When I was a kid back in the 1970s, Cubs broadcasts on WGN began with a recording that went “Hey! Hey! Holy Mackerel! No Doubt about it! The Cubs are on their way!” And there can be no doubt about it that 2015 is going to be a year like Cubs fans have never known before.
Let’s start with the bleachers. They were like the Ellis Island of Wrigley Field for me, when I first started attending Cubs games as a college student in the late 1980s. Bleacher tickets cost $4 back in the day, and I could schedule my classes so that afternoons in the springtime were wide open.
As long as I had a couple of dollars for the CTA, and a few dollars more for a bleacher ticket, I was just a short train ride away from Wrigley Field, which was like heaven on earth for me. As far as I was concerned, the ballpark was located at the corner of Sheffield and Waveland, instead of at Clark and Addison.
I went to games at Wrigley throughout the late 80s, and for much of the 90s as well, and the bleachers were always the place to be. Even as the prices went up, and the scene got more crowded with each passing year, there was no other place I wanted to be.
Over time, I slowly began to see the games from other parts of the park, as well. In fact, I never sat in the bleachers after the expansion was finished in 2006. A good chunk of my youth—not childhood, but those days before my own children were born—was spent out in the bleachers, and a part of me remains out there, no matter what it will look like in the future.
But the old bleachers were reduced to rubble last fall. The new incarnation of the bleachers will probably be very nice–once it’s finally ready–but it won’t be the same place where Andre Dawson once patrolled right field, and night games were still a novelty. Change always happens in life, and the bleachers at Wrigley proved to be no exception.
On top of this drastic change to the ballpark, we have also lost Ernie Banks, who was the very face of the Cubs franchise for as long as I can remember. I never saw him play, but I knew all about the hall of fame career of the legendary Mr. Cub.
But the legend was just as mortal as the rest of us, and his passing in January of 2015 is one more sign that this upcoming season will be unchartered waters for all of us. His statue will still be there, greeting us all as we make our way into the ballpark. But the man it represents will—as Steve Goodman once put it–be watching the Angels play from now on.
So now the bleachers are gone, and Ernie Banks is too. So long as these changes are being forced on us this year, why not go all the way and drop the final pillar of being a Cubs fan? You know what I’m talking about: the Lovable Losers mindset that lives—whether we want it to or not—inside of all of us.
It didn’t begin in 1969 with the black cat, or in 1984 with the ground ball through Durham’s legs, or in 1989 when Will Clark read Greg Maddux’s lips and smashed a grand slam on the very next pitch.
It didn’t begin when Mark Prior melted down and Alex Gonzalez booted a double play ball five outs from the Series in 2003, or when Ryan Dempster served up the gopherball to James Loney back in 2008. But it was reinforced in those moments.
The mindset was cultivated before I was born, before I ever knew what baseball was. The 1977 Cubs—the first team I actually followed on a daily basis—were the first indication that following this team would be a challenge. The terrible teams from the early 1980s, and the 1990s, and even into the 2000s, have proven that winning is only an illusion, a fluke, a mirage. When the Cubs were winning, they were really just setting us all up for a harder loss down the road. So the best thing was not to expect winning. Just drink your beer and enjoy the pretty ballpark, instead. Stand for the stretch and sing along with Harry Caray, but don’t dare to think of the Cubs as winners.
I’m ready to put that mindset to rest, along with Ernie Banks and the old bleachers. These traumatic times will be redeemed if they usher in a new era of—I’m just gonna come right out and say it—winning. And not just division titles or a wild card berth here and there, but the whole damn thing. I’m talking about the World Series. Nothing less than that will do, for this old fan who wants to finally see a winner before the Angels—or whatever team I’m going to end up with—comes looking for me.
“World Series or bust” does not feel weird to me. It actually feels like something that is long overdue. So let’s drop the old mental block and aim high this year. The sky’s the limit, at long last. Let’s go.