Today anyways, God is a Cubs fan. After 108 years of itinerant wandering, the Cubs are back to the Promised Land – and the Tribes of Israel have nothing on Cubs fans. 40 years? That’s peanuts compared to the curses of Goats, Black Cats, and headphone wearing Steve Bartmans. After Rizzo stepped on the bag, arms raised in victory, my wife started balling. Her torrent didn’t stop for an hour. Fat tears of joy coursed down her face as she unleashed a stream of consciousness prayer of thanksgiving. Voting for a woman president and the Cubs winning the World Series in one day? Easily tied for the best day in her life along with marrying me (I sure hope) and becoming a homeowner.
I did not grow up a Cubs fan and am not a Cubs fan. However, I did grow up with the Cubs. My Grandma was glued in retirement to Channel 9 on a 10 inch box. From her I learned about fielding, as she pointed out all the fine details of Ryne Sandberg’s play. My Grandpa was a rabid collector of books and memorabilia. I can pick out the unmistakable voices of Harry Caray, Ron Santo and Pat Hughes from anywhere. Being from Milwaukee though, my Brewers fandom is deep and unbreakable. I’ve been through too many lows to cast off those emotional shackles.
This post-season however, my mixed allegiance marriage meant (very temporarily) rooting for the Cubs. My Brewers have a looong road ahead of them to make the playoffs, much less win it all. With the 2016 titles in the books, the dishonor of long suffering fan bases moves from Cleveland, from Chicago, to Milwaukee – which hasn’t won anything since the 1970’s. I have to hope either the Brewers or Bucks break through soon, but it seems pretty remote.
Not being factious, the Cubs are perhaps the most Jewish of all sports franchises. Seemingly, everything bad to befall a sports franchise had befallen the Cubs. For 108 years, there were good teams sure, but no glory years. The freakiest of freak occurrences marred the team – it wasn’t just that they lost, it was how they lost. I remember 2003 as a college freshman. From the dorm’s common room, I witnessed the worst collapse in sports history in real time. But just as the Jews have come back from tragedy after tragedy, the Cubs rebuilt and reached the summit. That it happened with Epstein at the helm, who saved Boston from its cursed past too, is icing on the cake. The man who rescued two title starved franchises from 194 combined years of futility deserves his own statue park.
This year, there is no wait till next year. This year the lofty pre-season expectations were met. This year, the team with the best record during the regular season ended as champions. This year, the endless farm system building, free agent signings, and learning how to win, paid off. There was no denying the 2016 Cubs. How else to explain Ross hitting what proved to be the margin of victory in his last game? How else to explain Schwarber’s miraculous return (a return even he didn’t envision), and major contributions? How else to explain coming back from a 3-1 series deficit with the biggest blows coming from the most unlikely sources? How else to explain a 17 minute rain delay which reenergized the team and catapulted it to extra innings glory? I am not a Cubs fan, but how can you not love the story and the symbolism of this team?
Baseball is one of the few things that can reduce grown men to tears. It can make grizzled old folks run as if 50 years of aging were erased. It can produce the biggest smiles on 90 year old women and make the eyes of Rahm Emanuel light up like nothing else. As much as I love Football and Basketball, there is no greater game than Baseball. There is no other sport that can turn up the screws of tension or produce the collective endorphin release for an entire city.
Chicago on November 3rd, 2016 is a kinder, friendlier place. Walking to the train I was greeted by head nods and hellos. People were courteous, standing aside to let people off the train. Anyone wearing Cubs gear was getting a pound from random strangers. I saw more than a few people spontaneously hug. That Chicagoans are almost universally happy and benevolent is a minor miracle in itself. I wonder how long this euphoria is going to last. In the meantime though, I’m going to enjoy this wonderful alternate universe. Today anyways, God is a Cubs fan.