still very young,” I would say. I even wrote a blog post here, explaining why the Cubs wouldn’t win it all. I think I did that, in part, to help me remain realistic.
But, I watched with eager anticipation as the team I had been rooting for more than a quarter century did the unthinkable. They beat the Dodgers to go to the World Series. I was so choked up, I could hardly talk to my nephew who immediately called. The unfortunate soul who, as a child, had followed in my footsteps to become a Cubs fan, but had also chosen his own team to root for in the AL … the Cleveland Indians. We couldn’t believe they were going to actually have to play each other.
Many years ago, I had told my wife that if the Cubs ever actually did make it to the World Series, I was going to have to go to a game. After all, how often do we expect that to happen? But, as this amazing season unfolded, that thought never even crossed my mind. I knew the price of a single ticket would be astronomical. So, I didn’t even consider it. That is, until the Cubs were ahead 3 games to 2 in the NLCS. My wife actually brought it up. She said, “You know you have to go.” I tried arguing with her – though, I must admit, I didn’t put up a big fight. So, as the Cubs were in the process of winning game 6 of the NLCS, I bought two tickets for World Series Game 1 in Cleveland – tickets to Wrigley were 3x the cost, and I was going to be happy just to be there.
What an incredible experience that was. No description I could ever give would do it justice. Sure, the Cubs lost – and didn’t look good doing so. Sure, the Cleveland fans ragged me about my Ryne Sandberg jersey – mostly in a friendly way. Sure, it was bitter cold, and we were in the upper deck where the wind was biting through every piece of fabric we were wearing. But, it was completely and totally worth it.
As the World Series unfolded, I wasn’t terribly surprised that the Cubs were down 3-1. Disappointed? Sure. But, I was still trying to keep it in perspective. It’s just a game. It’s just a sport. It isn’t life or death. Then, they won game 5. Then, they won game 6. Friends and family members were constantly asking me how I was holding up. I kept telling them that I was just happy that there was actually going to be a game 7, at this point.
I’ve watched game 7 of the 2016 World Series at least 5 times now, including the live broadcast. I will never forget that experience. The roller coaster of emotions. Rizzo’s conversation with Ross about being a glass house of emotions. Having to turn my phone off after Davis hit that HR in the 8th off of Chapman, because so many people were texting or messaging me. And, then, there was this…
As long as I live, that image will be etched in my memory. And, Rizzo’s face as he stood at 3rd. And Almora tagging up to get to 2nd base on Bryant’s fly out (possibly the most important play of the game). Every time I watch these events unfold . . . I get chills. I even get a little choked up. Even now, after almost 4 months of soaking in all of the joy and celebration of my team finally winning it all. It’s every bit as exciting as it was when it happened.
That’s something I didn’t expect. I always wondered what I’d do if the Cubs actually won it all. And, for the most part, I’ve kept fairly calm about it. I don’t ever want to be one of “those” kinds of fans that likes to rub it in everyone’s face. But, I never expected all those emotions to linger the way they have. And I believe, as much as anything else, it’s because I remember that 10-year-old boy. I remember how excited he was about his newfound love for a team. I remember how desperately he wanted to go to Wrigley Field and just see a game. I remember how he was disappointed year after year when his Cubs didn’t do well. And, I want to tell him, “Don’t give up. It’s worth the wait.”