2016′s Emotional Ride Far from Over

The 2016 playoff run was certainly a bi-polar emotional experience, wasn’t it? For every Miguel Montero NLCS grand slam, we endured the cold bats of Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell. In exchange for a historic Game 5 World Series victory at Wrigley Field, we suffered the indignity of losing the two previous contests at the Friendly Confines, slipping to a 3-1 deficit behind the Cleveland Indians.

I’ve never shed more tears over a sports team and situation than the just-concluded World Series, and the Cubbies ultimate triumph. Assuredly there have been years of weeping over bitter baseball disappointments. I’m 38 so basically 1984, 1989, 2003, 2008 and 2009 (never could believe 1998’s Wild Card race was happening – turns out it really wasn’t).

The blubbering in which I engaged throughout the 8th and 9th innings of Game 7, after a tired Aroldis Chapman blew a 3-run lead to tie the score 6-6, was of a piece with past heartbreak. The familiar panic and pessimism returned, a crushing sense of imminent loss. I wasn’t sure I could continue watching, folded in an odd lotus position on my couch, like a flipped turtle, arms wrapped around the head as tears slipped from under tightened forearms. My partner Bob, ever the Cubs optimist, all historical knockdowns aside, tried to rally me in vain. And then rain delay. Drag out the inevitable, why don’t you Mother Nature? Five hours of slow-motion dream crushing after we’d come so close.

Yet as a lifelong resident of Wrigleyville Nation, there could be no metaphorical walking away. Every strike zone call analyzed, every stolen base cheered (even the newly rehabbed and returned Schwarbs got in the action), all pitching decisions fretted. The 2016 World Series received the highest ratings since 2001, well before the Internet migrated Americans away from the traditional television experience. This was generational, national, deeply committed and invested suspense of the most torturous and exhilarating variety. I knew that no matter the spot occupied on the emotional spectrum, I was never alone. Bob, Chicago and the far-reaching tentacles of Wrigleyville Nation kept me rooted.

During the 10th inning of Game 7, the tears continued flowing but they became those of disbelief and possibility. That 17-minute rain delay no longer a trial, but suddenly and apparently the emotional reset button the team and its fans needed. And when a smiling Kris Bryant threw that final out to Anthony Rizzo, before falling to the ground, the weeping of Cubs Nation, and this fan, took a different form. The best kind of shocking blow had been delivered. 108 years, goats, black cats, controversial foul balls, errors in the field, bad trades, Tribune Company mismanagement. None of it mattered anymore. We could drop the heavy load and pick up the lighter, more joyous “burden” of winners. All together.

Though there are so many more who could not make the journey, and legions who sacrificed personal inclination to adult responsibility, five million pilgrims converged upon downtown Chicago to celebrate a miracle on Friday morning. The last great sports epic had written itself a happy ending and we were all invited. The city, the team, and millions of exuberant sojourners had about 36 hours to execute the seventh largest gathering in human history. But we did it. Because they did it.

And there was so much crying. From elderly fans who spent decades wishing for “just one” before they left this Earth, stunned and grateful that the wish had finally been granted. Tears from adults wistfully remembering parents, grandparents and other lost Cub die-hards with whom they shared this triumph. Some of us were just exhausted from weeks spent running back and forth across the emotional gamut. Relief, joy, incredulity – the release was fast, powerful and sustained.

The parade is over. The empty bottles and cans littering the streets of Wrigleyville have been collected. Yet as I type this blog entry, my eyes still sting with unshed tears. Because the official party may be over, but something important has changed that warrants a lump in the throat. We are the Lovable Losers no more. The World Series watch clock has been reset from 108 years to zero. There is every reason to believe that this young team, backed by the strategic leadership of Theo Epstein, just announced the arrival of a dynasty.

What a season. What an ending. What a terrible and gorgeous ride.