In 2008 I was a visiting assistant professor at Oklahoma State University. Right across the hallway from me was a Cubs fan, older than me, but not by much.
I spent the end of the spring semester and the early part of the fall semester expressing my enthusiasm for that team. Best team in baseball. This would be the end of the curse, exactly 100 years to the date of the last Cubs World Series win.
“This is the year,” I kept saying. “This is it.”
He was less enthusiastic.
He was right. The Cubs were swept in the NLDS by a middling Los Angeles Dodgers team and I was left in a familiar position as a Cubs fan – waiting until next year.
For younger people, that was the extent of their Chicago Cubs failure history. Those people can look at the horrible rebuild years of the last few years and look at this World Series with hope and enthusiasm.
For me, it’s a little more complicated. That was evident as I sat in my room after the Cubs won the pennant, sending them to the World Series for the first time since 1945. I didn’t send any gloating emails, I didn’t make any Facebook posts, I didn’t say a word.
My emotions are too mixed.
I’ve never been here before and I don’t know how to act. I’m accustomed to the Cubs losing, or getting to the brink only to blow it in spectacular fashion.
The failures of 2003 and 1984 still haunt me. Hell, my lifelong relationship with the Cubs was cemented in 1969, a year I barely remember at four, but one that forged my relationship with the Cubs. So, I don’t want to talk about the Cubs – not to Cubs fans who are younger than me, because they haven’t suffered as long; not to White Sox fans or Red Sox fans, because they ended their torture in 2004 and 2005 respectively. And especially not to the Cardinals fans that surround me. They chose to root for a team that always excels and they have had decades to gloat about their team.
And now the media are talking about Cleveland as if they’ve suffered as much as me?
Cleveland made it to the series twice in 1995 and 1997.
I don’t want to hear it. So, I sit in front of my television and I text my friends who have been there, who have suffered with me while I watch the games. I worry, I watch and I fret.
Every loss is a knife through my heart, wins seem like nothing but a reprieve.
Where’s the joy?
Sure, when the Cubs won the pennant I wept. Most of it was joy. We finally made it. But some of it, a large portion was apprehension. What happens if we finally get there and lose?
This team is young, I tell myself, a loss this year will be incentive to take it all next year. I can look forward to the future, even if we lose.
And that’s true. But dammit, I’m tired of waiting. I’ve waited my entire life for this and I don’t want to have to wait until next year one more time.
Losing won’t affect my life in any major way. I’m happily married, have a job I love, two wonderful kids and my dogs. I’m about as satisfied with my life as I can be. Why should this matter?
Because I spent a lifetime playing some form of baseball or fast-pitch softball. I love the game. I became a Cubs fan as a small child and I rooted. Through the dark years (and trust me, there have been a lot of dark years) and through the good years. I spent more than a few games in 1984 in the bleachers with my sister. I yelled at the New York Mets’ Mookie Wilson. I watched that team all summer. I was sure it was THE team. I flew home from college during the playoffs, planning to go to Chicago to celebrate the trip to the Series. They lost. I flew home during game 5. When I got on the plane, the Cubs had the lead. I arrived in Buffalo just in time to see the ball squirt through Leon Durham’s legs.
I still remember that feeling.
I had hope in 1989 and 1998 but I knew those teams weren’t going to be World Series champions. I believed in 2003 and I always judge Cubs fans by how they reacted to the Bartman incident. Those who blame Bartman fall into the category of Bandwagon fans, those who bitch about Alex Gonalez booting the ground ball know what happened.
The pain is real. The anguish is real. And now we have a chance.
This is the best Cubs team I’ve ever seen. Better than in 1984. This team has pitching and hitting and defense. I believe in this team. I have confidence in this team. And I sit in front of my living room and watch in silence.
I’ve loved being a Cubs fan all my life. Being a Cubs fan has taught me optimism in the face of great odds, it’s allowed me to watch some of the greatest players to play the game. Ernie Banks, Billie Williams, Bill Buckner, Rick Monday (talk about someone protecting the flag), Jose Cardenal, Jody Davis, The Sarge, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, Greg Maddux, Mark Grace, so many players to enjoy. I’ve learned about losing and I’ve learned to savor victory, because it doesn’t always happen. I’ve learned loyalty while watching the Cubs.
I’ve learned so much. I don’t regret being a Cubs fan all my life, I’m proud of it.
But I’m scared. We’re in the World Series and we’re down 1-0.
Let this team win. Let this team get us there.