Thursday, November 3, 2016

Cubs win and an old hat

I’ve been a Cubs fan since the beginning… well, my beginning.

My mom’s family was from just south of Chicago in the Lockport/Joliet area. Cheering on the Cubs and Bears was part of my early sports life.

I started watching the Cubs in 70s when Bruce Sutter was on the mound surrounded by Bill Buckner, Dave Kingman, and Ivan de Jesus.

Even in Michigan we had WGN as a regular over-the-air channel before cable TV. There were always games on television in the summer. Matthew H.’s house had the TV on constantly, and though we were usually playing outside like most kids in those days, we would stop in to see if Kingman was going to hit a homerun or strikeout.

Then the 80s came with a chance… Ryan Sandberg, Leon Durham, Larry Bowa, Ron Cey, Jody Davis, Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Trout , Dennis Eckersley and Lee Smith to close it out. But the Padres and the Curse stopped the celebration short.

A few years later and a roster change… Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston, Andre Dawson and Greg Maddux… couldn’t make it past the Giants. I was able to watch the Cubs defeat the Phillies in Wrigley in 1990 with Steve P., as Sandberg hit a homer only to be followed by Dunston hitting a grand slam for a 15-3 win.   

Then there were some very lean years of sub .500 baseball. And a few years that bought around postseason games that they never seemed to show up to play.

1998 had the Sammy Sosa home run battle and a just-not-good-enough record. 2003 was a solid season with Sosa and Kerry Wood bringing the hope.

2012 was a pitiful season with 101 losses. Could it get any worse? 2013 and 2014 weren’t much better.

I admit I didn’t follow the Cubs as closely in a lot of those bad years. But I’ve had at least one Cubs hat in my collection during most of my life.

Then it happened. The change. 2015. Joe Maddon was hired and brought his “try not to suck” nonconformist mentality. The roster changed again.

Wild Card game over Pittsburgh. Division series over the Cubs rivals in St. Louis. Then another poor postseason performance against the Mets. But despite the frustration… there was a sense of something beyond the hope of so many years.

2016 was “Next Year” and the Cubbies fulfilled the dreams of fans everywhere. It’s hard to put into words the feelings of so many people who have actually loved this franchise, this team. The game was “one for the ages.” A spectacular battle of two great teams. Fast balls and home runs. Errors and mistakes. Redemption at the plate. Back and forth. Substitutions. RBIs and an extra inning. The rain delay that might have just given the Cubs a chance to regroup, to refocus, to win. It was a spectacle for all those who love the game of baseball.

Watching the game with Sam E., a Chicago guy and good friend, along with 200 cheering and anxious fans will be a lifelong memory. We cheered and cringed as if we were win the bleachers at Wrigley.

With this win, the Cubs have completely changed the culture. The folklore, the curse, the Loveable Losers no longer exist. “Waiting ‘til Next Year” is not about hoping for a good season, but about another championship.

I asked my cousin Julie in Chicago, when she finishes celebrating, to get me a Chicago Tribune. There is something permanent about a front page story to stand against this temporary social media culture.

But more importantly, as much as we love the Cubs, it is more than just a sports team. It’s a culture. It’s a community. Granted, hard times can bring people together… and Cubs have seen hard time. No wonder the Cubs’ fan base is so strong, so loyal.  This win is about being part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s about family connections and friendships forged through the years. It's even about sweaty strangers giving out hugs and high-fives in a sports bar 1,000 miles away from Wrigleyville.

The win is a fulfilled promise built on the hopes and prayers of generations past… and a solid roster with a great manager.

Congrats to the players. Congrats to the fans.

As I celebrate and see all the t-shirts and hats with “World Series Champions” emblazed under a Cubs logo… I smile, but see no need to buy one. I’ll stick with the hat I own until the sweat ring turns it into a work hat, and I’ll get a new one. To paraphrase Joe Maddon, there is no reason to change what we’re doing just because it’s the post season. Do what got us here.

The Game 7 win was amazing. 
The World Series Championship is temporary. 
Being a Cubs fan is permanent.

As Harry would say… Holy Cow. Cubs win. Cubs win.

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