Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A World Series for the Generations

The seemingly impossible has become possible, the Cubs are World Series champs for the first time in over a century.  For 108 years Cubs fans have been waiting for this elusive third World Series title.  Who would have thought that after winning 2 of the first 5 World Series in history that the next would have to wait for more than a century. They did, after all, make it to seven World Series in the next 37 years which is no small accomplishment. Yet, not once in those next seven tries did they win the whole thing.  Once World War II came and went and the Cubs made the Series in 1945 the real drought began as the Cubs would not even make the Series again until this year, 2016. 

A not too embarrassing
old shot of me sporting the Cubs gear
Being a Cubs fan for most families is a generational thing.  Parents passing it on to their kids, grandparents passing it to their grandkids and so it moves forward.  Baseball is such a sport that this becomes not only America's pastime, but a family pastime as well.  To spend the summer months talking about the latest on how the team is doing becomes part of family tradition.  Awaiting the coming cool of October anxiously hoping your team is still in it to win it becomes our annual hope.  In my family Chicago Cubs baseball was a shared passion.  It is something my father and I have always followed closely and have enjoyed many a game together at Wrigley Field.  It was also something I shared with my Grandfather on my mother's side.  He and a significant portion of my family lived in Southern Illinois which is a healthy mixture of Cubs and Cardinals fans.  His portion of the family were the Cubs fans.  Every time I would go to visit him Cubs baseball was our favorite topic to share.  We spent many years hoping the Cubs would pull it together.  Some years it was the close calls where it seemed even possible they could win it all, only to find a new way to fall short, and many other years it was the pain of wallowing in the cellar.  The one constant through it all, was the phrase "wait till next year."  

Even in death, Grandpa is
cheering on the Cubs
Sadly, as it went with many of our Grandmas and Grandpas, next year never came soon enough for my grandfather who passed away in January 2015.  He held out so many years waiting to see if each year would be "the year" but it didn't come soon enough.  Our family is certainly not alone in this.  To be able to think back with our ancestors on the emotions of old made this years playoff run extra special.  It was as though they were still with us in spirit as the Cubs finally made it all the way.  It made the World Series all the more special to see all the stories come out of the generational Cubs fans and the long waits that were nearly over for families throughout the nation.  I remember watching the FOX broadcasters interview an elderly woman in her 90s at Wrigley right after the Cubs won game 6 of the NLCS to clinch the World Series berth.  She and everyone else in the city were filled with such elation that the wait of 71 years for a World Series had come.  By the way, she was also the one who mentioned having a few shots of jagermeister later to celebrate.  That surely got a laugh.

I know I wasn't alone when the Cubs won the NLCS game 6.  Though I sat there late in tonight the night going back and forth between shedding a few tears and smiling from ear to ear. And I was definitely not alone at the end of the World Series game 7 when the Cubs won that sensational ballgame.  At each joining with thousands of others in shedding a few tears for the loved ones who rooted for so long and just missed out seeing heaven on earth for a few moments.  But in keeping their memory close, it made these moments all that more special knowing that the long wait, the years of anticipation, and the good (and bad) memories along the way finally had closure.

In the end, this was about as close to a perfect World Series and a perfect story book ending to the Cubs 108 year drought.  And it wasn't just that they won it, it was how they won it.  Who could possibly have written the story out in a more dramatic way fashion.  For the Cubs to play the Indians of all teams who are also nursing a 78 year drought.  For the series to see the Cubs down 3-1 and yet come back to force a game 7.  And then in the fateful game for the Cubs to take a 6-3 lead only to surrender it on a heartbreaking home run in the 8th that tied things up. It was a moment that sent Cubs fans into a near comatose state dreading that the inevitable might happen again.  As if the story hadn't gone crazy enough, we were then treated to a rain delay, possibly heaven sent by the likes of Ernie Banks or Ron Santo, that seemed to give the Cubs the new life that was necessary to finally close the deal.  With two runs in the top of the 10th and a nail-biter in the bottom half the World finally saw the impossible become possible with a Cubs game 7 victory for the generations.

Leading on the next generation of Cubs fans
Ever since the NLCS game 6 clincher I have toiled to figure out how to put all of these emotions into words.  I've been so filled with joy and yet I've also shed more tears in these past two weeks than I had in the previous 2 years.  I still can't watch the final moments of game 7 without welling up with emotion once more. I'm sure I'm not alone.  But what to say about it all, what to say about this great game of baseball and all the countless moments that have come and gone.

While some see the slower pace of baseball as its great weakness, I would contend that still remains as one of its greatest lasting strengths.  As a baseball progresses along inning by inning, batter by batter, and even pitch by pitch in the postseason, it becomes a story that is told with each moment that comes and goes.  So maybe the best way to capture the last 7 months of this season and this incredible postseason is to simply remember the moments that made it so special along the way:

The Memorable Moments of the Regular Season
  • While it is impossible to sit here and capture the whole thing, here are a few moments that stand out as defining the Cubs unforgettable 103 win season and World Series crown.
  • February 25   Dexter Fowler's shocking return in Spring Training which seemed like just hours after he had nearly committed to be a Baltimore Oriole.  It was unforgettable how he showed up in Arizona and surprised his Cubs teammates with his return.
  • April 7   The Schwarber-Fowler collision in the third game of the season which seemed at the time to have ended Schwarber's season.

  • April 21  The Arrieta No-hitter on April 21 against the Reds, only 10 starts removed from his 2015 no-hitter against the Dodgers. He looked poised at the time to make another Cy Young run.
  • May 10   The 25-6 start.  Watching Cubs baseball has never been so fun as it was this season.  Every last player was so likable and exciting to see play the game. 
  • June 19  Willson Conteras homers on his first Major League pitch against the Pirates.  Yet another young Cubs star is born.

  • July 10  The Pittsburgh win in the final game before the All-Star break to end a 5-game losing streak and a 5-15 slump.  The early July skid was the only moment this season where some doubt creeped in as to whether the Cubs could take the Division and make a Postseason run.
  • July 31  The Seattle comeback, down 6-0, a 3-run ninth, a thrilling extras win on a Jon Lester pinch-hit, two-strike squeeze play.  Also Travis Wood playing left field making outstanding catches. In fact, there are a half dozen other plays I could begin to list off so just go and watch this game on replay!  In my estimation, the most memorable and pivotal game of the season.  Cubs finished the season on a 40-17 run after this game.

  • September 13  The Hendricks near-no-hitter against the Cardinals. A single home run in the 8th inning blemished Hendricks night.  And to almost do it against the Cardinals, what fun it almost was.

  • September 16  The Division Clincher. The Cubs actually lost to the Brewers on Sep. 15, a game that could have clinched for them. The Giants came through, however, as they lost later that night officially clinching the Cubs playoff birth.  For good measure, the Cubs came out the next night and won on a 10-inning walk off by Montero to finally celebrate the Postseason.

  • September 25  David Ross last home game at Wrigley against the Cardinals and to put the icing on the cake he homers in the game. Joe Maddon gave Ross a special moment to exit to standing O's before the Wrigley crowd in the 7th inning. Ross, affectionately known as Grandpa Rossy was the heart and soul of the Cubs throughout the year.  His teammates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo chronicle his final season on Instagram with numerous special moments.  One might say Rizzo put the cherry on top with his memorable speech at the Cubs Championship Parade in Grant Park with a few tears and a hug that Cubs fans will never forget.

The Post-Season Moments:
  • The Four-run 9th-inning comeback against the Giants in game 4 of the NLDS to ultimately win the series. 
  • The Montero grand slam off Blanton in the 8th-inning of game 1 of the NLCS to seal the game and ease Cubs fears after a 4-game sweep in the 2015 NLCS against the Mets. 

  • The Zobrist bunt in game 4 of the NLCS which seemingly ended the Cubs 23-inning scoreless streak and breathed new life into the team. 

  • The Addison Russell homer in NLCS game 4 to break his and the Cubs slump.  

  • The Hendricks gem  of 7 1/3, shutout, 2-hit innings in game 6 of the NLCS to clinch the series and the Cubs first World Series birth in 71 years.
  • A Cubs v Indians World Series.  Really?  186 years of World Series drought and two cities yearning for a championship pitted against each other.  Who wrote this stuff?  One also ought to consider the broader cultural impact of this series.  Two incredibly young and likable teams that ultimately brought TV ratings that MLB hasn't seen in several decades.  It also gets juxtaposed against a presidential election in which the two candidates couldn't be less liked by the American people.  The World Series brought a relief for people to once again see baseball as America's true pastime and a display of bright young stars.
    • As I pondered this further, I couldn't help but return to the beautiful quote from Field of Dreams in which James Earl Jones character Terrance Mann puts it all into words: 
    • "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."
  • Kyle Schwarber returns for the World Series!! After not playing in a Major League game since April he returns and becomes the first position player in history to get his first hit of the season in the World Series.  Shocking everyone, he hits .412 in the series.
  • Arrieta no-hitting the Indians through 5 in game 2 of the World Series to get the Cubs their first World Series game victory.  
  • Eddie Vedder tribute to David Ross and singing the Stretch with Harry Caray in game 5 of the World Series.  The series was the Cubs from this moment on.  They were up 3-2 at the time, Aroldis Chapman came in and closed the game out, and the Cubs won the next two.  

  • Addison Russell grand slam and 6-RBI game in game 6 of the World Series to lead the Cubs to the unforgettable game 7.
  • Dexter Fowler's monster lead-off shot in game 7.  Once more reminding Cubs fans of their beloved "You go, we go" slogan to honor Fowler throughout the season as he led this team.
  • David Ross homering in his final at bat of game 7 and of his career.  Made even more remarkable is he hit it off of Andrew Miller who was so dominant this postseason.  Coupled with the Cubs season as a whole and a World Series win, plus being carried off the field in victory at the end, truly a finish only one could dream of. 

  • The Rajai Davis homer.  I can only put this hear as a moment in hindsight.  At the time the Davis homer that tied game 7 at 6-6 was a hearattack moment for Cubs fans the world round.  Could they possible find a way to lose it again?  While the moment startled me greatly and had me shaking all through the bottom of the 9th as the Cubs held the Indians from scoring, I can honestly admit, there was a strong part of me that held confidence that this team was the one to find a way for this to be the year.  Cubs fans could also say in hindsight that with the Davis homer and the momentary cardiac arrest, the game 7 victory was just that much sweeter and memorable when it finally happened. 

  • The rain delay.  While he disappointed with pretty much every at bat for almost the entire season, it is possible that Jason Heyward saved the Cubs with his rain delay moment.  He gathered the team into the Progressive Field weight room to breathe new life into them as they waited out the weather.  Several players spoke of it after the game.  One must also wonder, did Ron Santo and Ernie Banks send the rain?
  • The Zobrist hit to take the lead in the 10th.  The soon-to-be World Series MVP has become a favorite of all Cubs fans alike, and not just for this hit, but for the amazingly professional ballplayer and man he has proven himself to be.  

  • The Final play of game 7, Rizzo pocketing the ball, Bryant with that big smile.  A moment Cubs fans will watch again and again and again for years, decades, and perhaps another 108 years to come.  
    • A special part of this moment came almost more unexpectedly than the final out itself.  My brother, who happens to be stationed on the other side of the world serving his country, called me up having just woken up in his time zone.  He was surprised to see the game was still going on at such a late hour. I believe it was 1:30am in the eastern time zone.  We talked during the pitching change as the Cubs were bringing in Mike Montgomery.  We continued to talk as Martinez came to bat for the Indians and suddenly my brother says "they did it." and I hear some cheering in the background behind him on the phone.  I look at my TV screen and I see Montgomery getting ready to pitch.  I realize, though he is on the other side of the world he has seen the final out already while I, on some sort of TV delay here in the States (thanks a lot FOX!) saw it perhaps 10 seconds later.  We had to chuckle about this funny, even ironic moment, but most importantly, the Cubs had won!

  • The World Series and Game 7 in particular were the perfect storybook way for the Cubs to win it all.  Could anyone have possibly written it better?  It happened.  2016. Is. This. Year.

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