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Friday, October 22, 2021

Guest: Confessions of a Californian Cubs fan

LIZ MCALLISTER / AGGIE
LIZ MCALLISTER / AGGIE

Chicago’s baseball team brings home championship to spellbound world, fulfills 108 years of fans’ playoff dreams

The Windy City has been holding its breath for 108 years. On Nov. 2 at 11:47 p.m., in a storybook ending to a winning season many decades in the making, the city’s aching lungs were relieved; fans, in equal parts disbelief and electrified joy, watched their beloved Chicago Cubs celebrate a hard-won World Series Championship.

In a different time zone during that same evening, I sat  — in pathetic enslavement to academia — studying for my last midterm of the quarter. The monotony of memorization was punctured by the sound of a Chicago radio broadcast crackling to life: “They did it! The Cubs have won the two thousand and sixteen World Series!”

Reader, I tell you — moments of heaven on earth exist for all of us and that instant was mine.

Since before the world’s first skyscraper was built, my family lived in the Chicago area, and after the invention of the radio they faithfully tuned into Cubs games. Although we have largely relocated to the West Coast and our white and blue ‘W’ flag now goes up across from Bruins and Lakers pennants, we remain unashamed Cubs fans. Accustomed to short-lived playoff bids, my family would watch the last regular season games while eating Chicago-style hot dogs and crackerjacks, celebrating yet another failed year.

As my grandfather had been waiting reverently for this moment for over eighty years, my baseball allegiance had been decided decades before I was born. My dad coached Little League baseball for years and, much to my adolescent chagrin, always tried to secure the Cubs jerseys for my team.

One year he bought Crocs emblazoned with the Cubs’ logo for our entire family. After a (very) short grieving period, my pair has been laid to rest in the back of my closet near a Reyn Spooner button down (instead of a tropical Tommy Bahama shirt, it has bat-wielding bear cubs and miniature Wrigley Fields all over it). And now that I live in northern California, my dad has taken it upon himself to volley any number of insults toward my adopted allegiance to the Giants.

This year, the year, he bought our family “Try Not To Suck” t-shirts, a reference to the coaching style of manager Joe Maddon and, although no one recognizes the joke up here, I still wear mine in solidarity. My inherited love for the Cubs is a non-recessive genetic disorder. I just can’t seem to get rid of them.

I had been keeping up with the series whenever I could glance at a TV or stream a broadcast, even biking 30 miles on a stationary bike at the gym to watch a nail-biting Game 5. During this season alone, I’ve watched the Cubs at stadiums in Arizona, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Having watched the boys in blue take the field so many times over so many years made this win all the more wonderful.

Many fans have had similar experiences of quirky familial traditions and outlandish persecution over years of adherence to the lovable losers. And while the Cubs have proven their prowess and grit since April, fans have been proving their faithfulness for over a hundred years.

In a series of heartwarming reactions to the championship win, the bricks outside Wrigley have turned into a makeshift monument to family members and friends who weren’t able to stick around long enough to see their Cubbies bring home the trophy this year.

An entire community has been built around the cursed baseball team from Chicago. Players from the Blackhawks, Chicago’s hockey team, and the Cubs routinely support each other at sporting events.  The Cubs have gifted us with irreplaceable personalities like broadcaster Harry Caray, heroes like Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, and talent like Greg Maddux and Ryne Sandberg. We have immortalized the celebrity of Cubs fans such as Steve Bartman, Bill Murray, John Cusack and Eddie Vedder. Over the years, we have loved and lost familiar faces such as Sammy Sosa, Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome.

But our unrelenting willingness to be made fun of has been rewarded. While the final game of the series was held in Cleveland, 350 miles away, the city of Chicago shut down major streets surrounding Wrigley to allow Chicagoans the freedom to celebrate what is for many a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Joe Maddon, the Cubs manager and the epitome of geniality, stated that winning the series was a team effort. In all likelihood it was the combined efforts of years of assertive management decisions, hopeful fans, renovating Wrigley Field and favor from the baseball gods.

But for the men in blue on the field that night, no statement could have been more true. First baseman and three time All-Star Anthony Rizzo said the series was a rollercoaster of emotions. And we certainly knew it — we cheered at the television when recovering slugger Schwarber got aboard and when Russell hit his grand slam; we furrowed our brows when Lester threw his wild pitches and when Fowler stole second moments after being hit by a pitch.

But most importantly, this series and this year brought together every Chicago fan who has rooted for the Cubs since 1908; Chicago’s victory parade drew over five million people and became one of the top ten largest gatherings in history.

The celebration is not exclusive to the baseball world. Everyone knows a Cubs fan. That evening, suffering from self-imposed exile for the sake of studying, I received texts and calls from family and friends (including Dodgers fans) celebrating with me. Even those who claim baseball is “boring” begrudgingly offered partially-enthused congratulations because they understood the fulfillment of a dream deferred throughout generations.

People love sports because they bring us together in fanatic loyalty to our hometown teams while pitting us against our rivals — all for the love of the game. We love baseball because it celebrates hard work, raw talent and camaraderie. There is no shortage of the thrills of unknown factors like wild pitches, unintentional walks, injuries and rain delays.

All of these, and more, were on display during Game 7. But they have been on display in Chicago for over one hundred years, sparking friendly rivalries and ridiculous traditions. The Cubs are no longer the lovable losers; they deserve their championship because, in winning, they brought together millions of people in an increasingly divided world.

Whether you hate sports altogether or root for the Giants or Dodgers, we all know what it feels like to be the underdog. The Chicago Cubs, a franchise I’ve seen defeated time and time again, has always maintained its integrity and resolve, no matter the adversity.

So take a moment to acknowledge what I believe is the most incredible feat of sportsmanship and struggle in over 100 years. Go ahead and high-five a Cubs fan; you just can’t make up a comeback story like this one.

Written by: Liz McAllister sports@theaggie.org

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