Saturday night I watched the Cubs win a game that sent them to the World Series. On the list of sentences that I never thought I’d truthfully write, the preceding ranks near the top.
Part of it is that it’s been so long since the Cubs have been in the World Series. 1945. That’s the year that the minimum wage went up to forty cents an hour. The ABC Television network didn’t debut for three more years. And four of the original five members of the Baseball Hall of Fame—Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson—were still alive.
The other part—the more important part—that makes a Cubs World Series significant, is each Cubs fan’s personal history with the team. While we collectively celebrated a team’s success, what we really celebrated was the fulfillment of our own wishes after so many disappointments.
I’m only 38 years old. My first memories of the Cubs are from the 1986 season. So this is only the thirty-first season I remember being a fan. So even though the team hasn’t made it to the World Series in 71 years, I didn’t suffer the disappointment of even half of those seasons.
But my dad, who probably began following the Cubs around 1950, suffered through most of those seasons, including the dreadful conclusion to the 1969 season, during which he was preparing to marry a woman from New York!
So the other night, when I sat in my basement with my three youngest kids, and we watched that groundball to the shortstop, and I said, “Here it is!” the word it had a few different meanings.
It was the conclusion of the game. It was the winning of a pennant. It was the end of a decades-long drought. But it was also validation for every moment of frustration, elation, anger, despondency, hope, heartbreak, and utter disbelief that I’ve experienced in thirty years of watching Cubs baseball.
It was Jody Davis hitting a grand slam in the first game I ever attended at Wrigley Field, April 27, 1986. It was my dad bringing our entire family down from the upper deck to the box seats at the end of the game so we could see the field up close.
It was our entire family freezing through the first game of a doubleheader on the last day of that same season, and the feeling of disappointment, yet relief, when the second game was canceled due to darkness.
It was the joy of watching Wally Backman of the hated New York Mets suffer a pulled hamstring while running to first on June 8, 1987. It was traveling to Pittsburgh in 1989 to watch a game against the Pirates. It was hating Will Clark for the rest of his career after his performance in the 1989 playoffs.
It was driving to Atlanta to watch game 2 of the 1998 NLDS against the Braves.
It was sitting in the first row of the left field seats with my girlfriend and daughter on May 11, 2000 as Glenallen Hill hit a homerun on top of the roof across the street during what was, at the time, the longest nine-inning game in National League history.
It was an extra-inning game on April 30, 2009 in which the Marlins scored six runs in the top of the tenth. It was watching the Iowa Cubs at Wrigley Field with all the kids later that same summer with a heat index over 100.
It was a hundred more memories that are unique to me. But every Cubs fan has their own list of memories.
I would have enjoyed this victory no matter what. A winning team crystallizes our fanaticism in a way that nothing else can. Everyone likes a winner.
But for those of us who have a lifetime of memories associated with the Cubs, winning reminds us of what we have given to the team, and what the team has given to us. The disappointment of a loss, or the exhilaration of a win, in any of the games above has long worn off, but the memories remain.
And those memories are why I wanted to experience the moment with my kids by my side. It’s why we got in the car and drove twenty minutes to see my dad after the game. It’s some of life’s good stuff.
The Cubs are winning games. And it’s been fun to watch. But long after the World Series is decided, and long after the sting or the ecstasy of the outcome has worn off, we’ll have the memories, and the stories.
I can’t wait to see what we’re going to remember for the rest of our lives!
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