On the eve of another hopeful October for the Chicago Cubs, here, in nugget form, is a sampling of my life as a Cubs fan.
The parts you don’t see probably involved cursing.
7 years old. Lugoff, S.C. Summer.
Somebody called the “Cable Guy” is coming over to our house.
He comes in with a box and some tools. Drills a hole in the wall by the TV.
An hour or so later, he’s gone.
But he left something.
Almost 30 of them. You take this box with buttons corresponding to numbers, click a button, and a different channel comes on. The box has a cord running to the TV. No need to even get up from the couch.
But he left something else.
The Chicago Cubs.
One of the channels is SuperStation WGN, out of Chicago. I don’t know which superstation came first — TBS or WGN, but they are a 7-year-old boy’s dream.
On TBS, the Atlanta Braves are on.
But I never see the end of those games. They usually start at night, and end later at night.
But during the day, WGN has other games on. Cubs games. They start at 2 p.m. almost every single day. It seems like the sun comes up, and the Cubs play.
And every time the Cubs play, whether it’s during the brutally hot summer months in central S.C., or during the cool days of early spring or early fall, there is another constant.
The glasses. The garbled delivery. The funny way he tries to say players’ names backwards.
That laugh. That howl. That call.
“It might be… It could be… It is! Home run!”
That song, every seventh inning stretch.
I’m 8, but Harry Caray is funny.
I met my first love in 1983. A year later, the Cubs are good. Historically good for this franchise, I find out. I’m 8.
Sutcliffe. Fergie. Cey. Moreland. Matthews. Dennis Eckersley is a starting pitcher. Lee Smith is the closer, back before they called them closers.
Durham. Oh, Leon Durham. Before Buckner was Buckner, there was Leon Durham. He lets the ball go between his legs, and the Cubbies lose the 1984 best-of-five NLCS to the San Diego Padres.
I go on to hate Steve Garvey forever.
13 years old. 1989. Finally, we are good again.
The Boys of Zimmer. It took five years of finishing no higher than fourth, but we’re finally back.
Sandberg’s a star. Mark Grace is becoming one. Shawon Dunston is either great or pitiful. Andre Dawson is one of the best in the game.
Sutcliffe keeps doing it, but man does he have help. This Maddux guy is unbelievable. Mike Bielecki looks like an emerging star. Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams is a blue-collar Cubs hero.
Paul Assenmacher is still terrible.
This might be the year. The stories I’ve read about, the billy goat, the black cat. Those could be put to rest.
Grace is incredible during the NLCS. Bats .647 with 8 RBI in five games.
But Will Clark is even better. Bats .650. Thirteen hits in five games. It’s never close. The Giants go on to win 4-1.
And then the earthquake.
It’s kinda OK, though. Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith finish 1-2 in the Rookie of the Year race. The future is bright.
16 years old. 1992. High school. I hang out with a group of friends. Meet another Cubs fan.
We become friends for life.
21 years old. 1997. College. The Heels have been great in football. Basketball, too.
But the Cubs.
Fourteen loses to open the season. It’s over before it even starts. By April 20, the season is gone.
My friends, all Braves fans, make fun of me and my team. Repeatedly.
22 years old. Harry Caray dies on Feb. 18, 1998.
22 years old. 1998. I’m a working man now.
And so are the Cubs. Sosa and McGwire keep sending shots into the seats. The march on Maris is on. The Cubs are leading the wild card. Could it be?
Is this the year?
The Cubs need a regular season playoff with the Giants to make the playoffs. Gary Gaetti blasts a huge fifth-inning home run, and the balloon caricature of Harry behind the left-field seats makes us believe. The Cubs are in.
I get married on the day of Game 3 of the NLDS against the Braves. I see three innings on my wedding night.
On a day I am swept off my feet by the most perfect woman, the Cubs are swept by the Braves.
Call it 1-1.
23 years old. 1999. The Cubs are horrible again, playing out the string against the Reds.
But I’m there. My first time in Wrigley. I’m there for the whole weekend series with my buddy from high school. Sosa homers and the Cubs lead in the fifth. We’re 20 rows up behind home plate.
The Cubs never score again that weekend.
But we meet Ron Santo the last night, coming down the ramp from the pressbox. The 14-hour drive home flies by.
27 years old. 2003. One win. One lousy win, and we reach the World Series.
Game 6 against the Marlins back at Wrigley. Mark Prior has been great, but he’s tiring in the eighth.
But there’s a looping fly ball in foul territory. Maybe it will stay in play.
I learn the name Steve Bartman, but I don’t blame him. Never will.
It’s shortstop Alex Gonzalez I hate. How did he muff the double-play ball after the Bartman mishap? How?
The Cubs lose in typical Cubs fashion. I break a ceiling tile at work after the disastrous eighth. I don’t sleep that night.
I know Game 7 will be a loss.
32 years old. 2008. It’s been 100 years.
The Cubs stormed back to win the NL Central a year ago, but were swept out the playoffs again.
This year, though, they own the best record in the game for much of the year. They win the division with two weeks left. It’s been as easy a season for Cubs fan as there ever will be.
But October is looming. The playoffs are about to start.
Truly, it’s been the best two years to be a Cubs fan in a century. It’s a historic fact. It’s the first time the Cubs have been in the postseason in back-to-back years since 1906-1908.
And I’ve been around to see it.
Others weren’t so lucky. So many others. For them, it never happened. An entire lifetime, and the Cubs never won the World Series.
What makes me think I’ll be so lucky?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.
I just hope.