The Weight and the Wait.

It is really going to take a while for this to sink in.  The Chicago Cubs are MLB’s World Series Champions!  I had to tell my wife to pinch me the morning after they won to make sure it actually happened.  While trying to process what happened the night before I decided to only think about the season and remember its moments and celebrate what I still couldn’t yet process.  I turned on my favorite Chicago sports station, The Score, and never turned them off the entire day.  I wanted to hear other fans reactions to this and many felt the same incredulity I did the morning after.  There were many stories I heard that day that put a lump in my throat and brought tears to my eyes.  It was great to just take a day to not have to worry about next year, to not have the burden and weight of my first 36 years of thinking next year may be the year, and mostly to be able to just enjoy what had happened and hear the amazing stories of other Cub fans throughout the world.

If you were born in a Chicago Cub family, you are not likely going to be able to remember the exact moment when you became a Cub fan, because it was ingrained in you at such an early age.  The one thing I do remember is shared by millions of Cub fans throughout the country, and that was coming home from school, turning on WGN and watching the end of Cub games to the legendary broadcasting of Harry Caray.  The team I first remember, and when I believe I became a true die hard fan, was manned by Dawson, Sandberg, Sutcliff, Maddux, Moyer and Grace in 1989.  The first game I remember going to was in the right field bleachers around the age of 9 or 10 and being mesmerized by The Hawk.  This was the first team to hook me and also the first of many to end in disappointment at the end of the year.

As a Cub fan our lives were riddled with disappointments like this.  But the one that sticks out the most with me was the 2003 year.  It was my final semester in college at SIU, living with two other Cub fans and about ready to celebrate the first trip to a world series living closer to St Louis than Chicago.  I don’t need to repeat what happened in that series as most who are reading this ought to know, but I remember feeling for the first time what previous generations had felt in 1969 and 1984.  A team that was on the verge of making it to the World Series, with tremendous promise for years to come, ended in “choking” disappointment, and in devastating injuries the following years.  I haven’t been someone who believed in curses or superstition but those thoughts had started to creep into my psyche at that point.

After the 2005 year, a year in which I ponied up for nearly 20 regular season baseball games, I made the decision to no longer support this team “monetarily” until they become sustainably good again.  I still attended Cub games, and watched them on t.v. and tracked their stats and the development of people in the minors but I was done giving them my hard earned money until I felt they were on the right track again.  I would go to baseball games but only if they were from some company event or a generous friend who needed a wingman.

I ended up falling for the success of 2007-2008 teams in thinking that Jim Hendry might be going down the right track with development and proper hirings.  I was still committing to the promise to myself to not spend money on this team, and managed to get company tickets to game 2 of the 2008 NLDS where the Cubs were demolished.  I left that game early not being able to handle the embarrassment anymore.

From 2009 through the 2011 season I started to pay more attention to our minor league players than I did our major league ball club, and started to pay attention to other teams in the league that were being run correctly.  This is probably the lowest I had felt about my beloved franchise in my entire life, but this downward spiral led me to awaken myself to sabermetrics and Theo Epstein.  So when the Cubs signed him to run this team the sudden realization that “someday may happen” suddenly crept back up to me.

As Cub fans we know what it is like to be patient.  So when Theo announced his plan and claimed that it would take a few years to be good again, I had no problems letting him do his thing and learning more and more about the new “Cub Way” that was emerging.  Positive energy and excitement was starting to come back to me again as I scoured minor league box scores and stats to keep track of all the amazing talented youth the Cubs were accumulating in their system.

Then the signing of Joe Maddon, along with key free agents, and the influx of this minor league talent hit the Cubs like a tsunami wave that few Cub fans and experts expected.  Most of us knew we were on the track for a good team but we weren’t expecting an NLCS appearance to happen in such short time, and while I was disappointed in the outcome of that year I knew that what we were experiencing as fans was about to get really good really fast.  “Someday it will happen” started to morph into “I know it’s going to happen very soon”.  Fast forward a year to world series game 7….

There is so much to be said about how amazing game 7 of a world series is and yet I cringe at thought of experiencing one again, unless “if necessary”.  Scratch that, I don’t want to see another elimination game again in the World Series.  Getting that far and being on the brink of failure again is one of the most excruciating ordeals I have dealt with in my life (yes that’s a good sign it is likely a privileged life).  I couldn’t sleep the day before and my tension, nervousness and excitement was also rubbing off on my wife and my 6 month old daughter, and that carried on and worsened each day as the Cubs came closer to reaching game 7.  I even had a nightmare that our game six, 9-3 victory never actually happened.  It was as much as their ordeal as it was mine, and as I write this today I can’t describe how incredible the feeling is removing that incredible weight.  From here on out, every deep playoff run won’t feel quite as heavy and emotion filled as this one felt.  I am not saying it won’t be great to repeat this run, but the tension, nervousness and excitement will decrease to much more livable levels.

As far as the actual game 7 experience, it seemed to mimic the past Cub experiences in past playoff disappointments, except for the ending.  For about 80% of the game most Cub fans probably felt like this game was ours to lose.  While I knew the Cubs were a better team it seemed like a lot of weird things started to accumulate that really brought up the nightmares of the past.  Bad managerial decisions, weird bounces, poorly called home plate umpiring at the wrong time, and some overall bad baseball was being played at times.  It came to the point, when the game was tied up in the 8th inning, where my 60 year old father had to leave my brothers house because he couldn’t handle seeing the nightmare happen again.  I don’t blame him, that kind of psychological abuse is not healthy to keep putting yourself through!

While I felt my heart sink in that 8th inning as Cleveland tied it, the dark thoughts started to creep in and nightmares began to take over.  That roller coaster ride of a Cub experience was starting to play out again, and it would be near impossible to not think “OH NO!!!”!!!!!  The bottom of the ninth was probably the hardest inning to sit through in my lifetime.  When you have a struggling closer that throws 97mph, one can’t help but think that one lucky solid swing of the bat could end this here and now so suddenly we wouldn’t know what hit us.  Each pitch was a cringe and each bat and ball contact was a large gasping inhale hoping it found the glove of our team, so that we can exhale again.

After the 9th inning it was starting to get too late for my daughter and since we were at my brothers house we decided to take advantage of the rain delay and try to get home in time to catch the top of the tenth.  That ended up not happening.  Like many of my Cub experiences I instead had to listen to the radio broadcast by Coomer and Hughes as we got caught in traffic just a few blocks from home, thanks to oddly blocked off streets.  While my poor tired daughter was crying in the back seat I had to maneuver between hearing the Cubs take the lead again and trying to help relax my child.  As we drove down the Lakeview streets I could hear the roars from the bars as each run was scored, and I started to feel that darkness fade.  I seemed to have temporarily forgotten how this team never quits.

I happened to get home just in time for the end of the top of the tenth, it was already 8-6 now.  At this time I had to try to obtain some sort of balance between being a good dad by helping my wife with the baby and also pay attention to every pitch, an impossible task, to which I thank my amazing wife for knowing this moment and allowing me to have it.  From here on out we know what happens, as I couldn’t sit in one place for more than 5 seconds and had to pace back and forth in the bottom of the tenth.  And since my wife was trying to get our baby to sleep I had to celebrate the three remaining outs with giddy laughter and jumping up and down on a soft rug to absorb as much noise as possible.  The moment I am going to remember the most is seeing Kris Bryant field that last out with a wide grin on his face, himself knowing that he was about to achieve his first major team award and be a very large reason why millions of Cub fans have been unburdened of a tremendous weight upon them.  I seemed to have the same giddy smile he had and immediately felt that release as the ball hit Rizzo’s mitt.

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