The Chicago Cubs are Division Champs! I’m six years old, my father not yet 30. Two kids jumping around the living room. We’re living in our old apartment at Byron and Leavitt in the North Center neighborhood. My grade school and maternal grandparents are a reasonable walking distance from our place, and there’s still six months left before the wheels completely fall off my immediate family’s functionality wagon. I don’t even know it’s coming. I have never seen my daddy so overjoyed, so euphoric and full of hope. I will again during other manic moments – later – but for now the whole North Side of the city has the fever. Cubs fever.
The Cubs led the Padres 2-0 in the National League Championship Series, but go on to lose three straight – and a trip to the World Series. A ground ball got by first baseman Leon Durham during a disastrous Game 5. Durham was one of daddy’s favorite players. How could he do that? This is the first time I ever remember seeing my dad fight tears. It takes him days to recover. I sit next to him helplessly, knowing something tragic has happened to Chicago. Daddy says it’s not the first time, and unlikely to be the last. This seems horribly unfair.
The Cubbies are Division Champs again and I’m the perfect age – 11 – to truly appreciate the wave of excitement that once again sweeps the city. By now I have the 1985 Bears Super Bowl Shuffle under my experienced belt. Let’s do this. Daddy’s out of work again and the house we bought is trashed, but if the Cubs win the World Series (oh my god!) everything will be ok. Dad will be so pumped. We’ll all clean up together and he’ll be in such a good mood. Go Cubs go!
The Cubs lose Game 3 of the NLCS to the San Francisco Giants when reliever Les Lancaster gives up a two-run homer. The Giants take a 2-1 series lead and the Lovable Losers are unable to mount a comeback. Daddy is upset. But it’s not his mood that’s crushed me. One of the post-mortem sports shows plays a video montage against the backdrop of Peter Gabriel’s mournful tune, “Don’t Give Up.” I feel like I’ll never stop crying. The disappointment literally hurts.
I’m a junior in college, sharing an off-campus apartment with Theresa. With interesting classes, a decent part-time job, a recent breakup behind me and a new set of friends, Champaign feels possible for perhaps the first time. And Sammy Sosa’s record-setting home run derby with Mark McGuire has been a lot of fun this season. Just a few years away from the 1994-1995 Major League Baseball strike that hugely disappointed my father. Said he’d never been more ashamed of the sport. I try not to talk to dad as much these days. It always leaves me upset, but I’ll definitely call him if the Cubs pull off an upset.
The Cubs lose the National League Division Series to the Atlanta Braves, 3-0. A few years later we’ll all learn that Sosa was juicing. Another huge black mark for the sport. Eh. The Cubs probably didn’t really belong in the playoffs. I’m sure dad knows that too. There’s always next year.
I’m a married woman now and all season long I’ve forced Mark and my long time best friend Gary to watch, really watch the games. Like almost all of them. I believe. I’ve made them believe. I know every player, follow every nuance, injury and farm report. This is fucking it bitches. Cubbies! I see my dad and talk to him now and again. He never seems to be quite on track, always has his hand out for more than he gives, but we agree on this. Now.
Game 6 of the NLCS. The Cubs are five outs from the World Series. The city is electric. It’s our time. Moises Alou. Bartman. A man’s life ruined and I don’t need a Game 7 to know how this ends. Finished. More tears. I avoid my father. I don’t want to listen to his tirade. I just want this self-inflicted loserdom to be done.
Marriage number two to the dashing, distant Eddie. He’s more of a cricket fan but I manage to get to him. The Cubbies are in the playoffs for the second year in a row! I still don’t understand why Piniella removed Zambrano early in Game 1 of 2007’s NLDS but no matter! This is going to be it. Finally. Eddie works a lot, even on the weekends, and needs quiet time. So I’ve been to a few games on my own. I like what I see. I pretty much avoid Gregg (I don’t call him “dad” anymore) like the plague but I don’t have to talk to him to know how he feels. For me personally though, if the Cubs choke again, I’m out. I’m starting to believe what they say. Wrigley Field – the world’s biggest tourist attraction. Not the home of a serious baseball team. Prove me wrong guys.
The Dodgers sweep the Cubs 3-0 in the NLDS. I cried again last year but this year? Furious. I actually talked Eddie into going to Wrigleyville with me to watch Game 3 from a bar. Eddie rarely likes my entertainment ideas. Fooled again. But I drank so many PBR tall boys and I am pissed in every sense. As Eddie and I walk home, I decide that every orange cone in my path gets it. To my surprise, he even points a few out for me. This whole evening has been surprisingly supportive. But this girl? Done with the Cubs.
I enter the park for the first time in years. The story goes that it’s because my company paid for the tickets. But in reality, Bob has been working me for months.
During the long break I took from Wrigley Field, I also evaluated, ripped up and rebuilt a lot of other destructive patterns in my life. The result, a good man by my side in a Cubs jersey, both of us happy and feeling excited about our future together.
Gregg’s out of my life but I know he’s somewhere rattling off statistics in that encyclopedic way of his. But the fortunes of a baseball team no longer bind us.
As I repeatedly declare my hard-earned skepticism, Bob momentarily checks his mild manners. Tomorrow is the Wild Card Game. “Shut up and enjoy it Waldorf! I’ll be surprised if Jake Arrieta doesn’t throw a perfect game tomorrow. Cubbies!”
Arrieta doesn’t throw a perfect game, but he does turn in a shutout featuring 11 strikeouts and no men walked. This master class even as Pirates fans taunt him throughout the first few innings. They grow pretty quiet once their ace leaves the game, Cubs up 4-0. After Kyle Schwarber’s two-run homer in the third, I start crying. I can’t help myself. These are not tears of despondency. This looks suspiciously like a team that knows what’s it’s doing, once that’s ready to face the Cardinals in the NLDS. Despite my determination to keep my heart safe, I am enjoying this ride.