On a handful of occasions in my life, sports have caused me to shed a few tears. Twice they were the result of jarring defeats for a kid, as the 2001 World Series and the 2008 section 7AA hockey semifinals left me crushed. Twice they came when childhood heroes rode off into retirement. Twice, there have been tears of pride and joy: in the waning moments of a AA state semifinal in 2015, and, now, after the final out of the 2016 World Series.
I come from a family of Cubs fans, but, contrarian child that I was, I instead adopted the Yankees as a kid. The Cubs, however, still settled in at number two. The wins were sporadic in those early days, but the North Siders always managed to entertain. Whenever I joined my uncles at Wrigley Field, we were treated to absurd games: a 100-degree, four-hour war with the Mets in the Sammy Sosa years, a Roger Clemens loss in pursuit of his 300th win, a laughable marathon against Atlanta in which the Cubs rallied from four down in the 9th only to lose when a ball bounced off of Aramis Ramirez’s head in the 13th inning. Win or lose, those days at Wrigley always showed how baseball should be: long, lazy afternoons basking in the sun, the Bleacher Bums cursing up a storm throughout. It was always a delight.
In a year in which baseball often took back seat to other things, I only casually followed the Cubs’ 103-win regular season and the first round of the playoffs. But by the end of the NLCS I was fully on board the bandwagon, keeping score like I was a kid watching the Yankees’ 90s dynasty again. My mom showed more emotion over sports than I’d ever seen when they finally clinched the pennant against the Dodgers, and lately I’ve been glued, growing gradually more and more sleep-deprived and invested.
What a World Series it was: intense drama, back-and-forth games, and a weird aversion to giving starting pitchers any slack anytime beyond the third inning. Sure, there were too many pitching changes and long games, but there were also plenty of brilliant moves by the managers, and it felt only natural that it came down to a thriller of a seventh game. When a bear wandered down into the middle of downtown Duluth today and climbed a tree, it was hard not to think of it as an omen. The extra inning rain delay in Game Seven only added another dose of mystique, as the heavens made it clear they’d leave their mark on this one. All it takes is a silly sport to turn all us skeptics into true believers.
This batch of Lovable Losers proved to be thoroughly lovable winners. Even if he had me muttering things with his pitching choices in Games Six and Seven, Joe Maddon set the tone here, and made sure he had a group that could handle the moment. There was David Ross, riding off into retirement with a home run; Dexter Fowler, who just sounds like he was born to be a leadoff man. The double play combination of Addison Russell and Javier Baez, overflowing with promise and flair. I forgive Jon Lester and John Lackey for being Red Sox, admire the ace Jake Arrieta, and feel for Kyle Hendricks, pulled too soon, the quiet hero of the Cubs’ postseason. There was even some cosmic justice in the Game Seven implosion, as Aroldis Chapman, the most questionable of Cubs, blew the save and gave an entire city ulcers. But Kyle Schwarber lumbered back from injury to start the tenth inning rally, and Ben Zobrist was on hand to play the consummate hero. A few more pitching changes, and we were finally ready to end 108 years of pain. The final out, Kris Bryant to Anthony Rizzo, the powerful combination at the heart of the lineup combining to take a franchise where so many before them could not. Eight different players scored in the clincher, while seven drove in runs, a total team effort. They all earned it, scraping past an opponent that gave it their all.
As Wrigleyville parties into the night and “Go Cubs Go” echoes around the world, my mind drifts to all of that Field of Dreams mush about how baseball reminds us of all that once was good, and could be again. It’s timeless, and much as I love my Yankees’ history and lore, the 2016 Series has far more powerful generational ties. As I settle in to bed in world in which the Cubs are World Series champions, my thoughts are with my grandparents, in their late 80s and lifelong Cubs fans, who get to experience this for the first time in their lives. Congratulations to all the Cubs fans in the Maloney clan, and thanks for teaching me to enjoy this beautiful game. In 2016, you leave all of the rest of us musing “maybe next year,” and get to enjoy a trophy more deserved than any other in professional sports. Hey Chicago, what do you say? The Cubs, at long last, won it all today.