I wish that things had ended differently this year. I really do. I wish it didn’t have to end with the with the first base dugout emptying and Carl Crawford’s team joyfully embracing in the center of Wrigley Field. No one likes dancing at a funeral, but I won’t begrudge them – not even Puig. They earned it. And I suppose if the journey has to end, it may as well end at home surrounded by those fans who feel like family who you took along for the ride. But I really wish it didn’t have to end this way. Heck, I wish it didn’t have to end at all.
Baseball is magic. You’ll never convince me otherwise. Sabermetrics and “smart baseball” have their place I suppose. But they are like that know-it-all who interrupts an expert story teller with an obnoxious “well, actually.” You may be right, but you’re also insufferable. Baseball loves its numbers – more than most other sports – but it reveres its stories. And magic is that indispensable ingredient that makes a story worth telling and retelling.
But magic, like summer, has an expiration date. And we’ve been blessed by three endless summers in a row. After a drought of 108 years, after billy goats and black cats and Bartman, after “Wait Til Next Year,” “Lovable Losers,” and “Completely Useless by September,” after enduring 20 years of watching the White Sox, the Marlins (twice!), the Vile Bird (twice!), and the Red Sox (thrice!) climb the mountain, after saying goodbye to Harry, Ron, and Ernie – you’d think that finally winning the World Series would render any and all losses afterward tolerable.
But that’s not how life works. Contentment is a fleeting thing – especially among those who suddenly have had that first taste of success. Even so, you would think of all people a Cubs fan would be skilled at losing. But here I am sulking and sullen wondering how Kris Bryant forgot how to hit, how an entire bullpen forgot how to throw a strike, and how a guy named Kike suddenly became the best baseball player in history. Yes, I’m a soon-to-be-40-year-old who is pouting over a game someone else is playing because things didn’t go his way. George Will once said that Cubs fans are 93% scar tissue, and I guess not even a World Series completely heals scar tissue.
But it’s time to stop being ridiculous. 2012 Chad who rolled his eyes through a 101 loss season that featured a trip to the All-Star game for Bryan LaHair(!!) would like to smack 2017 Chad who is pouting that the World Series champs have lost to an obviously superior team in the NLCS. Rather than pouting, it’s time to say “Thanks.”
Thanks for the Summer of Jake. Invincibility is virtually impossible on a baseball field. But for about three months in the summer of 2015 Jake Arrieta came pretty darn close. It reminded me of the summer of 1998 when Kerry Wood Days became de facto holidays on our college campus. I will never forget the Wild Card Game where to fans in Pittsburgh plotting ways to distract and defeat him he said “Do whatever makes you feel better. Just know it won’t matter.” It was the most Jake thing ever. And everyone – even those in Pittsburgh – knew he was right.
murdering soundly defeating the Vile Bird. The Cardinals are a horror movie villain. They are always lurking, and they never die no matter how many times you put a screwdriver between their eyes. Cynical Cubs fans just knew that they would somehow lose to the Cardinals in 2015. So when Kyle Schwarber sent his mammoth home run to the top of the Budweiser scoreboard sealing a Cubs win, it seemed only right to encase the ball in a plastic box for all time. Like a medieval head impaled on a pike it stood as a testimony and a warning: the rivalry as we’ve always known it has been changed forever.
Thanks for the Travis Wood Game. It started as the Brian Matusz game. Six runs on three home runs in the first three innings. The only thing worse was that my son and I were in the stadium to witness it. But in what would become a case study in #baseballismagic the Brian Matusz game became what we call the Travis Wood game – a ridiculous catch against the ivy by the relief pitcher turned left fielder, three runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie. And eventually, in the bottom of the 12th it became the “Oh my goodness, did Jon Lester really just win this game with his bat” Game. Magic.
Thanks for We Never Quit. I was having a really bad day on October 11, 2016. As a person who believes in baseball magic, it was hard to shake the feeling of inevitability going into game 4 in the NLDS against the Giants. The Giants were supposed to win – because it was an even year. They always won on even years. Everyone knows this fact. (To non-baseball people this will no doubt sound absurd.) The Cubs were supposed to blow it – because they were the Cubs. Inevitable. And I was mad. It wasn’t fair. There was no justice! So going into the ninth inning down 5-2 I was not the best version of myself. The Cubs would lose and then go on to get beat by a combination of Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner in game 5. I went downstairs to join my son and watch the inevitable. He swore the Cubs would pull it out and was angry at my pessimism. Poor child. Then KB singled. Then Rizzo walked. Then Zobrist doubled. And the definition of inevitable suddenly shifted. There was no way that the Cubs would be beat this night. Then Contreras singled. And when Baez singled and the even year nonsense was finally put to bed, I remember thinking that maybe…just maybe…
Thanks for the 10th Inning. Recently I took my son and a few of his friends to Kansas City to watch the last game of the regular season for his birthday. We couldn’t get to Wrigley this year, so Kauffman would have to be an acceptable if not at all satisfying substitute. On the way to the game, I asked Logan what he wanted to watch on the DVD player in the van with his friends. Game 7 of the World Series. So as we drove north to Kansas City we got to relive maybe the best game ever – definitely the best game I’ve ever witnessed. There are so many ways that the Cubs could have, maybe should have, lost that game. A year later, I still sometimes wonder if we actually won. I still wonder how in the world I survived the experience of the eighth inning. I can still picture my son doubled over like Nancy Kerrigan screaming “Why?” But then rain and a magical tenth inning and the picture of my son stripping off his shirt and running around my neighborhood at midnight screaming like a lunatic just escaped from the asylum. He was all of us in that moment.
Thanks for Game 5. This year was at times frustrating and tiring. Nothing came easily. Everything was a grind. No game was more representative of 2017 than game 5. Against a team that was more talented, in a series that we had no business winning, somehow the Champ managed to squeeze out just a bit more magic in what was probably the second most agonizing game I’ve ever seen.
Thanks for Bryzzo. I grew up with Payton, MJ, and Ryno. They were my heroes. My son is growing up with Bryzzo and I couldn’t be happier. I can still name every starter for the 1985 Bears. I know in 25 years, my son will still be able to list every player (and probably their stats) of the 2016 Cubs. In the Hollywood script that is the 2016 Cubs how do you come up with a better and more interesting cast than KB, Rizzo, Baez, Rossy, Dex, Jake, Middle-class Maddux, Lester, Willson, Schwarbs, Addi, Zo, Maddon, and Theo? Thank you for winning, but also, thank you for being the type of people that people (outside of St. Louis maybe) really want to see win.
This whole post has been silly and sentimental. But I’m ok with that. Baseball brings that out of me. I’m of the opinion that life is more fun when you care about things. It’s not that something like a baseball team should occupy anything resembling the center of your life. But a baseball team is not a mere triviality either. It’s like seasoning – never the main course, but it might make the main course more enjoyable to eat. Life is more fun when you are a fan. Call me a sentimentalist. Accuse me of laying it on too thick. But life is just more fun with baseball in it – even if it is designed to break your heart – it’s an allegory for our hopes and our fears, our jubilation and our sorrow. Football is fine. It’s a good game for winter – fighting for survival, a gladiatorial game of attrition. But baseball is about our youth, about green grass and ivy, about optimism and somehow beating the odds, about summers in the sun that eventually run into the realities of autumn. Baseball is about poetry and magic. And the Cubs have given me and my son and thousands of other fans memories that will last a lifetime over these past three years. It is only fitting that I say, “Thanks.”
Postscript: This team is still really good and really young. So, see you next year, haters. 😉