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November Baseball


Prologue

As the world now knows, the Cubs are 2016 World Series champions.  I wrote this just before Game 7 of the greatest world series of all time (in fact while writing this I detoured briefly online looking at logistics and cost of flights to Cleveland).  It’s now the dead of winter and the blackhole of sports – February.  But pitchers and catchers have just reported to Spring Training, bringing back a flood of memories of last fall.  While I’m excited about the upcoming baseball season, I am also keenly aware that I will never again experience the pure joy of the 2016 World Series.  I am grateful, blessed that I was part of the biggest sports story of the last century.  No regrets, LIVE NOW.

November Baseball

I was a terrible baseball player.  It was my least favorite sport as a child.  I was bored in the field or the dugout, and scared of getting hit by a pitch or giving up a homer to a girl.  I only played for two seasons.  But somehow in the last 20 years I’ve fallen head over heels for America’s pastime, as a fan.  I’m enamored with baseball:  it’s storied history entwined with our country’s greatest struggles of war, financial depression, and racism; the sights, sounds, and smells of a ballpark, the powerful batter against the crafty pitcher, the pure crack of a bat and crescendo roar of a crowd, and the scheming strategy behind it all.  It is a wonderful game.

I’m a Chicago Cubs fan.  I’ve been a relentless fan since I went to college just outside of Chicago during Sammy Sosa’s great home run race with Mark McGwire in 1996 and Kerry Wood’s dominating 20K performance as a rookie in 1998. Some of my fondest memories are from “The Friendly Confines” of Wrigley field.  Walking up the dark, cold concrete stairwell into the warm, sun-soaked field of grass and wall of ivy that were shades of brilliant green I’d never seen before.  Buying the cheap seats and sneaking down to the field, keeping methodical score, stuffing my face with Chicago dogs, and sipping Old Styles. My dogs are named Wrigley and Rizzo (the Cubs’ first baseman).  I remember Steve Bartman reinforcing the curse of the “billy goat” in 2003 and the Cubs getting swept out of the playoffs in 2007 and 2008.  The “lovable losers” have a way of warming your heart and then coldly breaking it.  Then “Next Year” finally came.

My dad passed away on September 23rd, so I’ve cried a lot this month.  I’ve also drank a lot of beer.  That also started because of my dad’s passing but continues because of fall baseball.  As a Cubs’ fan October baseball is rare and November baseball has never happened….until now.  The Chicago Cubs are in the World Series, the perennial Fall Classic, for the first time since 1945, the year my dad was born.  I had been saving for this improbable moment so I pulled the trigger and made the pilgrimage to Wrigleyville to witness history on the North Side.

Game 3

I drove from Colorado to Albuquerque, boarded a plane to Chicago, then took the blue line to the red line, stepped onto the platform at Addison and scurried into Wrigley field with my standing-room-only ticket moments before the first pitch of Game 3. I stood in the breezeway braving the cold, biting wind coming off Lake Michigan, desperately burning every moment into my long-term memory.  The experience felt bigger than all of us.   Cheers and sighs came in unison with an anxious crowd hanging on every pitch and swing.  It was a pitchers duel.  The Cubs lost 1-0, a crushing defeat.  I joined the thousands of other silent intoxicants shuffling through Wrigleyville towards the “L” to go back to the city.  I mourned with total strangers.  I don’t remember how I got back to my hotel room.

Game 4

On Saturday my wife joined me in Chicago and we watched Game 4 in solidarity with hundreds of North Siders at a local bar in Lincoln Park.  The bar was packed, but Midwestern charm was in full effect as we were cheerfully welcomed by strangers into the local fold.  In between the depressing innings patrons and bartenders held each other, swayed, and belted out lyrics to old favorites like “Build Me Up Buttercup” as our beloved cubbies lost again.  The Cubs were down 3-1 in the World Series, a seemingly insurmountable deficit.  But then came Sunday, oh glorious Sunday, at the Church of Baseball.

Game 5

I forked over a small fortune for bleacher tickets in left field.  We spent all afternoon in Wrigleyville, wandering the hallowed border streets of Wrigley Field.  We peered into countless sports bars and took pictures in front of the marquee on Clark, drank beers with the Cub hero statues on Addison, strolled the historic neighborhoods off Waveland, and wrote with chalk “Kaia and Scout still believe” on the stadium’s brick wall along Sheffield.  We watched as people high-fived long lines of police officers, two white college girls played street football with some African American kids, and old people wept, standing at the entrance to baseball’s grandest cathedral.  The joy and excitement for Game 5 outside Wrigley was palpable despite the possibility of losing the World Series to Cleveland that night.  We filed into Wrigley as the gates opened.

After a quick front row, ground-level view of the manicured grass and dirt we headed to the bleachers to watch the end of BP and catch the last rays of sun piercing between the upper and lower decks of Wrigley.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  The cold metal bleachers warmed as the stadium filled up and the alcohol went down.  We sat behind 2 sheepish Indian fans, in front of a guy in a full bear suit, and between two young fans and an old parish priest attending his 44th world series.  Game 5 was epic – filled with stellar defensive plays, a home run to our bleacher section, Eddie Vedder singing the 7th inning stretch, and a nail biter ending with our closer summoned for an unheard of 8-out save.  The Cubs won.  We witnessed the first World Series win at Wrigley since October 8th, 1945.

Game 6

I got tearful again that night of Game 5, twice.  First when the national anthem played as the American flag was spread across the outfield grass and not a single person was kneeling or sitting.  And second when the Cubs won because I realized I would get to watch Game 6 with my favorite Cubs’ fans, my two adorable daughters Kaia and Scout.  We sang “Go Cubs Go”, we flew the “W”, we sat, we danced, we smiled, and we joined the endless party in the streets until early Monday morning.  Flying home I had the same pit in my stomach as I did coming home from summer camp as a child, knowing I would never experience anything like this again in my lifetime.  Which is why I am writing this, to forever remember that I witnessed the journey of Cubs baseball to November. Tonight is Game 7, let’s go Cubs.