Posted on April 07 2019
The Cubs' home opener and an underwhelming start to the season have me feeling nostalgic and reminiscing about the "good" old days.
It never seemed like an option to choose between the Cubs and the Sox, it just kind of happened. While my parents were split (Mom: Cubs, Dad: Sox), it has been and always will be about the Cubs. Dad tried, telling us about his favorite player Nellie Fox and the old scoreboard and taking us to the old Comiskey to see the Sox play Jose Canseco. We dabbled a bit in their apparel when they got the cool new retro black and white logo, but that was as far as he was able to get with us. Maybe it was because our first in-person experiences were Cubs games (Mom had the upper hand in the battle as she only worked weekends at the time, so she would pick us up on the last half-day of the school year and take us downtown to Wrigley for a day game). Or maybe that our Geneva tee-ball league organized a trip where we played on the outfield and tried to hit dingers into the bleachers. It could also have been from grandma keeping score for every game in her notebook from home and saving me Chicago Tribune clippings for me to make a scrapbook. Perhaps it was my new hero at the time, the fellow red-head Jody Davis. Whatever the reason, I think Dad quickly realized his Sox didn’t stand a chance and we were a “lost cause.” It wasn’t long until my room was wallpapered with Cubs pinstripes and the 80s Cubby bear head border, I was subscribed to Vine Line, and was having random dreams about some company named "TORCO."
Let’s Get Some Runs!
Growing up a Cubs fan in the eighties and nineties was a magical experience. It was never about winning, obviously; we didn’t really know what winning was. The Bulls had yet to dominate the NBA, so we were never exposed to it. We watched from home with joy on 8/8/88 as they turned on the lights for first night game at Wrigley (and in typical Cubs fashion, it was rained out and postponed). We loved the Shawon-O-Meter and the Andre Dawson Tru-Link fence commercials. We went to Dairy Queen for the sundaes in the little Cubs helmets. The Cubs had a brief taste of success in 1989 when they took on the Will Clark led San Francisco Giants in the playoffs, but it was short-lived as we were only able to win one game in the series.
We wrote to the players, sending cards in the mail with a SASE (if you know you know) and waited by the mailbox each day hoping autographs would show up (thanks Doug Dascenzo!). We would go to player appearances at the mall or random bank whenever we heard about them. I didn’t realize how special it was at the time, but on time at the Kane Country Fairgrounds we were lucky enough to meet young catcher Rick Wilkins and some “old guy” named Ron Santo (he couldn’t have been nicer). The highlight of my pre-teenage years would be meeting my new long-time hero Mark Grace at the Spring Hill Mall where he signed the cover of my Beckett and he told me he remembered the birthday card I made for him.
Our high school years were all about the Bulls as they stampeded through the league, but the Cubs were always in our hearts. A few friends and I managed to play hooky (sort of, Mom called me in sick) for opening day because we couldn’t miss the tribute to the late Harry Caray. I had my first interaction with Ronnie Woo Woo and was able to go to a Cubs Convention. Our graduation year (1998), it seemed like there might be signs of life on the North Side. Sammy Sosa was having his historic homerun dual with Mark McGwire, and the Cubs were getting…good? Within the first few weeks of college that fall, we watched as the Cubs forced a one game playoff tiebreaker game with the Giants. We raced to Dominick’s to get in line at the Ticketmaster desk, and were lucky enough to get two tickets and witness Rod Beck close out the game and the Cubs storm the field in celebration (only to be swept by Atlanta, but that’s neither here nor there).
Bro-in Around Wrigleyville
College bought a, let’s say “different,” kind of experience at the ballpark. Going to Loyola, we were only minutes away on the Red Line and could head to a game at the drop of a hat. Half day Friday? Let’s go! Night game? Not a problem! We had our sweet bucket hats (those back in style again?). We started sitting in the bleachers. We painted S-O-S-A on our chests. We mixed it up with Sox fans (wait, there really were Sox fans other than my dad, I discovered). I truly understood the CUB FAN BUD MAN ads that were on the back of every scorecard and program growing up. I tried Old Style and went out to High Tops in Wrigleyville. We’d show up to class decked out in Cubs gear for no reason. I also caught my first and only foul ball (thanks Barry Larkin).
The best and most vivid memory of that time, however, was when a fellow 6 Clothing associate (who shall remain nameless) got into it with then Astros outfielder Roger Cedeño during an innocent day game in 2000. Situated close to the outfield in the bleachers, some playful back and forth started between us and Roger, followed by outright heckling, followed by mooning him (and consequently the rest of the stadium). It wasn’t long before someone in the press box sent security to have him kicked out of Wrigley for indecent exposure of his backside. Forever etched in my memory, all-time great sport Roger Cedeño convinced security from the field that it was ok for us to stay. He loved it.
Goats are the Worst
Party time aside, those were some up and down years for the Cubs. As we prepared to graduate in 2003, there was a real optimism growing. We had great young pitching, a star-studded lineup, and a high-profile new manager in Dusty Baker, and all of a sudden went from last place to first. While living the post-college life back in the burbs, I was able to secure tickets to game 7 of the NLCS at Wrigley. All along, I truly hoped a game 7 would not be necessary, but we all know what happened in game 6 that lead to the win or go home game 7. While seeing Kerry Wood hit one out of the park still holds up as one of my most memorable experiences (definitely the loudest), watching another team celebrate on your home field when you are just outs away from the World Series was heartbreaking. It took me about 10 years to be able to re-watch the Bartman game 6 footage, and to this day it still tingles my spine. It became clear that we weren’t just lovable losers anymore; maybe there was some truth to being CURSED.
That team was never able to fully recover. In the late 2000s, we saw a couple of playoff appearances that only led to being swept out of the playoffs two years in a row. Life went on, as we became adults (some would argue otherwise) and got “real” jobs. We continued to go to games, met a “hookup” for these new luxurious rooftop experiences. We received citations for having open beer containers on the street in Wrigleyville (it was all fun and games being in the back of a cop car until they handed us fines of $175 each). However, these felt like dark years for the franchise. After getting a taste of that winning feeling, you could really feel the losses taking a toll on the organization and fanbase as interest waned. Our new President Theo Epstein had promised a light at the end of the tunnel. If he could break the “Curse of the Bambino” in Boston, maybe, just maybe, he could help end our historic drought. The optimism was always there, but year after year of disappointment made it all too easy to accept and expect defeat.
107 years later and still 1 year too soon
After 5 straight years of finishing last or second-to-last, when the 2015 season was in full swing, it seemed like there might be something really happening here. Once again, we had a new, high-profile manager coupled with some amazing young talent, but something felt different about this group. They were all likable, and oblivious to any “curse.” They made it much farther than anyone predicted as they made it to the NLCS by defeating longtime rivals, the consistently better-than-us St. Louis Cardinals. Although the season ended again with a sweep, this time in the NLCS, we didn’t lose hope or “curse” the situation. We felt like we had overachieved and that this was what “a year too soon” felt like. It did not feel like a missed opportunity to get back to the World Series as much as it felt like getting over a huge hump.
Eamus Catuli: AC000000
2016: the 101st season at Wrigley Field. You know how the story goes: best record in baseball, first 100-win season for the Cubs since 1935, and their first pennant since 1945. Being down 3 games to 1 to Cleveland in the World Series, forcing an epic game 7, extra innings, the Zobrist double, the groundball to Bryant, the end of a 108-year old drought, a blue Chicago River, and an epic city-wide parade that broke human attendance records. The city was electric that summer and fall as we all watched our dreams come true. Bars were packed all across the City. Outside of the state of Ohio and a small pocket on the South Side, it felt like the entire world was rooting for us. There would be no more waiting till next year.
Foul Weathered Fans
Compared to the hardcore baseball fans, I would most certainly be considered, at best, “uninformed.” Nowadays, no longer having the aid of Topps, Fleer, Score, and Upper Deck, I probably couldn’t even name most of the teams that the current all-stars play for. OPS? I have to Google the stat every time I see it. Am I everything that’s wrong with the typical Cubs fan? Probably. Call it blind loyalty to a franchise, I guess. Was I rooting for the Sox in 2005? I was. I felt joyless and empty inside when they ultimately won, but I was hoping they would win. Cubs fans tend to get a bad wrap for being fair weathered bandwagoners or only being interested in partying in and around the ballpark. While there is a lot of truth to that, I think that there are just THAT many more Cubs fans. The Cubs are almost like a pop culture phenomenon that transcends the sport of baseball. Anywhere you go in the country you will find Cubs fans at all levels, from beer pounding bleacher bros to scorecard keeping stats nerds. Does this make one fanbase more deserving of success over another? This I do not know. I do know that I must have broken down in tears over a dozen times the week following the 2016 World Series. To this day I get choked up seeing highlights from that magical year, thinking of where I was the night they won and all of the emotions and memories come flooding in. It is certainly not a feeling that I can fake or manufacture. Tiny batting helmets filled with Dairy Queen soft serve have been traded in for full-size helmets filled with nachos, and malt cups with the little stick are now Bud Lights and Hot Doug's, but in reality, not much has changed. Our scorekeeping Grandma was born in 1915, 6 years after the previous Cubs championship. Unfortunately, she didn’t quite make it to the next one, passing away at the age of 97 in 2013. But something is telling me she was still keeping score that night (and probably cursing at the tv for how late the game was going).