Another season. Another heartbreak. One more winter with nothing but thoughts of loss and what could have been. Welcome to Chicago. I’ll be your guide. I like to consider myself an expert. I moved here at the first of August, so I should have it together by now. Listen, I know things about things, alright? Let’s talk about the Cubbies. The North Siders. The Lovable Losers. That last nickname feels a little ominous, doesn’t it?
I’ll get one pesky little fact out of the way up front. My Cubs fandom is completely bandwagon based. My loyalties will always lie first and foremost with the Atlanta Bravos. I didn’t hop on the Cubs train until the moment I got done watching them sweep the Braves at Wrigley Field. Something I was lucky enough to see in person, mind you. After the enviable tears were done, I noticed something. This little baseball team from Chicago was starting to get hot. They stayed that way. While a dramatic playoff race was heating up in the American League, through August, September, and the first part of October the Cubs were the most exciting team in the National League. Oh and while I’ve got you here, does anyone else hate the American League, or as I lovingly like to call it, “The Cheater’s League”? Silly designated hitters. So, am I conceited enough to believe there lies a connection between my moving to the city and a few good months of baseball? In the immortal words of Sarah Palin, “You betcha”!
I’ve been around a winning baseball team before. Sure, I was only five when the Braves won their only Championship in Atlanta, but with the exception of the first year of my life and strike-shortened season of ‘94, they won divisional titles all but consecutively until I was 15 years old. Think about that. I didn’t see my favorite team have a losing season until I was old enough to drive a car. An argument can be made that I might be spoiled. Chicago is a different story. We’ve all heard the stories. The city has the honor of holding the record of the longest Championship drought. The last time the Cubs won a World Series is 1908. To put that into perspective, since the conclusion of the 2015 season, the last time the Cubbies took the whole cake was closer to the start of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency than it is to today. That’s bad, but it gets worse. Somehow. Chicago hasn’t even made it to a World Series since 1945. This is three seasons before the next closest city on the list of longest Championship droughts, Cleveland won the Fall Classic in 1948. You might say Chicago is due.
All of this back history, this century of inflamed emotion, is bound to have an effect on a city. It sure wasn’t the effect I was expecting. Through the end of the season and into the playoffs, I was witness to something I’ve never actually seen before. The way in which Chicago embraced their North Side 9 was magical to behold. Strangers on the street were suddenly entangled in song as old friends. Flags were flown out windows and parties were in the street. It was truly beautiful the way the community came together to rally behind the men between the ivy. The air was infectious with hope and optimism. Maybe it was time. Maybe this was finally the year. I don’t know where they pulled the fire from. How do you experience disappointment all those years and still have the ability still believe in miracles? I admit I was caught up in the frenzy. I really wanted to see the magic happen. Not just for the sake of the team, but for these people I was meeting every day who just wanted the misery to end. That’s what makes the end of the story so sad. Swept by the New York Mets in four games to be knocked out of the playoffs.
There is no sigh exasperated enough to describe how the city of Chicago deflated in the wake of the loss. The disappointment was palpable in the air, but you know what was missing? Well, besides a championship. There may have been frustration, but there was no resentment. At the end of the final game against the Mets, the Cubs even received a standing ovation from the crowd as thanks for a hard fought season. For all the fire at season’s twilight, I certainly wasn’t expecting so much maturity from the fan base. Not with as much loss as they’ve endured. For the most part, there was no blame, and by blame I mean talk of silly curses. Campfire stories can be fun from time to time, and baseball is steeped in tradition,but at a certain point you have to pass them by the wayside. No billy goat is going to bring you a championship and blowing the Bartman ball to hell didn’t turn the luck around. Case and point. During the Cubbies one game Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitcher and minor deity Jake Arrieta was able to steal second base during the 7th Inning. The last time a Chicago pitcher stole a base in the postseason was in 1908. The last year Chicago won the World Series. Based on this, shouldn’t the Cubs have been able to easily walk into a Championship?
The hard truth of the matter is that you have to make your own luck. Based on the performance of the team, and the ferocity of their fans support, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if they did end up working their way through the gauntlet to ultimate victory. I really think that Steve Goodman was on to something. For now, we’ll all have to live with the burden of knowing Back To The Future is about as historically, or I guess futuristically in this case, accurate as other 80’s classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Unfortunately, it’s time for me end on those haunted words every baseball fan dreads to hear. There’s always next season.