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It Happened: Personal Notes From A Young Chicago Cubs Fan

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo stepped up to the microphone during the World Series rally in Grant Park and choked up, as he spoke about what it meant to be able to be on a team with the 38-year-old catcher David Ross, who was a mentor to him. Rizzo, Ross, and center fielder Dexter Fowler stood shoulder-to-shoulder singing that silly jingle, the one that goes, “Go Cubs Go! Go Cubs Go! Hey, Chicago, whaddya say? Cubs are gonna win today.” It all really hit home for me as a Cubs fan.

Life is full of things that bring us joy but carry unsavory aspects to them. The Cubs team is owned by Tom Ricketts, a man who donated $1 million to Donald Trump and bears a frightening resemblance to Ted Cruz; so much that one might think Ricketts was his brother. The Cubs also signed Aroldis Chapman, a closer, who served a 30-game suspension this year for domestic abuse. Cubs executives and city officials are responsible for some pretty rapid gentrification in the area of Wrigleyville. With that said, almost all of the Cubs players had fun with each other and never let the pressures of fan-fueled folklore around “curses” defeat them. That made the postseason truly blissful.

I live about seven blocks from Wrigley Field. I went down there multiple times in the past week. The day after they won, I went down to Wrigley Field to write my father’s name on the stadium wall and join thousands of other Cubs fans in paying tribute to family, who died before they could see the Cubs win a World Series.

This is where I wrote, Thomas G, my father's name on the wall. I had to squeeze it in near the brick sidewalk.

This is where I wrote, Thomas G, my father’s name on the wall. I had to squeeze it in near the brick sidewalk.

In the immediate hours after their sweet victory, I took my life into my own hands and went down to the area around Clark and Addison to snap a photo of the stadium sign with “World Series Champions” emblazoned on it.

On Sunday, right before Game 5, down 3-1 in the series, I stood outside the friendly confines and said to myself—and to my father, even though I don’t really believe in this kind of stuff, this was going to be the game where they turned it all around. That they could still come back.

Also, I bought a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times after each game, even the editions with the devastating headlines on Game 3 and Game 4, because it was important to have the full story. I can now put those papers side-by-side and forever see the journey the Chicago Cubs took and relive the heart-wrenching and euphoric moments that took place.

This seismic sports event—ending the longest championship drought in American sports history—gripped me like so many other Americans. It taught me, once again, the importance of slowing down life and reveling in these kind of experiences. All too often we just go, go, go, and lose sight of those little things that can make us feel a bit more content in life. Or we reject slowing down to appreciate something amazing that magnificently disrupts our routine.

Additionally, during an election that has smothered and shaken many of us, the perfect antidote was watching this team play baseball. Players like Rizzo let their guard down and made themselves vulnerable in front of us. They were on a world stage, where they perhaps may have thought they needed to maintain a level of toughness or masculinity. Rizzo, on the other hand, as he now famously told Ross during Game 7, was an “emotional wreck,” and he did not seem to be ashamed of making that confession.

Many of us were “emotional wrecks.” Everyone watching this series felt like “emotional wrecks” at some point.

I’ll never forget how Ross told Rizzo it was only going to get worse in the 9th inning. He was right. The Cleveland Indians tied the game in the 8th, acrobatic second baseman Javier Baez had a mishap with a bunt that could have been costly in the 9th, and fans had to bow their heads and hope Chapman would not make a mistake, even though manager Joe Maddon clearly overworked him the past few games.

Statue outside Wrigley Field of Ernie Banks (Photo by Kevin Gosztola)

Statue outside Wrigley Field of Ernie Banks (Photo by Kevin Gosztola)

The weather went from great to pouring rain. There was a delay. That delay gave the team a kind of gift, a bit of a halftime to find their composure to go out and win in the 10th inning. (It was suggested during the rally that this may have been a gift from legendary shortstop and first baseman, Ernie Banks, who was “Mr. Cub.” Or, legendary third baseman Ron Santo, who later became a WGN radio broadcaster. )

So, Rizzo, the “emotional wreck,” stepped up to the microphone during the rally and gave this very real and human tribute to a mentor, “Grandpa” Ross, who played his last game on November 2.

“Gramps and I sat down a few years ago in an offseason before his last season with Boston. He was a free agent, and we just talked,” Rizzo shared. “We had the same agent. We’re talking, and I say to my agent, man, this is what the Chicago Cubs need. He is exactly what we need to bring everything together. Obviously, a lot of pieces came through with that, but he taught myself personally how to become a real winner. He’s like a brother to me.”

Fighting back tears, Rizzo continued, “He’s taught me a lot in life—on the field, off the field, how to be a better person. I’m forever grateful for him. He’s going out a champion forever. For the rest of his life, he can say the last game that he played he’s a world champion.

What also made these past days special was the fact that it brought three-to-four generations together.

Sons and daughters know their parents longed for this, and many of them have parents, who longed to see what happened. If those parents are still alive, their parents were ecstatic to have lived to see a Cubs World Series. They thought of their parents, who did not live to see this moment.

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Kevin Gosztola

Families shared stories about their first games, games they remembered, games they want to forget, and games they saw with their fathers or mothers. They shared stories of players they remembered or recalled when they first put on a Cubs baseball hat or wore a jersey with their favorite player’s name on the back.

I traveled home to watch the first two World Series games in Cleveland with my mother. I dug out a photo of me when I was a toddler wearing my Cubs shirt. I also sifted through old baseball cards I have of Cubs players.

I am 28 years-old. I waited 13 years for this because 2003 was the first postseason, where I really got into watching the Cubs play and experienced what it meant to fail to end the drought when they lost to the Florida Marlins in the National League Championship Series. That is a rather short time span when compared to legions of fans.

Maddon said, “It’s a players’ game.” Indeed, but for the Cubs, it’s unique. Cubs baseball was essentially a fans’ game, much more so than other ball clubs.

The last two years of decisions by business executives were made for the fans. The scouts, who went out and found these all-star players, did it for the fans. They recognized there were so many aging Chicago Cubs fans, who kept asking them on the street if they were going to live to see the Cubs win a World Series. Theo Epstein, one of the executives who enabled this team, did not want to have to tell any more fans to take their vitamins when asked if this would be The Year.

Even with 103 wins in the regular season and the status of number one team in baseball, all too many fans were aware of the record for teams, who came in to the postseason on top and did not make it to the World Series. We also took note of the statistics for comebacks in the World Series when teams were down 3-1. So few ever win three games in a row let alone three games in a row, including two on the road.

That put tremendous pressure on the Cubs players. They clearly felt the fan pressure, and we thank them for putting up with millions of “emotional wrecks.”

As fans process and revel in the fact that it happened (as Maddon would say, how we did not suck), I think about what this means for next year. For the first time, it is possible to watch the Cubs without bringing a legacy of doubt and negativity to games. There are no more goats. There is no more Steve Bartman. There are no more distractions that are not typically part of baseball. Everyone’s favorite punchlines don’t really work anymore. They all are part of the past, and the immediate future is baseball with a team that will undoubtedly find ways to dazzle us again as they attempt to repeat as champions in 2017.

***

For a coda, Chicago Cubs fan Caitlin Swieca pledged a day after Chapman signed with the team in July to donate $10 to a Chicago domestic violence organization every time he got a save. Her campaign managed to raise over $31,000, especially when it took off after she shared it on Twitter.

Swieca told ESPN she thought during Game 7, “We all compromised what we believed in to root for this guy, and he’s gonna blow it.” Then, it shifted to a celebration. Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery got his first career save ever, and it was in Game 7 of the World Series. She was happy Chapman did not get the glory and said it couldn’t have been scripted better.

Oh, and at the parade, some of us fans looked up to see a plane with a banner that read, “Chinese Americans For Trump Go Cubs.” I stood next to a Filipino American family, who had some Chinese heritage in their ancestry. She thought it must be a joke. Then, someone told her it was real. They read something about this group of Chinese Americans. Instantly, she said she was insulted.

We’re not all Trump fans because Ricketts owns our team. Only a small segment are, and they are the same kind of white men and women disconnected from reality, who you will find in the fandom of just about every American sports team. They would probably support Trump whether Ricketts was a Cubs executive or not.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel were at the rally, but they are both hot garbage. Neither took the stage to speak, and I view that as some kind of small political victory that sweetens the victory over a baseball team with a racist/colonialist sports mascot, which should be replaced immediately. In fact, let’s conjure the Curse of the Racist Mascot and say the Cubs passed it on to them and that’ll prolong their championship drought until they replace Chief Wahoo. Maybe then the Indians will get rid of him.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."