In the blink of an eye, the meaning of being a Cubs’ fan changed. When Anthony Rizzo squeezed the throw from Kris Bryant to close out the 2016 World Series championship, Chicago’s North Side team ended a century of being baseball’s lovable losers. They never won anything for all of my first 52 years and another half-century before that. I never had to make apologies for being a Cubs fan, because they were just who they were. I was exposed to the Cubs at a time before my memory can even recall. My dad, who grew up a White Sox fan in the Chicago suburbs, would have a Cubs game on WGN, so I’m certain I watched. One of my earliest memories is taking the T-ball team bus trip to see the Cubs at Wrigley Field, which cemented me as Cubs fan despite my dad’s leanings. I went to games every year for quite a while after that. One year I seem to remember caching a doubleheader against the Phillies when real doubleheaders were scheduled and you could spend the whole day at the ballpark. There was another Phillies game where the wind blew out and both teams scored at least 10 runs, I believe. We had cable TV for as long as I can remember, and I would watch them on WGN. I wasn’t a huge baseball fan, but I love the Cubs. They were on TV and it was fun to go to Clark and Addison. It really didn’t matter if they won or lost. Games were always in the daytime and it was always a good time. That’s what being a Cubs fan was all about. When the Cubs finally made it back to the playoffs in 1984, I actually started caring if they lost, and it hurt when Steve Garvey and the Padres ended that season. I went to a night playoff game against the Giants in 1989, but even though it was a big deal, it didn’t have the same, carefree feel of previous games. I was heartbroken over the Bartman game, and couldn’t believe they were swept by the Mets in 2015. Like so many of us Cubs fans, we never really expected to see the Cubs win a World Series. So many never did live to see it happen. Now that it has, I kind of feel like we’re a bit aimless. Yes, it was a magical time, and I bought all my World Series champions gear. So what now? Who knows. The days of paying $5 to sit anywhere in the bleachers are over, gone to the big business of sports and gone to the the reality of being a winner. Loser? That seems to be gone, at least for now. Lovable? For sure. To me, with all the memories they have given me, they always will be.
The summer of 1984 was an important time for me. I spent the summer at Purdue, working as a summer editor at the school paper, the Exponent. being a summer editor is a big deal, because you are part of a select group that will assume the leadership roles at the paper in the fall, and you spend the summer learning every aspect of newspaper production. It’s the sumer I fell in love with newspapers and would eventually turn my career path from engineering to journalism. It was also a summer where I spent a great deal of time running up and down I-65 from West Lafayette to Chicago to watch baseball games. Our newspaper publisher/advisor/mentor Pat Kuhnle would take us to White Sox games. (He refused to go to Cubs games, saying he would never go to Chicago to see a minor-league team). But a few of us made regular trips to Wrigley Field. We would get in line early, because back then the bleachers had open seating. We’d head back home, stopping only at the White Castle in Merrillville. The summer of ’84 was also the year the Cubs were surprising winners. There was Ryne Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe, Leon Durham, Bobby Dernier and Ron Cey. We went to Wrigley on Banner Day, when my friends Brad Bowers and Jerry Palm made a large banner, and everyone with a banner got to parade around the field to show them off, so we walked across the field with the banner.
That summer, my Exponent-mate Greg Smith came across a book called Rotisserie Baseball, a stat-driven, season-long game where everybody could run their own baseball team. It was the book that kicked off the fantasy sports craze, but we had one of the first leagues, started back in that summer of 1984. It’s a league we still have today, now in our 34th consecutive season. although Greg and I are the only two originals remaining. Classes resumed that August, and I stepped into my role as photo editor of the Exponent. The Cubs went on to win the National League East and faced the San Diego Padres in the NL championship series. It was a warm, October day for that playoff opener, and I skipped classes to watch, because it was a day game at Wrigley. (Unlike today, when the games generally stat past 9 p.m. at night) That game marked the high point of the year. Sutcliffe started and gave up just two hits. The Cubs hit six home runs, including one from Sutcliffe and two from Gary Matthews. The final was 13-0, and all was perfect. There was nothing that was going to stop the Cubs that magical season. It seemed even more probable after Chicago won the second game a day later. As we all know now, it didn’t happen. Steve Garvey and the Padres won three straight in San Diego and went on to the World Series. Summer was over. The Cubs were done. School and the daily deadlines of the Exponent filled my days. It wouldn’t be long before realities of life and career stepped in. But for one summer, we had it all, and the Cubs were at the center of it.