It’s been 13 years since we last saw a Game 6 at Wrigley Field. We all remember what happened then, and since the sports media is sure to make a big deal about it leading up to Saturday night’s game, I’ll spare everyone by not discussing it anymore here.
What I would rather talk about is how much Saturday’s game means to me and, I’m sure, Cubs fans everywhere. Even though the 2003 season ended in such devastating fashion, I was optimistic about the future of the team. They had lots of young talent, a well-respected manager in Dusty Baker, and a front office that proved it was willing to go all-in to get this team over the top. I never imagined it would take 13 years for the Cubs to even get back to that spot – one win away from the World Series – much less to actually win that final game to claim the pennant.
A lot has changed for me over the past 13 years, as I imagined it has for you too. I was 18 years old during the 2003 season, the year in which I graduated high school and started college. I had no idea what my future would hold, but I had big dreams and still saw the world largely through rose-colored glasses. I had the same attitude about the Cubs back then too. It was my tenth year following the team, and though I had seen some bad teams, I never really experienced heartbreak other than the mild disappointment of losing to a superior Braves team in the playoffs in 1998.
That 2003 season gave my generation of Cubs fans a lesson in what being a follower of this team really means. That season changed me; ever since then, I’ve adopted a more tragic view of being a fan. Since 2003, I’ve seen the late-season collapse of 2004, the stunningly quick playoff exits of 2007 and 2008, the disappointment of getting swept by the Mets after an emotional Division Series win over the Cardinals in 2015, and all the bad teams that came in between. Sure, it stinks that I’ve had to go more than two decades cheering for this team without seeing them get to the World Series, but I’ve learned a lot about patience, and I think all those experiences have helped me to appreciate this amazing 2016 season all the more.
My views on life in general have evolved in a similar way since then. Since 2003, I’ve gone to college and graduated, got my first professional job, moved to a different city, seen several family members pass away, and get married. No longer am I the starry-eyed kid I was back then, who thought that any and everything is possible, but I’m satisfied that I’ve accomplished a lot and content with the fact that the world doesn’t work they way I was hoping it would in my younger years.
Now, here I am, at 31 years old, back in this situation for the first time since 2003: on the verge of celebrating a pennant for the Cubs. And while they’re up three games to two and have homefield advantage (just like in 2003), I understand there’s still a chance they will lose the next two games and will fall short of their goal. Obviously, I don’t want that to happen, but if it does, my life will go on. Each of my first 22 seasons as a fan ended in disappointment, so I know how to handle it. On the other hand, if they pull out one more win to get to the World Series, I think all my experiences from these extra 13 years will help me to understand what this means and to enjoy it so much more than I would have back then.
As we all wait nervously for the conclusion of this series with the Dodgers, I’m taking a little time to reflect on the past 13 years and how I’ve grown as both a baseball fan and as a person. Not everyone is a baseball fan, and not everyone understands what following a team means to us diehards. Whether my life is going well or I’m really struggling, baseball and the Cubs have always been there. It’s always allowed me to take my mind off the more serious things in life when it’s needed, to have something to talk about with my family, and to have hope that one day I’ll get to celebrate a World Series victory (which could now be just days away).
That’s what this game means to me. I’m sure it has plenty of meaning to many of you as well. We’re all in this together, fellow Cubs fans. Now let’s come together and cheer our team on to the pennant!
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.