Thursday, January 19, 2017

Rewatching Game Seven and Rediscovering My Chicago Cubs Fandom

Not sure if you heard about this in between all of the celebrity deaths and a nincompoop winning the presidential election, but the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. This is a pretty big deal, because it had been quite a while since they had won one of those. People in Chicago were pumped; in fact, people all over the country were pumped as the number of Cubs fans have increased exponentially over the last two years. I'm not sure what caused that, but everybody loves the Cubbies these days.

I am a lifelong Cubs fan. I remember those years where Les Lancaster was a legitimate reliever, when I thought Rick Wilkins was a legit catcher, when Mickey Morandini and Jeff Blauser were a legitimate combo up the middle, when Brant Brown was a thing, when the Cubs acquried my favorite non-Cub, Rich Harden, and thought for sure that the drought was over (they got swept in the first round of the playoffs). I could probably list at least another 500 things I remember about this stupid team, as I have spent an unhealthy amount of time watching and thinking about the Chicago Cubs.

A few years ago, I moved away from the Midwest to Florida to set up permanent shop. I remembered the essentials, like my wife and my dog, but admittedly, my entire Cubs fandom didn't make the trip. I'm an adult in Florida, and not even near a stadium that the Cubs make a trip to every year. It's just hard to keep up that level of fandom, so I didn't. I mean, I still followed along, knew everything that was happening, but I wasn't there. I was here, away from things.

I watched the playoff games, but I'll admit, I fell asleep before the last out for most of them. This didn't really bother me too much, as it was actually a pretty boring postseason. People forget that the World Series games kind of stunk until Game Seven. That game was amazing, but I was out of town on business, and I had been up since 4:00 AM. By the time the first pitch was thrown, I had been up for over 16 hours and was working for 12 of those hours. I watched the first half of the game around strangers before retiring to my hotel room to watch the rest in the comfort of my temporary bed. I managed to stay awake until the end, but by the time it was over, I used my last bit of energy to whisper "Awesome" before rolling over and falling asleep. It was not the raucous celebration I imagined.

That bummed me out. I loved the Cubs, but I wasn't sure if I still loved the Cubs. I mean, it should have meant more. A couple weeks later I went home and visited my family. I tried to talk to my Grandma about the Cubs winning the World Series, but she has been having health troubles, and at 96, she really didn't have the mental or physical strength to really take it all in. I think we were both left with an empty feeling. It made me wonder if it's all worth it.

Let's face it. It's probably not. We don't care about sports because it's the logical decision. We spit in the face of logic when we cheer for players and teams, and that's part of the fun. Escaping the rational world to act irrationally and passionately about things that shouldn't actually matter in our day-to-day lives.

I wanted that stupid feeling. I needed to try to find it. So I waited a few months, and last week, I rewatched the final game of the World Series in its entirety, from the pregame analysis from Joe Buck, to the ups and downs, the rain delay, and the celebration. I wasn't sure if it would matter, but I at least wanted to try.

The first batter of the game was Dexter Fowler, and even though I remembered how that at bat ended, it didn't stop me from getting goosebumps when he launched the ball over the center field fence. It wasn't the home run itself, but it was the moment after Fowler rounded first base during his home run trot to turn backwards and point at the Cubs dugout as half of the crowd was erupting in cheers.

I was hooked.

Usually, I'll read a lot while watching baseball games, because baseball games are rather uneventful, but despite this game being two months old, I couldn't take my eyes off of it. Here were the most affecting moments during the game.

Good - Dexter Fowler home run
I already talked about this one.

Good - Jose Ramirez being picked off
Because there were a lot of big moments, I feel like this is going to get overlooked as time goes on, but picking off a runner is enough of a rarity where it felt special, like nothing was going to go wrong for the Cubs and destiny (the abstract idea, not the stripper) could take them to the title.

Bad - Javier Baez dropped ball when trying to turn a double play
The Indians had just tied the game at one, and Baez dropped what could have been an inning ending double play. Instead the Indians had two runners on and one out. All of my confidence from Fowler's home run and the pickoff move were gone.

Good - Kris Bryant's base running
Kris Bryant's two runs involved some of the best baserunning of the postseason. He scored on a very shallow fly ball that Rajai Davis misplayed to not give himself momentum into his throw and Bryant was barely able to slide under the tag. Then, when he managed to score from first on an Anthony Rizzo single, because of a hit and run, that was just incredible. The Cubs took a 4-1 lead shortly after that, and things were looking rosy yet again.

Bad - The passed ball that caused two runs to score
The Cubs were up 5-1 and in control and for some reason, they pulled Kyle Hendricks after allowing a two out walk in the fifth. They were almost too into the idea of Lester being a postseason hero, so they brought him in, and he gave up two runs on a David Ross passed ball when Kipnis hustled all the way from second to score on the play. It was then 5-3 and the Cubs inevitable World Series win didn't feel inevitable anymore.

Good - David Ross home run
Uh, yeah, if old ass David Ross is hitting a bomb, then yeah, I'd say this one is in the bag.

Bad - Rajai Davis home run to tie the game
I watched this two months later, and when Rajai Davis hit that home run, my hear legitimately sank into my stomach. Against all logic, I felt sickness when I saw that ball exit the park knowing full well that the Cubs still won the game. I knew what happened, and I couldn't help that feeling.

This was my favorite moment when rewatching the game, because this is when I knew that it still mattered. Yeah, I know it doesn't matter as much as it did in 1998 when I cried after the Cubs got swept by the Braves. And yeah, it probably doesn't matter as much as it did six years later when I got goosebumps when Glenallen Hill told me that had they gotten past the Braves, they would have won the World Series. But it still matters.

After that, there were obviously still more good moments. But it wasn't the baseball that stood out. When Zobrist hit the double to help the Cubs take the lead, the part that stood out most was Rizzo with his hands on his helmet in disbelief as he stood on third. And the replay of Zobrist leaping into second base out of pure excitement. It wasn't Montero's RBI single, it was the dugout erupting in cheers as it happened, and Montero turning to scream in their direction after reaching first.

And then there was the final out. The out was great, but the reaction is what really brought it home. The Chicago Cubs had finally won the World Series. My Chicago Cubs.


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