Before 2003, my dad would tell me about how the San Diego Padres are a source of frustration for Cubs fans. After the Padres came back from a two games to none deficit to beat the Cubs in the 1984 NLCS, he explained how even after many years it was still tough to watch the Cubs have to play the Padres each year.
I wasn’t even alive in 1984; it would be one more year before I was born. Thus, this whole hating the Padres thing didn’t really make much sense to me. But when I witnessed the heartbreak of 2003, at 18 years old, it made total sense. The memories of the Cubs blowing a three games to one lead to the Marlins in the NLCS that year, including blowing a three-run lead in the eighth inning of Game 6, still haunt me to this day. There have been so many days over the past 13 years when I flashed back to watching those devastating Games 6 and 7 on TV. That playoff run of 2003 was one of the most memorable times of my life; if only it had ended differently.
It’s not just that the Marlins came back when the Cubs were so close to winning their first pennant in 58 years. It has nothing to do with Steve Bartman; though most folks seem to have forgiven him, he unfortunately remains the focal point of what happened. I’m not even necessarily upset about the fact that shortstop Alex Gonzalez made a critical error during that fateful eighth inning of Game 6. The Marlins won fair and square; the team that deserved to win did.
What bothered me above all else was that this team – a franchise that had only been around for ten years, that played in a stadium meant for football, that had already won one World Series by basically buying a championship-caliber team then dismantling it the next year, that has a small fraction of the following that the Cubs have and to this day struggle to build a following - could deny so many long-suffering Cubs fans a championship when it meant more to them than any Marlins fan could possibly imagine.
And then there was Marlins pitcher Josh Beckett, who shut the Cubs down in Game 5 before doing it again in relief in Game 7. After he pitched another gem against the Yankees in the World Series-clinching Game 6, he was being interviewed on TV saying he was glad this was over so he could go hunting. I couldn’t believe it. Did Beckett realize what he just did? Did he even care? It was as if the Marlins won the World Series by accident.
As every year has gone by, my anger towards the Marlins goes away a little more. It became a little easier a few years ago when they changed from the “Florida” to the “Miami” Marlins, moved into a new baseball-only stadium, and redesigned their uniforms. But as I’ve been watching the Cubs play at Marlins Park the past couple of days on TV, I’ve seen a couple fans wearing the old bright teal caps from the team’s expansion days of the early 1990s. It’s a little reminder that, despite the passage of time and all that’s changed since then, this is that same team that destroyed my dream of seeing the Cubs go to the World Series more than a decade ago.
When the Cubs held on to beat the Marlins in a close game on Friday night, I took a little extra pride in that win, more so than most of the other 48 wins this team has earned during this incredible run so far this year. I understand there are some younger fans out there that don’t quite understand the animosity that I and others have towards the Marlins, and that’s ok. There may come a day when the Cubs suffer another devastating postseason defeat to a different team and you start to understand. I’m certainly not hoping that happens, but the reality is that it probably will someday.
Will I ever overcome my anger towards the Marlins? I don’t know. Would winning a World Series make it better? Maybe. But it’s moments like those from 2003 that remind us that though we all enjoy watching baseball and seeing the Cubs win, sometimes we’ll experience heartbreak too. If you can live with that, as a fan you’ll be ok.
Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.
Image source: sjg08 via Wikimedia Commons