It was October when you fell in love with us. With our demigod pitcher on the mound in Pittsburgh, Jake Arrieta lived up to the talk. After a week of columns and radio segments declaring his second half as the best in baseball history, he gave up four hits, no walks and no runs. Our man-child, Kyle Schwarber, added a 2-run home run, and when the last Pirate was retired, it was 4-0 Cubs. The Cubs were in the playoffs, and you hopped on board the hype-train.
You came from every corner of the country. There you were, climbing aboard at the University of Illinois, as a professor who agreed to move a mid-term so as not to conflict with the night’s Cubs game. You were there at our capitol, as our White Sox fan President declared his loyalties were temporarily moving from the South Side to the North. You were there with me at the doctor this week, as my New Yorker pediatrician admitted, “How can I not root for the Cubs?”
Of course you hopped on. We were a team that partied hard and hit the ball harder. When we beat the Pirates that night, a photo of Arrieta’s son pouring champagne down his father’s throat went viral. Days later, the Cubs hit 6 home runs in one game, a playoff record. Chicks dig the long ball, they say. America, you still do.
I root for the Cubs because my dad raised me on Cubs baseball. My room is Cubbie blue and an Ernie Banks jersey hangs over my bed. Growing up, I would make my mom buy me a new Halloween costume every year – SpongeBob, Spider Man, Nacho Libre – and without fail, at the last minute, I would put on my baseball pants, Kerry Wood jersey and bright blue cap and go as a Cub.
Before every season starts, my dad gives me a speech. “You don’t have to do this,” he explains. “Being a Cubs fan means pain. You might never see us win it all, so don’t expect anything. This is a choice, not an obligation.”
And every year, I say yes because I am an idiot.
Come spring, this team represented the turning point. Years of tanking were going to finally bear fruit. Most of the prospects were up or would be soon enough. There would be lots of growing pains, but that was good. That was progress. But at the end of June, things started to feel different.
We had just lost 5 games, and the team couldn’t find its rhythm. Balls weren’t falling. Pitches were getting away from pitchers. So, when the Cubs arrived at the clubhouse before the series opener against the Mets, Joe Maddon, our manager, was waiting with a magician, who performed for the team. The Cubs won that day, 1-0 after an 11th inning infield single by Starlin Castro. They swept the Mets that series, their skid ending, they say, like magic.
The rest of the season went roughly the same way. We are young, ridiculously so, but you wouldn’t have known it. Schwarber and Kris Bryant mashed home runs into the bleachers like they were simply tying their shoes. Arrieta was unstoppable. Maddon never failed to bring smiles with him everywhere. We had the third best record in baseball when all was said and done, and when we took down the Pirates, we gained you, our country, on our side.
You surely felt like you made the right choice as we took down the Cardinals. They were the natural Goliath to our David, having won 11 World Series since we last won in 1908. After a shaky start, we dominated, and when we clinched the series victory in Game 4 at Wrigley, you would have been hard pressed to find a happier place on Earth. Everybody, no matter what cap they wore during the regular season, understood that something special was happening in Chicago. Everybody understood how fun it was. Some people stopped saying “There’s always next year.”
And then, over the past week, we were left jaws gaping, hands in the air in disbelief. The best pitcher in baseball was shelled. The home runs stopped, like that. A strike to our hitters was a ball to theirs. We were Wile E. Coyote, chasing a team that was four steps ahead of us, all while seeing our plan blow up in our face. I wish that I could give up, but I can’t. I keep chasing that damn roadrunner, and I know I’ll never catch him.
That shock and confusion you all felt last night is the bad part about being a Cubs fan. That is what it feels like to have your ACMEä dynamite blow up in your face. The baseball gods are cruel to us but to get hung up on that is missing the point. Nobody is a Cubs fan because they want to win. That’s not why you hopped on the bandwagon. You hopped on because we were exciting. We were a fun story with fun guys who had a fun run to October. We’re Cubs fans because of Wrigley Field, because of our fathers and because of each other. I love Cubs fans, and when I say that, I use the word “love” with its fullest meaning in mind. I love them for giving the team a standing O after they were eliminated. I love them for camping out in Mesa, Arizona for a month during Spring Training. I love them for smartassing opposing outfielders from the bleachers.
When my dad gives me that speech, I understand there is a good chance we will never win anything meaningful. That’s fine, because as a Cubs fan, I will still know joy.
Before you step off the bandwagon, America, consider riding on for a while. Go sit in the bleachers. Join the best party in sports. It might not feel like it now, but it’s worth it, win or lose.