Like anyone born and raised in Chicago, I went to my fair share of Cubs games as a kid, but one game in my memory stands out as emblematic of life with a chronically losing baseball team.
I was twelve years old and didn’t have school that day. My friend, who I should call a “companion” because anyone who alternately is neutral and then a conniving bully at your presence can’t be called a “friend,” got dropped off at Wrigley Field. I had 20 dollars for the afternoon. It rained in a quiet mist under dreary clouds, and was cold. Even though it was April, I wore my winter coat with the fake fur around the hood. We bought bleachers seats and sat in center field whose wet benches were dotted with people. I bought barely warm French fries that were more greasy than salty and sat on a flipped over cardboard drink holder to stay dry. We waited for something exciting to happen. Outside of Bill Buckner hitting a home run, nothing did. After two freezing hours of watching a mediocre Cubs team lose to a slightly less mediocre team, which one I don’t remember, we left. I had a Cubs photo lineup tucked into my soaked jacket and thought that the best prize of the day. Steve Dillard was on there and I thought he was pretty cute.
Just to cheer you up, let me say this wasn’t the only Cubs game I ever attended. I did go to games when the weather was warm and the grass was green and I had decent seats with a boyfriend I laughed with. I’ve sat along the right base line and left, in right and center fields. In the upper deck and at the back of the main floor mezzanine. I’ve seen the barbecues on the building roofs of Sheffield Avenue with women in tube tops and men in Hawaiian shorts, everyone swaying as the live organist played Take Me Out to the Ball Game. And I’ve certainly heard, both live and on TV, Harry Caray’s slurring drunk voice lead everyone in singing it. I’ve had the Chicago Cubs experience.
But what’s most common throughout all of these games is that the Cubs most often didn’t win. Sometimes they did. It’s always awe-inspiring to see a home run fly toward that manual scoreboard or a player hit a line drive over the short stop’s head when the bases are loaded. Still, even if Chicago took home a win that day, the reality we all as Chicagoans knew, was that though they may have won that day, they probably wouldn’t win the next. We went about our lives with the “Lovable Losers” both frustrating us and keeping us hopeful that maybe, some day, we too could be a city with a team that played well and won games. But it never happened — for decades and decades.
Now, it’s all changed. I mean ALL. It didn’t happen overnight. It has taken decades, but the Cubs have inched along into modern baseball times, which for them, is a time of winning and not losing.
It started with lights in Wrigley Field and the existence of night games. Everyone freaked out about that for months before and after, residents upset with the implications of bright fluorescents beaming through their windows at night. But it happened and people got over it. The informal parties on the rooftop buildings turned corporate with full-on bleachers built and tickets sold. A video board was installed, which was acceptable as long as we kept the ole timey green manual scoreboard in place, which the owners of course did, lest their be a riot between the baseball traditionalists and forward thinkers. But the biggest change of all is that the Cubs were bought by owners who actually wanted a winning team.
I don’t need to go into Theo Epstein and the visionary he is, turning around the Boston Red Sox and leading them to the World Series before coming to Chicago to turn around the Cubs. Now, we have a young, hot team full of talent and perseverance with a Pete-Carroll-type of sunshine and rainbows, happy-talk manager. Whatever. It works. The Cubs have won 103 regular season games this year and are playing in the World Series for the first time since 1945. Chicago baseball fans are having a collective orgasm because of it.
Beyond the joy of this change, because let’s face it, even if the Cubs lose the World Series, they’ve already established themselves as a strong team for a few seasons to come, is the reality that the legend of Chicago baseball is changing. We are no longer those dolts with the beautiful, ivy-covered park that can’t get it together. We are no longer insignificant come October. We are no longer to be ignored. We are here and we are winners.
I can only interpret it as an eerie sign. What great catastrophe will occur because of this change? Life in Chicago was stable before. Now it’s not. Now any F-ing thing could happen. The Sears, now Willis, tower, could fall down. Mayor Daley’s grave could glow. The flat farmlands of Illinois could rise into hills. Most of all, the people who’ve waited all of their lives to see this, could now die in peace. And seeing how I have those relatives, that’s what worries me.
During these next few nights, I watch these games with both anticipation and immense satisfaction. Because even if the Cubs lose the World Series, they will still have made it. They will have still broken the curse of the goat, however nonsensical that may be. It won’t be a joke to say, “Maybe next year,” because it very well could be. They will have already turned the corner. Like a change of seasons. The leaves are falling now and I have questions. How will the universe make sense of this “winning” era and how will Cubs fans ever live our new, strange lives in it?