The Dream Has Come True

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Unlike most things in my life, I cannot pinpoint a specific moment, date, or even year when I was first cognisant of being a Cubs fan. That is one part of my life that seems to have always been there. I was born in December 1992 in suburban Chicagoland to a father from the North Side, specifically from Rogers Park and a mother from Kansas City, MO, yet with North Side roots from her Swedish American grandmother, and life long White Sox fan, from Andersonville. In 1992, the Cubs finished fourth in the National League East with a 78-84 record below Pittsburgh, Montréal, and St. Louis and a ways above the New York Mets and their rivals in Philadelphia.

By that time there had been at least three different sides of my family who had settled in Chicago, primarily on the North Side. My Swedish-born third great-grandfather Victor Larsson Lindblad, an ancestor of my mother, was in Chicago by the time of the 1871 Fire, having settled in Andersonville. Ten years later, on my father’s side, my second great-grandfather John Newman settled in Chicago, where he married his wife Frances in 1892, and where their eight children were born between 1893 and 1908. At the turn of the Twentieth Century my grandmother Mary Lou’s grandparents and father moved to Chicago, eventually making their way up to the North Side as well. Finally, in 1914 my great-grandfather Thomas Keane arrived from Ireland (his surname would change to Kane in 1917), initially living on Superior across from the Cathedral, and later moving to Argyle and finally Rogers Park with his wife, my great-grandmother who came to Chicago in 1920. If any one city were said to be the cradle of my family in America, it would have to be Chicago.

I vaguely recall my grandparents mentioning the 1945 World Series. My grandfather was only 15 at the time, while my grandmother was a mere 13 when that incident with the goat took place at Wrigley Field. I never heard them talk about it, presumably it was either too superstitious for good Irish Catholics like themselves, or just a sore subject. That said, out of the two of them my Grandma was the big Cubs fan. As a young child when I was visiting them in their suburban condo, I would often be with her in the kitchen while she cooked watching the Cubs on her small TV, the rabbit ears fully extended to catch the signal from WGN. My Dad recalled how she would more often than not be in attendance at Wrigley on Ladies’ Days with so many other North Siders to cheer on our team. Even as she neared the end of her life, and her health began to go, she would ask for the Cubs game to be put on the TV in her room.

In the summers, my parents and I would go out on Lake Michigan on a sailboat that they co-owned named The Arctic Tern. Our most frequent destination would be a point along the lakeshore that had a good view of Wrigley Field. There we would tune our radio to WGN and listen to Ron Santo and Pat Hughes calling the game. 1998 was one of the biggest years of my childhood in the world of sport: the Bulls concluded their final threepeat, and the Cubs made it into the playoffs for the first time in my life. That was an electric summer, one when the Cubs made headlines for both their pitching and their hitting. While I still have the Tribune‘s poster honouring Sammy Sosa’s record 66 home runs that season, I can remember far better Kerry Wood’s 20 strike out game on May 6 against Houston. What a year that was!

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1998 may stick out so well in my memory thanks to what happened the following year. In June 1999 my parents and I left Chicagoland, moving onto a farm in Kansas City, KS. To say that that was a nutty idea would be accurate. Despite now being 500 miles away, we could still watch the Cubs most days on Superstation WGN, and continued to closely follow our team, despite now slowly gaining a new allegiance to the Kansas City Royals. The funny thing about being both a Cubs and a Royals fan is that it is remarkably easy to support both teams, after all they hardly ever play against each other. Nevertheless, my position has always been that the Cubs will come first, ahead of the Royals in my book.

In the Summer of 2000 I had just finished First Grade and was playing Coach Pitch baseball on the aptly named Pied Piper Pest Control Team at the Wyandotte County Sports Association fields in Kansas City, KS with a bunch of my classmates from St Pat’s School. At about the same time there was a TV commercial that kept appearing during the shows that my cousins and I would watch that showed a young boy using a big baseball bat, either coloured red or blue, and suddenly gaining the talent and strength of either Mark McGwire of the Cardinals or Sammy Sosa of the Cubs. I can tell you one thing for certain about that May, I really wanted that bat, because as the new kid at school I needed every opportunity I got to impress. Plus, as a 7 year old Cub fan how could I not want to be able to hit the ball like Sammy Sosa? To put it simply, I never got the bat, and probably for the better as I only ever hit the ball once in my entire one-season career as a left fielder for the Pied Piper Pest Control coach pitch team.

By the time the Cubs began getting hot again in 2003 I was used to watching them play from afar. That Spring I actually attended my first game at Wrigley Field on 23 April 2003, a monumental day in my life, yet one that I remember as being slightly boring and long. We sat in the bleachers, far enough away from home plate that it was very hard for me to see anything that was going on there. The Cubs ended up losing that game that few probably remember to the Padres 2-0. As 2003 progressed it seemed more and more likely that the Cubs were on fire and ready for another playoff run. Sure enough, in their 128th season the Cubs won National League Central with an 88-74 record.

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That Fall was one that I will never, never forget. In the Divisional Series the Cubs faced off against the Atlanta Braves, a strong team, yet one whom the Cubs beat 3 games to 2 at Turner Field. As the Pennant race came along, I was more excited than I had been in years for the Cubs, who now faced the Florida Marlins. The Marlins seemed like a surmountable team, one that the Cubs could take. To me, the Cubs were nigh invincible, the team that was destined to win the 2003 World Series, to end the 95 year drought. I was always so excited to see Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, Aramis Ramírez, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Matt Clement take to the field. My Dad would tell so many stories about the great Cubs of 1969, of Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams; how they electrified Chicago with their fun style of play, and how they led the National League until the last moments of the Pennant race. Like the ’69 Cubs, the ’03 Cubs were equally electric, but fell short of their goal. Some blame Steve Bartman for putting the team off of their mojo, but as far as I’m concerned, the tension of the moment got to the guys on the field, and the Cubs collapsed back into obscurity for the next couple of years.

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As time has gone on, players have come and gone. Sammy Sosa left the Cubs with only a little controversy in 2004. For a while in the late 2000s Derek Lee seemed like the top guy on the field at Wrigley, his prowess as a baseball player taking him so far as to be referred to as “General Lee” on more than one occasion by my fellow Wheaton native James Belushi during WGN’s broadcasts of the “Chicago Civil War,” aka the annual Cubs-Sox Series. Lee left the Cubs in 2010, but not before playing a roll in the next big playoff run, this time in 2008. It was the centenary of the last Cubs World Series victory. Surely the stars were properly aligned, surely the saints and angels in Heaven were pulling for the words “World Series Champions” to be emblazoned on the Wrigley Field Marquee. Surely this was our year. With the hopes of millions on their shoulders, the 2008 Cubs did all they could but were swept by the Dodgers in 3 games in the Divisional Series. I finished 2008 less focused on the world of sport than on my Sophomore Year in High School, which was ongoing at the time with all its exuberant fun.

As the 2010s started up, my focus, like that of many Cubs fans switched towards Hockey, as the Chicago Blackhawks began their dynastic series of Stanley Cup victories. I had just returned from Dublin in June 2010 when Patrick Kane (no known relation) scored the winning goal in overtime of Game 6 against Philadelphia. 2011 marked the first season without Ron Santo doing the commentary on WGN Radio, a huge loss in my book. In 2012, Kerry Wood retired from professional baseball, having returned to the Cubs the year prior to finish his career back in the Friendly Confines. In 2013 the Blackhawks won their second of three Stanley Cups thus far in the 2010s. I found out the good news a few hours later when I woke for class in London where I was on a three-week summer study abroad course.

2014 and 2015 were years dominated in my house by the Kansas City Royals, who after 29 years of being fairly unannounced in Major League Baseball stunned the country by beating Oakland in the thrilling 2014 Wild Card Game, silencing the A’s top ace, Jon Lester, early in the game. The ’14 Royals went on to the World Series, but lost out to the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 leading to heartbreak for many here in Kansas City. 2015 saw a revival amongst many of the “smaller” MLB teams, including the Cubs who powered their way through the season, having acquired Lester from the A’s in the offseason. My Dad and I were lucky enough to get to go up to Chicago on 11 July to see the Cubs play the White Sox, whose starter Chris Sale outdid Lester, leading the South Siders to a 5-1 victory.

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Jon Lester pitching against the White Sox. Photo: Seán Kane

In September 2015 I left home and moved to London, missing out on the playoff excitement, which was greater than any other year for my family as both the Cubs and Royals had made it past the regular season. The Cubs came into the playoffs as the second wild card, finishing the regular season in 3rd place 3 games behind St. Louis and 2 games behind Pittsburgh. In the Wild Card Game, led by Jake Arrieta’s pitching, the Cubs ploughed through the Pirates in Pittsburgh in the ’15 Wild Card Game, leading to a memorable attack by baseball bat on a water cooler in the Pirates dugout. In the Divisional Series, the Cubs fulfilled one of the life-long dreams of most fans, especially those of us alumni of Rockhurst University, whose student body has traditionally been primarily made up of St. Louisians. Despite being 4,000 miles away, and unable to watch the game on TV in England, I saw the final few innings as the Cubs easily trounced their longtime rivals the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field. After years of supporting the underdog, I couldn’t help but smile. The joy of ’15 was quickly extinguished however, as the Mets came through and left the Cubs behind in a 4 game sweep on their way to the World Series. The Royals had fared better, having beaten Houston and Toronto in their drive to retain the American League Pennant. They met the Mets in the World Series, winning the crown for Kansas City in extra innings in Game 5 at Citi Field in Queens. I sat at my desk for the entire four hour fifteen minute game, watching the pixilated images being transmitted from my parents’ house in Kansas City.

As the 2016 season came around, I had a feeling that this could be the year. Every morning from March onwards, as soon as I would wake up in my basement flat in Central London, I would check the Cubs score on my phone, and as the months passed things only got better. By the time I returned home to the U.S. at the end of August 2016, it was clear that the Cubs would be in the playoffs yet again, and even clearer that they would go into playoff baseball with the best record in the Major Leagues. I watched the National League Wild Card Game between San Francisco and the New York Mets quietly from the upper level of an Italian restaurant near the Moscone Center in San Francisco, keeping an eye on who would be the ones that the Cubs would face in the Divisional Series. After a marathon Wild Card Game that saw a stellar pitcher’s duel between San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner and New York’s Noah Syndergaard, the Californians won out with a three-run home run in the ninth inning.

The Divisional Series saw another round of amazing pitchers’ duels, this time between the likes of Jon Lester and Johnny Cueto in Game 1, and Jake Arrieta against Madison Bumgarner in Game 3. The Cubs moved past San Francisco after four games, and looked south towards the Los Angeles Dodgers who beat the Washington Nationals in their series 3 games to 2 in their Divisional Series. Like the Giants, the Dodgers are one of the best teams in the National League, and always a fun team to watch. As the Cubs took them on I couldn’t help but be thoroughly impressed by the Dodgers. Game 6 of the series, played at Wrigley Field, turned into one of the greatest nights of my life. It was the night when, in 2 hours 36 minutes the Chicago Cubs went from being the team who hadn’t won a Pennant since “the year we dropped the bomb on Japan” to National League Champions. It was a night like no other, a night when to so many millions of us it truly seemed possible that our team, our Chicago Cubs were truly capable of winning the World Series.

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The Cubs might have seemed destined to win the 2016 World Series, after 108 years of waiting, but they had a major road block in their way. While the Cubs had lit up the National League all summer long, Cleveland had seen a resurgence, taking the American League by storm and silencing all opposition, beating David Ortiz and the Boston Red Sox 3 games to none, and the red hot Toronto Blue Jays 4 games to 1. Both Cleveland and Chicago came into the World Series with all the momentum they would need to win it all. In the end, it came down to endurance. I watched all seven games in a dreamlike state of mind, joking that this must be some sort of existential crisis for the natural order of things, after all this World Series wasn’t between a heavy weight like the Giants and Yankees, nor between the Red Sox and Cardinals. This was a World Series between Chicago and Cleveland, two flyover teams. We had not won a World Series since 1908, they had not won one since 1948. All that that did was give this series more umph, to make it a World Series for the Ages.

While I and many others just wanted a nice and tidy victory to cap off the World Series for the Cubs, the game had more twists and turns than anyone could have expected. From the Cubs giving up a 5-1 lead in the fifth, to Rajai Davis’ two-run home run that tied things up in the eighth at 6-6, I frankly was saying more Rosaries than anything else. Just when things seemed bleakest for the Cubs, when they had lost their momentum, and at least to some that goat was getting in the way again, the Heavens opened up, and the game was stopped for rain. 17 minutes later and the Cubs started over, taking things from a 6-6 tie in the 9th to a stunning 8-7 victory in the 10th. As it happens, the 2016 League MVP, Ben Zobrist had been with the Royals in ’15 for their World Series run. Now not only had he won two World Series in the same number of years, but he lived the dream of all Cubs fans, being a lifelong fan who had helped the Cubs win the World Series.

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In the aftermath of the night of 2 November 2016 I was left speechless, in a state of jubilant shock. All my life, all my Dad’s life, all my grandparents’ lives we had waited for this to happen. For over a century the North Side of Chicago had waited to raise the World Series Banner once more at Wrigley Field, to stand before the world and cheer on our team, no longer just another easy team to beat. To me, it seemed fitting that the Cubs would win the World Series on All Souls’ Day of all days. For now, we have the best team in baseball, and today when they bring the Commissioner’s Trophy home to Wrigleyville they will surely do so in front of a crowd of millions. Wednesday night I actually found the view of the Cubs celebrating on the field in Cleveland to not have the emotional power that I expected to have. Instead, that power was with the fans who had gathered at the corner of Clark and Addison outside Wrigley Field. And as the screen on that famed Marquee changed to the words “CUBS WIN!” and “WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS” the roar of the North Side could surely be heard around the world.

As 2016 comes to a close, and 2017 stands on the horizon, the Chicago Cubs have a new future in store. They could well continue to be a winning team for a few more years, so long as this current roster stays at Wrigley. I also have a new future, though perhaps a nostalgic one, as I prepare to leave Kansas City to undertake the work for my Doctorate. On my list are two universities back in my hometown, two institutions that, should I be accepted, would give me the chance to return to Chicago and cheer on the Cubs as I always have, albeit from not nearly as far away. The past is certainly a good thing to remember, but it is the present in which we live, and the future to which we are going. Today, as the Sun shines, and my Win flag flies at my door, I can’t help but look back at the Cubs of yesteryear, of their three World Series Championships: 1907, 1908, and 2016. But all the same, I can’t help but gaze into the future, when perhaps I, or my descendants, will get to celebrate another Cubs World Series victory. The Dream has come true.

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2 thoughts on “The Dream Has Come True

  1. mail

    No real numbers are available. but the sirens from Chicago and Evanston indicate much enthusiasm.

    In l945, I remember a lot of boys missing during baseball season. No words were spoken at school.

    I didn’t care.

    I’m enjoying you thesis very much.

    Reply

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