Tonight is Game 1. Never have I cared more about a World Series matchup. Never has it been more than entertainment to me. It has now taken on a whole new meaning for me, and that change is irrevocable. For the first time since I could talk, win or lose, I will be able to say that the Cubs played in the World Series. That, for me, is a life-altering statement.
I'm sure some of you are shaking your head at my foolishness. But to those of you who share my love of the Cubs, who see watching Cubs games as a family event that is intertwined with your upbringing and memories as far back as you can recall them, you understand. We are both joy-filled and terrified, gleeful and solemn by turns, and all are sad that grandpa or dad or aunt or sister didn't live to see this moment.
We have borne the failure and disappointment for so long we almost don't know how to truly embrace and celebrate these days of success and happiness. Over the past seven decades, Cubs fans have been conditioned to believe that their team will let them down in the end. For our entire lives we have seen losing season after losing season, and clung to the belief that the Cubs will have a better year next year, and suddenly, "next year" is upon us. It didn't sneak up on us unawares. We have watched this amazing scene unfold before us for more than 18 months. We have sat in disbelief through two outstanding seasons of a young and dynamic team with their quirky and astute manager. Two seasons of great pitching, great hitting, and probably most importantly, great coaching. For once, the Cubs have it all, at the same time.
For several days I haven’t had the words to adequately express my feelings. I’ve listened to others and done a lot of “woo-hooing” and agreeing. Mostly, though, I’ve struggled with my very strong emotions about the game of baseball and its true unimportance in the midst of all the chaos and horrors happening around the globe. Millions are displaced by war, and refugee camps are packed with people who have little hope of a better life. I have almost felt apologetic as I’ve shared my happiness with both Cubs fans and others. In my head, my joy sounds so frivolous and foolish.
In my heart, however, a tiny voice whispers that it isn’t as silly as it sounds. The Cubs are as much a part of my DNA as the blue eyes I inherited from Dad or the slightly crooked index fingers I inherited from Mom. The Cubs have been woven into the fabric of my life from birth, and my love of the team isn’t as much about the game of baseball as it is about family. It’s about growing up watching them on TV with Dad half asleep in his chair after a big Sunday dinner; or stolen summer weekday afternoons when there were early games, when we’d sit and watch the start of the game over lunch and Dad would decide it was too hot to go back out and work the farm “until the sun went down a little”; or about listening to games on the radio while I rode on the tractor with him or in the truck when we went to town to run errands. It’s about listening to games on the radio with my own kids because Cubs games weren’t on network television where we lived, unless they were playing the hometown team, and memorizing the old commercial spots for Square D and Heileman’s Old Style beer and saying them right along with the announcers. It’s about the special treat of taking one child out of school each year to make a day trip to Chicago to watch the Cubs in person at Wrigley Field, always missing the last train north because the games went long, and having to improvise to get home in the wee hours of the next morning.
There is not a time I can remember NOT watching the Cubs whenever possible. We have always watched other sports, but I’ve always believed that football and basketball are just fillers for the winter months when baseball isn’t being played. Despite all the years of terrible pitching, hitting, and coaching, the Cubs have been “our team,” and we have supported them staunchly and kept our heads high even during the worst seasons. Being a Cubs fan for me is about sharing physical and emotional space; about sitting down together and drinking iced tea, and eating Mom’s homemade fudge and popcorn we grew at the edge of the seed corn field; about being together and sharing wins and losses and hope.
So I’ve stopped worrying so much about how others view my emotional response to the Cubs’ new National League Championship status. The fact is, I no longer care how others view it, because as of last Saturday, I am a different person. Everything FEELS different, and that’s because my reality is forever changed. I am longer the fan of a team that almost never makes it to the post-season, much less all the way through a National League Championship Series. My fandom is no longer a joke to those around me. The unwavering loyalty to the Cubs that was instilled in me by my dad when I was very young has paid off. That “Lovable Losers” rug I’ve been standing on since I learned to walk has been yanked out from under me, and I’ve found that there’s a solid footing underneath. There’s actually something to stand on, and the view from here is glorious!