This Cubs fan’s faith restored with World Series win

col-tbuzz-2I was beginning to wonder whether I would ever get the chance to write this column. After all, my grandfather died at the age of 90, lived through two World Wars, two Roosevelt and Bush Administrations, two flybys from Halley’s Comet, and zero Chicago Cubs championships. After 108 years of futility, the math and universe appeared stacked against a World Series win.

Then came Wednesday night/Thursday morning’s Game 7 thriller, when pigs finally flew and there was one heck of a snowball fight in Hades. It was the highlight of my life as a sports fan, not only for me, but also for the generations of Cubs fans who suffered through three curses and a chronic case of general suckiness. I’ve experienced the suffering myself in the Wrigley Field bleachers, but also been inspired the eternal optimism of Cub Nation.

I wasn’t alive when the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago cast a spell on the team (although I have spent plenty of time and money at the bar) after his promotional pet goat was forbidden from the Friendly Confines in 1945, the last time the Cubs played in the World Series. I was a kid in 1969 when a black cat ran across the first-place Cubs’ dugout, causing the biggest choke in baseball history in the dog days of 1969. We put a man on the moon but couldn’t hold a nine-game lead.

One of the reasons the Cubs have such national appeal despite their Lovable Losers label is WGN-TV, which built a big audience by broadcasting baseball games in an era of limited cable channel options. I was drawn in by the colorful commentary of Harry Caray and straight man Steve Stone, the joy of watching day baseball on the back porch, and the history and atmosphere of Wrigley Field. I made my first pilgrimage inside the ivy-covered walls in 1994, and I was a Bleacher Bum for life.

As a young Cub reporter (pun intended) I got to walk on the field, visit the clubhouse and sit in the press box, but none of it compared to a day in the right-field bleachers (because, you know, left field sucks). My future wife, Stephanie, whom I converted early in our relationship, joined me and the other bums in good-natured heckling of the opposing right fielder, throwing back home run balls hit by the other team, and enjoying the misery-loves-company camaraderie of eternal optimists.

We were there in 1994, just days before the players went on strike and turned an entire generation of fans away from baseball. We were there in 1998 for the incredible home-run crushing contest between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, which turned out to be a steroid-induced hoax. We were on our back porch in 2003, after tucking our new-born daughter into her crib wearing her official Cubs onesy, when Steve Bartman stuck his hands in front of a foul ball and touched off a firestorm in the stands and a meltdown on the diamond. Through it all, we kept coming back for more each season with even higher hopes.

We were on the porch against Wednesday night, after tucking our now-teenage daughter into bed, and watched the unthinkable happen. My new approach of expecting to win instead of being afraid of losing never waivered, even when the Indians took a 3-1 series lead. The young group of Cubs never stopped believing either, even after blowing a three-run lead late. A merciful rain shower allowed them to regroup, and they came out swinging in the 10th inning to touch off a well-deserved celebration.

I might not live to see world peace, the colonization of Mars, or even the outcome of this insane election season. But I did live long enough to see the Cubs reverse the curse, and that’s good enough for me. After all, it might be 2124 before it happens again. But it speaks to the beauty of sports in our society when fans across the country can unify over seeing a far-fetched dream come true. In a cynical age and a cruel world, it restores my belief that anything really is possible.

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