Sports

Things Are Finally Right For Long-Suffering Cubs Fans


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CHICAGO – Five days ago, and three games before the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series after 108 years, Wrigleyville was keyed up waiting for Game 4 of the series to begin. At 10 a.m, fans were already milling around Wrigley deciding on the best bar to wait in line for or grabbing new World Series-branded shirts from the packed-to-the-gills sporting good stores peppered around the stadium.

There was a feeling in the air like everybody knew that the team was only a few mistakes away from being relegated once more to “wait until next year” and “someday it will happen.” That pressure didn’t mean the beer wouldn’t flow and the bars wouldn’t be louder than ever for twelve-plus hours, but it did mean that underneath all of the fun and the excitement and the chanting there was an unmistakable presence of permanent melancholy.

Now, that sadness is gone. Forever.

With one of the most stressful yet amazing Game 7’s in World Series history — including a rain delay right before extra innings, more home runs than could possibly be anticipated in the final game of the series, and at points some very questionable lineup choices and even more questionable infield play — Cubs fans can finally be happy without any weight on their shoulders. All season, there has been a palpable worry rippling underneath the promise of this talented team. What if this isn’t actually the year? What if we’re going to tell our kids the same stories our parents told us and 108 years turns into 128 or more and there really is no end to the madness?

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But there was an end. It’s over. With a flick of the wrist from Kris Bryant, smiling from the moment he saw the ball coming his way, the final out was recorded on the 2016 baseball season. All was finally right in Wrigleyville.

It was finally right for every fan who waited in lines for hours on end every day of the playoffs just so that they could experience a microcosm of the atmosphere inside the park. For the college kids who drove five hours starting at 6 a.m. just to say they were close to Cubs home base (earlier than any college kid has been known to get up on a Saturday ever). And for the people of all ages who flew in from all over the country for a day or less to say the same, because fervent fandom doesn’t fade with age and neither do insane ideas of weekend fun.

It was finally right for the hundreds of people who left bars early after Game 4 even though it was a Saturday night and the game wasn’t within three innings of being over. Yes it was noticeable and depressing to observe, but who cares now that the curse is over and all anyone will remember is the joy of Game 7 rather than the agony of defeat in Games 1, 3, and 4? That tired, cold, upsetting ride home on the El is a reasonable tradeoff when considering what was in store.

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It was finally right for the 60 and 70-year olds in the bars reminiscing about seasons past, calling relatives too elderly or infirm to be out drinking. Tears running down their faces — more and more frequently as the night wore on — every call was a new memory to add to the “maybe next year” pile of stories. “Say hi to my aunt she’s home in bed!” they’d say. “Tell my dad how much you love the Cubs!” or “This reminds me of my late uncle, I miss him more than ever and he should see this happening.”

For the fans in Star Wars branded Cubs hats that are worn in enough to be from the original trilogy years, and the patrons haggling out the bar door with a sidewalk T-Shirt peddler for fear of being kicked out if they set one foot over the threshold. For the people with Bears tattoos on their thighs bonding with those bearing Packers tattoos on their shoulders and promising that they would meet up during the next showdown, hopefully with a Cubs World Series to remember. It’s alright now, because instead of the conversation centering around that time everyone hung out in a bar and watched the Cubs disappoint again, it would be about that time everyone hung out in a bar and watched the Cubs disappoint before winning the World Series shortly after, and oh wasn’t Eddie Vedder there at one point too?

And it’s finally right for all the fans and supporters on the periphery, those without fandom since birth and four generations of disappointment behind them. For the Cubs employees the Ricketts Family flew in from all over the country just to experience what it’s like to watch their team in the World Series, some who had to fly out at the crack of dawn the next morning to get back to their work in a city hundreds of miles away.

For the people who consider the Cubs their “second team” or “NL team” or root for them because of family but love them just as much as a lifelong fan. The dozens of people sprawled across chairs and along the walls in O’Hare Airport the next morning, regretting the hangover but absolutely nothing else from the night before. Voiceless, exhausted, annoying airport staff with clothes and bags reeking of warm beer, but clutching Cubs hats like their lives depended on it — because sometimes it feels like life itself is exactly what is at stake.

Game 4 might have been a perfect example of everything that could go wrong with Cubs fandom and any thought of the World Series. But even during that nadir, the cross section of Cubs fans filling every nook and cranny of Wrigleyville was real and varied. Now, they can finally remove “long suffering” from their list of descriptive words. Not anymore, Chicago. Just four days later and the same groups of fans got to go nuts all over the country and shed their most persistent identifying feature during baseball season — doubt.

Somewhere in Wrigleyville, after Game 4 was long over and the buses were almost done carting people away from the stadium to planes, trains, or the suburbs, a group of friends walked through the streets frantically attempting to rationalize another rough loss. One half heartedly clutched an empty and dented Michelob Ultra can while another forcefully made the argument that the loss had to happen.

“We want the story,” he said. “Down 3-1, we come back. Isn’t that the only way? The storybook ending. We want it, and we’ll get it. Right? We have to? Right?!”

It’s finally all right, Chicago. You got your story. You got your comeback. You got your Series. Rest easy, Chicago – after you finish exhausting all of your energy celebrating like the world is ending, that is.

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