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Just won before I die.

I started writing this the morning after the Cubs won the World Series.

I am completely unfocussed and scatterbrained this morning and can’t tear my mind away from the memories of 12 hours ago. Here I am trying to put a label on what this feeling is like. It finally hit me as I pulled into the parking lot of my office this morning.  It feels like the Cubs won the World Series.  No one alive knew that feeling before last night.

I lived in Chicagoland for the first 23 years of my life and am a rabid Cub fan. True Cub fans know suffering.  We wait for the other shoe to drop.  We would understand if they renamed Wrigley Field, Murphy’s Law Field.  I am 43 years old and the Cubs have made the playoffs 7 times in my life before this year. They made it to the NLCS in 1984, 1989, 2003 and 2015 but lost all of them.  The playoff losses in most of those years were hard to bear, and a 2 of them left deep scars.

Most sports fans have “their” team from their childhood that is permanently etched in their memory.  For me it was the 1984 Cubs.  I can remember every player from that team. Wrigley Field still didn’t have lights and every homegame was played at 12:10pm or 2:20pm.  We had the Cy Young award winner Rick Sutcliffe, a catcher named Jody Davis who had a song written for him, and hall of famer Ryne Sandberg.  That team went on and won the NL Central for the first time since 1945!

We won the first playoff game against the San Diego Padres 13-0.  Bob Dernier our lead off batter, who hit 3 home runs all year, led off the game with a home run. Later in the game, our pitcher, Rick Sutcliffe even went deep.  How could you not believe that this was our year?

We won the second 4-2 and all of a sudden we are one win away from the World Series.  We then proceeded to lose 3 games  in a row to lose the best of 5 series.  Game 4 was tied 5-5 going into the bottom of the ninth and the box score says the final was 7-5.  That’s because Steve frickin Garvey hit a walk off two run HR to take the series to game 5.   We were winning game 5, 3-0 going into the 6th! Only to give up 6 runs in the final 4 frames to lose 6-3. Gut wrenching stuff right there.

In 1989 we won the division again playing for our manager Don Zimmer and we were affectionately called the Boys of Zimmer.   We met the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS that year and ran into Will frickin Clark.  I remember him singlehandedly hitting the ball wherever he wanted and wound up hitting about .400 for the series.  We lost the series 4-1, again, losing the last three games in a row.

Then the Cubs played awful for a decade finishing no better than 3rd (once) for nine years.  Baseball in 1998 was amazing.  That was the year Mark Maguire and Sammy Sosa chased Roger Maris’s home run record.  I understand now they were all jacked up on horse steroids, but still, that was a fun year for baseball.   The Cubs were in the spotlight again because of Sosa, who ended up with 66 home runs for the year behind Maguire’s 70.  As what is really an afterthought, we got a wild card berth that year, only to be swept by the Braves 3-0.  AGAIN LOSING THREE GAMES IN A ROW!!!

We finished first again in 2003 and won our first playoff series since we won the World Series in 1908.  I felt that this really could be the year.  We had a young team, with some outstanding pitching.  Mark Prior was one of our best pitchers and he had just won rookie of the year.  Kerry Wood was in his prime and those two were the most dangerous pitching tandem in baseball that year.   It all came down to the game we all wish we could forget.

Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS.  Cubs are up 3-2 to the Florida Marlins in the series and we have Prior going in game 6 and if needed Wood in game 7, both at home.  There is no way we don’t win one of these games.  We are up 3-0 going into the top of the 8th in Wrigley Field.  We are 5 outs away from pure bedlam.

Luis Castillo is up for the Marlins and he hits a lazy fly ball that is drifting foul.  One poor soul’s life changed forever in the next moments.  Steve Bartman, instinctively reached out to try to catch the ball, and may have interfered with our left fielder Moises Alou catching it. Alou propmty acted like a 4 year old who was told to go to bed which led to the public crucifixion of Bartman.  If you have a chance, watch the 30 for 30 from ESPN called Catching Hell.  It is heartbreaking.  Seriously, I don’t know if I could watch it again.

We went on to give up 8 runs (EIGHT RUNS!) in that inning and lost 8-3.  We promptly lost game 7, 9-6 and went back into a long dark winter.

That was 13 years ago and I still remember exactly where I was.  They made the playoffs in 2007 and 2008 but those teams lost in the first rounds and were forgettable.

Then came Theo Epstein. The man who put together the team that broke the Boston Red Sox 86 year old curse of the Bambino, when he was 32 years old. He was coming to Chicago.

They promptly finished last in his first three seasons.  Although in 2015 there were bright shiny signs of hope.  Jake Arrietta won the Cy Young award that year and didn’t seem to give up a run for the entire second half of the season.  We made the playoffs and beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one game wild card game.

It was on to face the best team in Baseball, our friendly division rival the St Louis Carnalls. This series was the coming out party for this team. We won the best of 5 series in 4 games and we all discovered Kyle Schwarber. This dude hit 5 home runs in the 2015 playoffs and they all seemed to go 800 feet.  We had just handily dismantled the league’s best team. Why couldn’t this be our year?

The team promptly got swept by the Mets in 4 games and I learned that I hated Daniel Murphy. The one thing I remember from that Series is that we couldn’t hit ANYTHING. Enter another long cold winter. Although I came out of this long cold slumber with some real hope. This team that did so well last year was all back so why not hope. Afterall, it’s all we Cubs fans have.  Hope.

2016 turned out to be our year.  We had the best record in the entire league winning 103 games. We beat San Francisco in the NLDS in 4 games, we beat the Los Angels Dodgers in 6 games and made the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

The goal all along is the win the whole damn thing so making it there was important but not complete. It would’ve been like making it to the moon but not having enough fuel to go home.

I then proceeded to witness the 7 most stressfull baseball games of my life.  We fell behind 3-1 and needed to win THREE GAMES IN A ROW which is something we had done 20 times this year.  And that is just what we did. It is so crazy watching game 5 and saying “this is the biggest game for this franchise in the last 108 years.” Then having them win and going into game 6 saying “this is the biggest game for this franchise in the last 108 years.”

The most creative thinkers of our time couldn’t have thought up the way Game 7 played out. I think I blacked out at some point and am pretty confident I had a minor stroke during the 8th inning.

We wound up winnng in 10 innings, after a rain delay. The winning run for Cleveland was at the plate with two outs in the bottom of the tenth.  I tried so hard to not let my mind think about the series ending with one swing, but the thought entered anyway.

And then it was over. For me it was like a wave a relief and I went to bed with one thought stuck on repeat, “the Cubs won the World Series”.

The weight of it didn’t hit me until the next morning. I was scrolling through Twitter and Facebook and soaking it all in. I came across two videos that got to me and I lost it.  I didn’t cry. I wept.   Here is one of them.

I’ve been trying to figure out why we care so much about these teams and their players. I don’t have an answer. All I know is at some point, for those of us who have chosen to be a fan of a team, these teams become part of us. They give us a reason to have a common enemy or a common foe. They are imprinted directly onto our souls.

It is something passed down to us the same way we pass it down to our kids. These teams live in our TVs which are hung on the walls of our homes. They are with us year in and year out. They are an extension of our families. We want them to do well in the same way we want our children to do well (maybe slightly overstated but there is some truth in there if you look hard enough).

I am so proud of this team. My hope is the 2016 Cubs will be the same to my kids as the 1984 team was for me.   I still can’t believe, THE CUBS WON THE WORLD SERIES!

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