For the fortunate our childhoods provide us with the types of yellow memories that can still resonate into old age. For those of us that are lucky to remember a simple photograph or an object from ages ago can reduce us to tears of happiness and longing. For those who can still hold on to some semblance of youthful optimism and retain some of the joire de vivre that we held when we were still learning how to ride a bicycle without training wheels these memories can reach across time itself and pull us to a time that was more innocent.
And if you're one who can remember back to the days when youthful exuberence was a limitless resource you'll always remember the first time you fell in love. You'll never forget what that emotion felt like; what it's like to recall with clarity how excited you felt to encounter the object of your young and hopeful affection. In that time you give your heart more freely; you don't quite understand how rare true and real love is and you're willing to simply surrender your emotions to the first thing that strikes your fancy.
This is an article about love and baseball. This is an examination of the first time I gave my heart away to a squad of men whose accomplishments seemed to be the stuff of legend to a young and idealistic 14 year old baseball fan.
This is about the time I fell in love with the 2001 Chicago Cubs.
There are a few things to remember here: my age and what it was like to watch Sammy Sosa and Kerry Wood on a somewhat regular basis back then. I didn't know that Sosa's body was abnormal. I didn't catch the implications of what he and Mark McGwire were doing to the record books and to the history of this game. All I know was that Sosa was mentioned with the legends of a time before my grandfather was even an abstract idea.
Kerry Wood was a spectacle unto himself. He was the first Cub who I admired and wished to be. My pitching hero was Nolan Ryan and I developed a subconcious affinity for Texan righties with a power fastball and a deep and viscious breaking ball. It makes sense in retrospect, Wood and Sosa both provided tangible and immediate results. I hadn't learned to swim in the nuance of the game yet, I was simply there to watch the spectacle that was the Sammy Sosa and Kerry Wood show.
And it was very real. The exploits of the 2001 Cubs are rightfully forgotten but that was a fun baseball season full of romanticized moments with equal parts tragedy and heartbreak mixed in. The moment that I knew that I loved this team was a heartbreaking moment.
Bill Mueller was the Cubs starting 3B at the outset of 2001 and was carrying a surprising .317 average heading into a May date with the St. Louis Cardinals. Batting Average is a somewhat silly stat to love considering all the other numbers we have but back then it was still a golden measure of a player's ability in the mainstream. To me, Mueller's .317 was indicitive of something larger. When I think about what he meant to the 2001 Chicago Cubs I understand that the moment he went sliding for a foul ball and completely shredded his knee was when I knew that I was in love with the Cubs. Before then baseball had been all positive for me. The losses never bothered me much because I was a very young child. Such things to a child seldom hit home the same way they do as an adult. But then, in that moment as I saw Bill Mueller writhing on the ground I experienced baseball sadness in a way that I hadn't before. Then, in that awful instance I understood how invested I was in these Cubs.
And so it went as the season moved along. The Cubs managed to recover after the Mueller injury but in what would become a familiar verse in my journey through Cubdom they faded in August and September and I was left with the aftermath of a season which was really the first one I retained from start to finish.
Their names haunt my dreams from time to time and every so often one former 01 Cub will seep over from my subconcious into the real world (I saw Ron Coomer at a south side Jewel once). I'll forever remember what it was like to not understand what the hell Julian Tavarez was doing when it was his turn to throw the ball to first base. I'l remember fondly that time I thought Jon Lieber was an ace. I'll recall the promise that Little Pedro AKA Juan Cruz once had. I'll never forget how automatic Fassero-Farnsworth-Gordon was, nor will I ever leave behind the memories of Julio Zuleta invoking his inner Pedro Cerrano and perfoming voodoo on his bats.
Should I be fortunate enough to make it to my deathbed I'll have visions of what my life was. I'll hopefully be surrounded by loved ones whose shared memories will have shaped me into the man I became. I'll recall their faces with love but I can almost guarantee you that as I lay withering away and clinging to this existence I will look back fondly on the faces of the 2001 Cubs and smile.
Filed under: Cubs