".....Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground......"
As the last ground ball bounced to Addison Russell, soon to be shuttled to Javier Baez, then rifled to Anthony Rizzo, I paused, stared at the tv screen, and then walked outside.
Hundreds of miles away from Wrigley Field, it was a beautiful clear, calm night. I looked up to the stars, and I remembered everything.
By second grade, I was rushing home after school to catch the end of Cubs games on WGN. I can still recall my first game at Wrigley, running up the steps to look out on the field. The red hots and frosty malts, glove in hand for the foul ball that never came. The long ride home vowing that we would win next time. The taunting from White Sox fans that led to my first bare knuckle brawls
I came back inside and stared at the tv. The players were celebrating on the field. While I was happy for them, I knew the real celebration was in the stands. Those people.........they were representing me. Every person in every seat had lived through my heartbreaks. I'm certain most felt this day would never arrive. Now that it was here, all I could think about was the lifelong Cub fans who didn't make it this far, and I considered myself one of the lucky ones.
The heartbreak started in the summer of 69.
The Cubs won 11 of their first 12, and led the entire season. They led by 8 games in September. They coughed it up by losing 11 out of 12 games, and my heart was broken for the first time.,not by a girl, but by grown men wearing pinstripes.
Little did I know the carousel was just getting started.
My phone was now going crazy. Lifelong friends were calling and texting from everywhere. Kurt in Texas. Frank in Oklahoma. Darryl in Minnesota. Tim in Florida. My bosses, Dodger and Cardinal fans, sent congratulations.
Meanwhile, the scene at Wrigley played on. The Cubs were going to the World Series. I checked out Stubhub. The cheapest seat at Wrigley would be $3,000. I suppose I could wait until the next time.
If 1969 broke my heart, 1984 nearly sent me to therapy. Up two games to none on the Padres, one win away from the World Series, the Cubs lost three straight. After Steve Garvey's extra inning walk off homer tied the series at two setting up the final game, I knew it was over. It didn't matter that we had the Cy Young winner on the mound for the deciding game. It didn't matter that we had the lead the entire deciding game. I was a Cub fan, and I knew.
And when the ball rolled through Leon Durham's legs to seal out fate, I could no longer bear to watch. I turned the tv off and waited for the inevitable news that followed.
They were interviewing players now. David Ross, who has played and won everywhere, saying this was the greatest experience of his life. Kris Bryant saying he was honored to play in front of these fans. Jon Lester saying he could have gone anywhere, but came to Wrigley hoping to some day, some way, be part of this. And now it was happening.
My phone went dead. It was late at night, and I was alone.
I would raise three children, all of them named after Cub Hall of Famers. But my favorite Cub was Ron Santo. And one day, our paths crossed. Santo was in St. Louis broadcasting a Cubs game at the old Busch. I was walking down the street, and saw him walking toward the ballpark. I approached him to say hello, and planned on politely moving along.
"Walk with me to the park," Santo said. He had a cane, the walk was slow, and I began blabbering. I confessed a lifetime of Cub trauma in about ten minutes. Santo loved it. As we said goodbye, he patted his heart and told me to pat mine.
"It's all in here. Bob," he said. "It will be in there forever."
By the time 2013 rolled around, with Cub Nation having high hopes, I had long been diagnosed with Cubs Disease. I refused to even accept the possibility the Cubs could go to the World Series. Mark Prior? Kerry Wood? Carlos Zambrano? It didn't matter if we had Babe Ruth and the Four Horsemen. I was prepared for the inevitable. And then the Cubs went up three games to one on the Marlins. And I was swept in again. I even won lottery tickets for a world series game in New York, where the Yankees were waiting. That's right, me, the most common man in the world, heading to Broadway. Hotel and dinner reservations were made.
And then there was a lazy fly ball hit down the left field line.......
Oh, there would be a game seven played the next night. And yeah, Kerry Wood would be on the mound. And yes, it would be at Wrigley.
But it wasn't happening. I knew it. 40,000 people at Wrigley knew it. Hell, planet earth knew it. And when the final out came, I promised myself that I would never be hooked in again.
As Saturday turned into Sunday, the party at Wrigleyville had moved into the streets. My three sons are grown now. They all approached this game differently. The oldest was holed up in his basement, lights off, sound down, willing the Cubs to victory. The youngest, like many his age, would follow the game on social media. But my middle son would not be denied. He would head to the streets in Wrigleyville, and be there no matter what the verdict. Somewhere in the middle of the night we got the text: Mom and dad, I have made it home, and I am alive.
I told my boys that they would remember this night for the rest of their lives.
I have celebrated a Bears Super Bowl, three Blackhawk Stanley Cups, and six Bull NBA titles. I even had to endure a horrific moment in 2005 when the White Sox won the World Series. But the big fish was always in the pond, and like I said, after 2003, I had pretty much given up all hope. I'm not exactly sure when the feeling returned, but I know exactly where I was standing.
I had taken my then teenage boys to our yearly trip to Wrigley. Of course, every few innings the boys sent me to the concession stand. It's the 7th inning stretch, and I am walking down the aisle looking up at the press box where Ron Santo is singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame off key. I stand, sing and watch. After the song, the crowd sits, and I keep looking up at Santo. What had it been, ten years since I had met him? And as I am staring up, he looks down and points his finger into the crowd near me. I turn around and look. Who is he pointing at? Everybody else is now sitting with their backs turned. I look back at Santo. He is still pointing towards me.
And then he began patting his heart.
And I patted mine.
A bond that says we will be there, forever, regardless.
And I was back in.
Somewhere in the middle of the night I went to bed, but couldn't sleep. Hendricks dominating. Rizzo with another bomb. Javy making all the plays. Bryant the MVP. Dex setting the table. Chapman closing the door. And then I get a text that Kyle Schwarber might be back for the World Series.
I had to get out of bed and start googling that story. And while I'm up, what's the pitching rotations for the series? And is it cheaper to fly to Cleveland, get a hotel, and buy a ticket there? And if things don't go well in the next week, is there a therapist in my area that takes new patients?
"......When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League......."
Not any more! Fly the W!!!!!