We crammed into the ‘L’, the Red Line, not like sardines but rather like bees at a beehive. We buzzed. Legs twitched with eeress. Heads shook with disbelief. With each stop—Clark and Division, Fullerton—the car buzzed even more, and then, when the train reached the Belmont station, the buzzing stopped for a moment. Everyone gazed out the window at the swells migrating down Clark St. towards Wrigley Field. The train started moving, and I couldn’t help myself. I started laughing.
“I can’t believe it,” Dad said. He was still staring outside, not talking to anyone in particular, just needing to get the words out.
A stop later, there we were at the Addison station. Nike had installed a big sign on the side of a building facing the platform. “Make someday today,” it said. We pushed our way off the train, running down the stairs and out into the street.
We just stood there on Sheffield Ave. for a minute, staring at the walls of the right field bleachers, at the thousands upon thousands of people with looks in their eye like you’ve never seen before—some concoction of nerves, excitement and total bliss.
Eventually, we worked our way down Sheffield to center field. I looked at the back of the ancient scoreboard, its lights starting to buzz too. Dad asked someone to take a photo of the two of us in front of it. We have another picture just like it from a trip in 2003. The only difference is that, in this one, Dad isn’t holding me anymore.
Dad led me into Murphy’s Bleacher Bar, right up to the windows outside the front bar. “This is where I watched in 1984,” he said. “Right through these windows on a little TV.” And next we snaked our way through the inside, seeing the memorabilia on the wall and all the other fans counting the seconds until the first pitch. We went to the far room and then back out to the window. “Man, this is right where I was,” Dad said.
I glanced at my phone. “Shouldn’t we be getting into our seats?”
“Let’s just walk through one more time,” Dad responded, smiling. And we did.
We left the bar, back out onto the even more full streets, squeezing through the crowd to the front of the ballpark. What’s a trip to Wrigley without a look at the marquee? Everyone was taking pictures, wanting to capture, to share this moment. People stared at that old red sign, just kept looking and looking and looking. INDIANS VS. CUBS, WORLD SERIES GAME 3, 7:00 PM We walked in under it, into that stuffy old concourse, and up the stairs to field level.
There’s something off about a baseball diamond before a game. Maybe it’s that it feels like it’s waiting. Waiting for its perfect lines to be scuffed, its perfect white bases to be dirtied, its perfect emerald grass to be ruffled. It just sits there most of the time, waiting to be ruined. And somehow, when its ruined, when it has all those scuffs and scrapes, it’s even more perfect because of that.
Everyone pauses at the stop of those steps, when that first look sinks in. Dad stopped right next to me, the halogen light reflecting off his glasses. He started to smile, and then he reared back and shouted into the sky.
“I’M AT WRIGLEY FIELD FOR THE FUCKING WORLD SERIES!” And then again, “I’M AT WRIGLEY FIELD FOR THE FUCKING WORLD SEIRES!” And then, “THE WORLD SERIES! AT WRIGLEY FIELD!”
He started shaking his head, and we walked to our seats.
• • •
Dad first took me to Wrigley in ‘99 when I was still a newborn, a couple of months old. He took me into the dugout, walked with me on the field. Friends gave him Cubs books and clothes as gifts when I was born. He likes to tell me that in the delivery room, he was watching highlights from Wrigley; Sammy Sosa hit two home runs, his 64th and 65th of the year.
The first trip to that ballpark that I remember is 2003. The Cubs were playing the Yankees. I don’t remember much, only that first baseman Hee Sop Choi ran into Kerry Wood, and they had to drive an ambulance onto the diamond, through center field, to take Choi to the hospital. I still have a copy of the Chicago Tribune’s sports section from the next day, June 8, 2003.
I remember a few months later, standing in our living room during Game 6 of the NLCS. I remember Dad trying to explain the significance to me again, repeating the stories of the black cats and billy goats and Steve Garvey. And I remember in the top of the 8th, when some guy in a turtle neck reached out and knocked the ball away from Moises Alou. Dad screamed, and I have a clear image of him slunking into the couch when the tying run scored.
In third grade, I had to give a speech in front of my class, and I was terribly afraid. The first time I tried to give a speech, I burst out crying when I saw all those eyes on me. At home, the night before, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, about all those eyeballs. I couldn’t sleep. Dad came into my room. “Are you nervous?” he said. “Try this: go through the Cubs lineup position by position. Do it. Try it, now. Who’s the catcher?”
“Michael Barrett,” I said.
“Now who’s the first baseman?”
I’ll still do that whenever I get nervous. Sometimes, when I’m taking notes at school, I’ll often find some empty spot on the page, make a list 1-9, and start filling in a lineup, just to pass the time. Other times, I’ll pretend to take notes on my computer, just so I can watch the day game. One time, in 7th grade, I was in Science class during Opening Day, and my class was doing an experiment where we blew up soda cans. The teacher wouldn’t let me get my computer out. “Why do you need it,” she asked. So I asked to go to the bathroom, and I walked into a stall, sat on the toilet, and watched the first inning of the season on my phone. The Cubs lost 101 games that year. Fitting.
When I told Dad about how I snuck out to watch the opening inning, he laughed and said, “You know, when I was in high school, I scheduled my classes around Cubs games. I took all morning classes, and then I’d hop on the train and go sit in the bleachers.”
One time, Harry Caray was broadcasting a game from the bleachers. Dad sat behind him. When he got home, my grandma was waiting. “I heard you on the radio today,” she said. “Watch your language.”
• • •
It hit me during the national anthem of Game 3, that this was actually happening, that the Cubs were actually playing in the World Series. A handful of times a year, I’ll be doing something brainless like walking the dog or taking a shower, and my mind will start to go down the rabbit hole. I’ll imagine the cold Chicago winter. The wind is blowing out, and I’m at Wrigley, and Dad’s right there beside me, and we’re on our feet cheering when they do it. I cry every time I imagine it.
But I didn’t cry hearing the anthem, realizing that it was all actually happening. I just couldn’t stop smiling. I smiled through most of the game, through every inning the Cubs couldn’t score in, and all the way during the ride back to our family friend’s place where we were staying for the weekend. I was taking off school to see this. Dad was taking off work. (When Mom asked him if it was OK that he’d be out of the office for a few days, Dad said, “Probably not.”) “We’ll get them tomorrow,” we both said after the 1-0 loss. “I just can’t believe that we were there.”
And a day later, we did it all again, but John Lackey started to fall apart on the mound. Kris Bryant suddenly couldn’t make a throw from third to first. The Cubs fell behind, and they couldn’t hit. I couldn’t keep my leg still. It just kept bobbing up and down, waiting to put its energy towards jumping up and down in celebration. When Dad and I got back home that night, we talked about how unlikely it would be for the Cubs to come back, down 3-1. “There’s no margin for error,” I said. “That bullpen is just too good.”
Then, silence—internally rationalizing and figuring out the odds. We had figured that there might have been a chance—a slim chance, albeit—that we would see the Cubs win it in 5 (At least that’s how we sold the trip to Mom.). Now we might be a day away from seeing the Indians celebrate a championship.
“I’m not saying it’s gonna happen,” Dad said. “But we’re actually in a pretty good spot believe it or not. We have the edge in every pitching matchup the rest of the way.
“I’m not sure I’d be able to take a Game 7,” I said.
• • •
Temperatures dropped for Game 5, hovering around the lower 40s. The wind was blowing in, and we were sitting in left field, bundled up. I had four layers on; Dad had 3 and a beanie. We’d tried wearing jerseys to the other games, but those didn’t work, so we had to leave them hanging in the closet. It was a tight game, tense, and I couldn’t stop eating to offset the nerves. Before the sixth inning, I had a bag of peanuts, some caramel corn, a brat, some chicken wings, sliders, and bottle after bottle of water. When Kris Bryant hit a home run in the fourth to wake up the Cubs offense, we jumped around, high fiving folks in our section, and when the ‘W’ flag flew five innings later, we all sung “Go Cubs Go” and then danced like idiots to “Sweet Home Chicago”. Nobody left. Dad hugged the stranger sitting behind him.
After the final out, we stayed, looking out over the field, shouting “2 MORE, BABY!!” over and over again. We could hardly bring ourselves to leave, and when we did, there was hardly anywhere to move at the corner of Clark and Addison. A woman stood on a man’s shoulders, screaming. Dozens of ‘W’ flags waved. Police officers gave people high fives. I probably heard the song a hundred times that night:
Go Cubs Go! Go Cubs Go! Hey Chicago, whaddaya say? The Cubs are gonna win today.
We hung around a little while longer, then walked a few blocks away from the mayhem, and got into a taxi. When the driver dropped us off, it was 12:45, two hours after the game ended. “If I hurry back now, I should be able to get another ride from Wrigleyville. Maybe even two.”
• • •
I was coming home late from school, and I missed the start of Game 6. I was listening on the radio, stuck in rush-hour traffic. The AC was on full blast; I hadn’t changed since Sunday. It was 70 degrees in Los Angeles, but I was still wearing those lucky four layers. My underwear had started to stink. It’s not that I’m superstitious. I just don’t want to find out that there’s a reason that I should be.
When I was getting off at my exit, Pat Hughes, who’s announced Cubs games my whole life, started to talk fast. And when he talks fast, that means that a ball is carrying deep, his words trying to catch up with a screaming line drive. “Grand slam Addison Russell!” I honked my horn. I honked it again, longer this time. Then honk! honk! hoooooonk!!!
My phone rang. It was Dad.
“Dude!” he said.
“Dude!!” I said.
Then a pause.
“I’m 15 minutes away.” I told him.
“Back to the game,” and he hung up.
I parked and ran in the door. Our family friend Leonard, who’s like an uncle to me, was watching too. He brought his mother’s hamsa, a Jewish charm meant to ward off evil forces. It sat on the couch for most of the game. At one point Leonard picked it up. The Indians scored. “I’m just gonna let this sit on the couch,” Leonard said.
“Don’t move it,” Dad said.
We screamed through the TV at Joe Maddon when he put Aroldis Chapman in the game. We screamed louder when we won. High fives all around. The dog started barking, figuring we had lost our minds. And then, nerves. “Game 7, man…” I said. Dad told Leonard he had to come back the next day. We had to keep everything the same.
I didn’t sleep at all that night. Going through the lineup only made things worse.
• • •
In the middle of the school day on Wednesday, I snuck off to the school’s chapel. I’ve never heard of anybody ever going in there, except for the infamous couple that was caught doing the deed right on the altar. I’ve been stealing away a few moments in there since the start of the playoffs. I prayed at the start of the NLDS, before the NLCS, before Game 4 against the Dodgers when the Cubs were down 2-1 and nobody could get a hit. The Sunday after we won the pennant, I went to church for the first time since Easter. The preacher asked for prayer requests, and I wrote on a card, “I pray that the Cubs get 4 MORE WINS!!”
I skipped a line. “And thanksgiving for this magical season.”
• • •
My government teacher stopped cold in the middle of his lecture, midsentence. He looked at me, twitching my leg, picking my fingernails, scratching my head.
“Are you OK,” he asked?
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I’ve never been this nervous in my life.”
“Do you have a college application due or something?”
“What? No. Game 7 is tonight.”
When class ended, there was a text waiting from Dad. “Can’t focus,” it said.
“Can’t sit still,” I typed back.
• • •
We wore the same clothes, sat in the same seats, put Leonard’s mom’s hamsa on the same spot of the couch. We ate the same foods, drank the same drinks at the same time. And right away, Dexter Fowler hit a home run. I started to believe.
Dad was supposed to be in Florida for work, but he’d changed his flight to a red eye so we could watch together. “Let’s hope it doesn’t go into extras,” I told him.
My heart was pounding throughout those first innings not from nerves but from pure adrenaline. I couldn’t stop eating: pretzels, chips, salsa. Whenever things went Cleveland’s way, Dad walked out of the room for a little bit. He couldn’t take it.
A few more home runs brought the Cubs lead to 5-1, then 6-3. Then the game dragged on through the sixth and the seventh. We started counting down the outs. Dad and I looked at each other, stared into one another’s eyes, then we shook our heads. We didn’t say anything but we both knew: “Don’t go there. Don’t let your mind go there.”
But how could it not? How could you not start imagining it: Aroldis Chapman fires a 102 MPH fastball for a strike three! Cubs win the World Series! Cubs win!!
And then the eighth. 4 outs away. Chapman in. That’s a little early, don’t you think? He gives up a double, which scores a run. 6-4. Oh, well. He just needs one out to get through this. Rajai Davis isn’t even that good of a hitter. He can strike him out. He gives up a home run. Tie game.
I hung my head between my legs. Dad didn’t say a word. Nobody did, through the commercial break and into the next inning. I was in shock, and I just knew we were going to lose. Dad felt the same way sitting there on the other side of the room. There was a lump in my throat, and I couldn’t make it go away.
The cruelest and sweetest thing about baseball is the memories. Little quirks, like the way a second baseman holds his bat reminds you of the time you were sitting in the bleachers eating ice cream. Or maybe a ball starts sailing down the left field line, and there’s a montage of awful memories hitting you. The man with the turtleneck, Manny Ramirez moonshots, the Mets pitching staff. And then the ball leaves the ballpark, and you feel the pain from all of those again, only this time, it’s worse. This time, you feel it again with a little something extra, with the knowledge that this cycle is never going to end, that there’s a new scar that just formed and it’s deep and it hurts.
So, extras. My heart was pounding, like I had just run some wind sprints. Any adrenaline was gone. It was only nerves now. I crossed my arms to stop them from shaking and felt something damp.
I had sweat through 4 layers of clothing, including a down jacket. I looked at Dad. He shook his head. “This is so painful,” he said. “I cannot believe this. The Cubs, man…”
The game came back from commercials, and the grounds crew was bringing out a tarp.
“What?” I said. “What? What happens if it keeps raining? Would they play tomorrow? My heart wouldn’t be able to take it. I’m serious. I think I would die. This is cruel.”
Leonard read the weather report.
“I forgot to pack for Florida,” Dad said. And he left the room.
• • •
Every year that I can remember, right around Opening Day, Dad sits on my bed for The Talk. “Being a Cubs fan is a choice,” he’ll say. “Your father, your grandfather, and your great-grandfather have never seen the Cubs win a World Series. Our hearts have been broken many times. I can promise you that your heart is going to be broken, too. Are you sure you want to do this?”
And, every year, I say, “Yes.” I’ve always wanted to be just like my dad.
• • •
“Dad!” I said. “Dad!” He came racing down the stairs, back into his seat right as Kyle Schwarber was coming up to start extras. “Man, do I love Bam Bam,” Dad said, and when he wrapped a single into right, I ran around the room and gave everybody a high five. Dad stayed sitting down, “We need a pinch runner,” he said.
Leonard argued back, “But what if he comes back up to bat?”
“Please just let it end by then,” I said. “I just need this to stop, one way or another.”
Albert Almora, Jr. subbed in for Schwarber, and Kris Bryant gave a ball a ride. It kept carrying, further and further back.
“Oh!” Dad said. “Oh!”
Just short. Warning track.
Dad slouched further back in his chair.
Then, the Indians walked Anthony Rizzo to face Ben Zobrist. “There’s nobody I’d rather have up here than Zobrist,” Dad said. “Remember how excited we were when we signed him?”
I nodded, leaning in, and when Zobrist snuck a ball past the third baseman, I was jumping up and down. “YES! YES! YES!” everybody yelled together. I gave Dad a hug.
A batter later, Miguel Montero extended the lead with a bases loaded single. “Let’s go!” I said, and I pointed across the room at Dad, who pointed right back at me.
I couldn’t sit down for the rest of the game. The nerves were back and so was the adrenaline. I was afraid. Afraid that we might blow it again, yes, but afraid too that they might actually do it. What would I do if it actually happened? Would I celebrate the wrong way? Would I go into shock? What if I just dropped dead—nothing left to live for? What does a world look like in which the Cubs aren’t losers anymore?
I paced back and forth, back and forth in front of the TV. I kept praying (one time I just said, “Dear Lord, Please. Amen.”). Dad had to stand up too, and then the Indians scored, so he sat back down. They didn’t score the inning when he was sitting down. I turned away, picking at my fingernails during the mid-inning commercial break.
Soft roller hit to Bryant. He scoops it up, throws to Rizzo. Got him! Cubs win! Cubs win!
I collapsed to the ground, wasted after the five most stressful hours of my life, exhausted like a runner at the end of a marathon. And then I started sobbing. I started, and I couldn’t stop. Baseball opened the scars: that night in 2003 when I thought it would never happen, that note Ernie Banks wrote on a baseball for my dad: “Hope,” that story I’ve heard told again and again, that my great grandparents spent their honeymoon at Wrigley Field. My great grandmother lived to be 105 years old. She was born in 1908. When I would go visit her, she would always say something like, “That Derek Lee can sure hit a baseball.” She never saw them do this.
For all those years, after all those losses, I always maintained that the Cubs would win the World Series in my lifetime. For whatever reason, I held out hope. We all did—my dad, my grandpa, and his parents, too. We watched all those games, and we never stopped believing that it was possible. Unlikely, yes, but possible. And we held on to that hope for dear life, until Tuesday, when we could finally let it go, be free. It was as if you’ve wished you could fly your whole life, and suddenly, there you are, soaring past the John Hancock Center.
Dad did not move. He could not talk. He just sat there. I walked over to him, and we hugged. I hugged my mom. I hugged my sister. I hugged Leonard. I FaceTimed my older sister who’s off at college and who walked out of her Spanish class so she could watch Game 7. “I’m so proud of you for doing that,” I said. “Can you believe this?”
The trophy ceremony started, and I looked at Dad. “The Cubs just won the World Series!” I said. He shook his head.
We popped champagne. “For Ernie, for Ronnie, for Harry, for Grandma Sally, for Grandpa Joe, for Grandma Jenny and for everyone else who never lived to see this. Cheers!”
Then we sat back down, just staring at the screen, trying to figure out if that actually all just happened. We cheered when they hoisted the trophy, laughed at Bill Murray in the clubhouse. “Of course it had to happen this way,” I said, eventually. “Of course they were going to be down 3-1. Of course it was going to be a Game 7. Of course we’d blow a lead. Of course there was a rain delay. Of course it took extras. Of course…How else could it have happened?”
And then, Dad got up. “I have to leave for my flight.” We hugged goodbye, and he walked out the door.
When I talked on the phone with him today, Dad told me what happened next. He got on his flight, sat near the window. He started to read messages from friends, look at photos from outside Wrigley. He put his head down and started to cry.