Thank God for the Chicago Cubs! That’s right, over the last few weeks that is exactly what I have been doing – giving thanks for a baseball team. I’m guessing that you are somewhat familiar with the Cubs’ story this year, which culminated in a dramatic game seven, extra-inning World Series championship. Even the least observant baseball or sports fan would have to have taken note of last week’s news as it’s been widely celebrated that the Cubs broke a 108 year drought when it comes to championships.
It’s one of those feel-good stories that come along every so often, and this one seems to have hit just when we needed it. Mired in the muck of an ugly and awful election our nation benefitted from a national distraction – which is just what the Cubs and Cleveland Indians gave us last week. So, band wagon fan, or life long-suffering loyalist to the north-siders; we all won last week when the Cubbies finally brought home the hardware. Seems like the many companion stories to their success bear witness to this. So, I thought I’d add my story.
I am neither a band-wagon joiner, nor life-long loyalist when it comes to the Cubs. I married into this team. My wife and I were married in 1984, which happens to be a year in which the Cubs had quite a bit of success. It was the team of Keith Moreland, Ron Cey, Jody Davis, Lee Smith and Rick Sutcliffe – managed by Jim Frey. I’m not sure how many games the Cubs won that year, but they went to the playoffs, which is something they had not done at that point since their last World Series in 1945. The 84 team may have been the re-awakening of hope among Cub fans that finally came to fruition this season. It was also my introduction to the Cubs. For all I knew they were always that good!
You see I did not grow up playing or watching baseball. It just wasn’t on my radar screen. I had a feint awareness that there was a team in Cincinnati that had been successful in the 1970’s, but that was about it. The thought of watching an entire baseball game was beyond me. Why waste that much time when there was so much else to do with one’s day?
My soon-to-be in-laws taught me otherwise. The Kline family were life-long Cub fans – of the long-suffering kind. Mom K’s mother and dad had passed along this DNA to their daughter and she in turn to all of her children (and, as it turns out, most all of her grandchildren). Dating my wife, and spending time in her parent’s home, exposed me to the Cubs. They were always on the radio and often the television. I learned from my father-in-law the great tradition of taking a nap to a Cubs game, and that you could sleep through the middle innings, waking up in time to see who won without missing much of anything. Who knew sports could be this relaxing? This family was so loyal to their Cubbies that when they left the house they left the Cubs game on (TV or radio, or both) for their dog Sam. He cheered for the Cubs too!
So, I like to say, the Cubs were part of the marriage contract. Marry into the Kline clan and you had better be a Cub fan. The fact that all of this happened in 1984, a good year for the Cubbies, was simply icing on the cake.
Fast forward a couple of years and Lori and I found ourselves living in the Chicago land area. I was a seminary student and we lived on the west side, and served a church on the north-side, you guessed it, full of Cub fans. Even though we moved to town the year after the Chicago Bears had won the Super Bowl (1986), it was the Cubs more than the Bears that seeped further into my heart. This was mainly because I got to experience Wrigley Field on an occasional basis. We saved up and went to a few games. I went to more games with some seminary buddies – purchasing cheap seat tickets and moving down toward the field as the game went along. Watching the Cubs in their beloved and iconic stadium took fandom to another level. And, in 1989 the Cubs (ala Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace and manager Don Zimmer) had another good team. I figured I could get behind a team that was playoff bound every five years!
Alas I too would learn this was not the norm. It would not be until 1998 that the Cubs went back to the MLB playoffs, and then we (notice the plural ownership?) would get on five-year rotations with playoff teams in 2003 and 2008. But the Cubs – as you may have heard – were only to always be foiled (Bartman!) and denied the promised land of a World Series stage. However, with over 20 years of Cub following, I had come to appreciate the team not because they won (which of course, more often than not, they didn’t) but for other reasons. We’d taken our children to Wrigley Field and the Kline DNA of Cub love had begun to show up in them. I’d listen as my wife told them about Jack Brickhouse (her favored announcer), the Reuschel brothers, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ernie Banks. Their Grandmother would then recount Cub stories of decades before, including the famed Cub player, “Red” Corriden, from Logansport, Indiana – her hometown – who used to hang around her dad’s garage in the off-season. He played for the Cubs from 1913-15, eleven years before she was born and five years after the last World Series championship.
Which brings me back to this year. Sure, we got a taste of what might be in 2015, as these young Cubs learned how to win and had their first playoff experience. We even took Grandma to a game last summer in Cincinnati – they lost! We got to see Aroldis Chapman close out that game for the Reds and never imagined a year later he’d be in Cub blue. But we didn’t have too high of expectations for last year’s Cubs in the post season. It was all gravy just to be there.
This year’s team, however, gave us hope. Not just because they were good and had the best record in baseball. And not just because they ended up winning it all. They gave us hope as our nation listened to the diatribe of a Presidential election through the primary season right up to election day. They became a much need distraction, or diversion, from all the rancor and rhetoric; the nasty news cycles and disappointing debates. They gave family members and friends, who couldn’t agree on a political candidate, a common and safe ground on which to converse. They reminded us that America is already great, and stronger together when we (like this year’s Cub team) don’t give up, or fight one another, but work together to overcome adversity and challenge.
They brought a smile to a 90-year old woman who is now the matriarch of her Cub loving clan, as she donned her jersey game day after game day. And they rekindled the torch of devotion she’s passed on to her grandchildren, not just for her or their Cubbies, but for one another. So, for those reasons I thank God for the Chicago Cubs.