I’ve written here before about the odd but special place baseball has played in my life. This time around, my intention is to dig into the game more specifically, especially putting into focus my newfound affection for one of the oldest teams in the sport, the Chicago Cubs.
I married into the Chicago connection, and my first time visiting the group of my wife’s family still living in Illinois coincided with the Cubbies’ first trip to the World Series in 71 years. Evenings revolved around games 3, 4 & 5 at Wrigley Field just an hour or so away from Sycamore, which saw the Cubs fall behind the Cleveland Indians 3-2 before storming back and winning the final two games in Cleveland to give the franchise its first championship since 1908.
My history is such that I never really felt emotionally tied to a baseball team. Football, sure, basketball, definitely, and eventually soccer, absolutely, but I never expected to care that much about what a baseball team–especially one located over 700 miles from where I live–did with their season. But the Fall of 2016 was a perfect storm of budding fandom, as being surrounded by a room full of people who really cared about what happened to this lovable team, who lived and breathed the atmosphere that was Cubs baseball, well I immediately bought into that because I knew what that felt like for other teams. And before I knew it, the butterflies that tied up my stomach during George Mason’s Final Four run in 2006, or prior to each of the final four plays of Super Bowl XLVII or Everton’s nearly knocking off heavily favored Manchester United in the 2016 FA Cup semifinal, found their way into my stomach as the Cubs and Indians slugged out two close games in Chicago (games 3 & 5, game 4 was a 7-2 stomping by Cleveland).
There was something, too, about getting into the fray at that moment in history. The Cubs were long known as lovable losers, but the arrival of President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein–who had GM’ed the Red Sox to breaking their own long-suffering World Series drought–in 2011 proved to be a turn towards contention for the organization, as Epstein was instrumental in drafting current Cubs stars like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and others, along with orchestrating moves to bring in big time veterans such as Dexter Fowler, Jon Lester, John Lackey and others who were major cogs in the World Series run, as well as the NL Wild Card team that came prior to the championship win and the NLCS trip the year after. Going into the 2018-19 season, expectations remain high for a Cubs team that is led mostly by its young core. Watching history unfold in front of my eyes really helped to connect me to the bunch from the Northside of Chicago.
But what finally solidified my adoration for the club was when E and I took a day trip into Chicago when we visited the Illinois family in late May 2017. We took an hour-long train ride into the city and visited a few sights, but the day revolved around a night game at Wrigley, where we saw the Cubs beat the San Francisco Giants 5-4 on an exceptionally chilly Chicago night. The stadium is clearly old architecture, but its design is beautiful and pretty much every seat in the house feels right on top of the field. And Cubs fans are incredible, even at that point in the year where the team was in the middle of a poor stretch. Being there, though, made me appreciate the history of the team, and has cemented my Cubs fandom, but also ensures that visiting the Friendly Confines will be an important piece of any trip to Illinois from here on out.
I may never make it to Santa Clara to see the 49ers play at Levi’s Stadium and it’s even less likely I’ll see Everton at Goodison Park, mostly because both stadium trips also require airline flights, making them much less cost-effective, even if I’d say each is its own piece of a sports-focused bucket list. I do make it to regular Hornets games, but seeing as they’re close to home, they don’t feel as much of an event as the trips, both past and future, to Wrigley did/will. With Opening Day 2018 coming up this week, I’m looking forward to seeing how well the Cubs fair this year, and to being back at Wrigley Field this July, seeing a game that will end in a rousing rendition of “Go, Cubs, Go.”