Tales of a Cubs Fan
Sorry Theo Epstein. Sorry Joe Maddon. Sorry (World Series MVP) Ben Zobrist. This is way bigger than you, the team or any of its members. This is about the city of Chicago. This is about the fans who waited a lifetime for the win they were sure would never come. This is about the fans who waited a lifetime only to watch Wednesday night’s spectacle from Heaven.
Just ask Cubs fan Wayne Williams, who drove from North Carolina to Indiana to keep a pledge he made to his father. The pact: when the Cubs got into the World Series, they would listen to the games together. So, the 68-year-old Williams strolled into the military section of Greenwood Forest Lawn Cemetery in suburban Indianapolis, found his father’s grave, and flipped on the radio. Together, they listened to the Cubs make history. When the thriller was over, he simply told his father, “We did it.”
Many Cubs greats have risen and fallen trying to bring peace to Chicago. This is as much about them as anybody named Kris Bryant or Jon Lester. Ernie Banks, fondly known as “Mr. Cub”, spent 19 years trying so desperately to do it. Ron Santo, superstar third baseman and beloved Cubs radio commentator, gave his life to the cause. Both were surely smiling down from Cubbie Heaven when Zobrist smashed the game winning hit to left. Harry Caray, the eternally optimistic broadcaster, spent 16 seasons assuring Cubs fans that next year would be different. When he departed the booth, the faithful were left with just his iconic promise that “as sure as God made green apples, someday the Chicago Cubs are gonna be in the World Series.” Somewhere in the clouds on Wednesday night, Caray was taking a big bite out of a bright Granny Smith apple.
Wednesday night’s magic brought closure to the generations of living former Cubs players who couldn’t deliver the city to the promised land. On a cold October night in 2003, Cubs ace pitcher Kerry Wood sat in the pressroom, looking the city of Chicago in the eye, tears streaming down his face, and reported, “I choked.” He had just lost game 7 of the National League Championship Series, leaving the Cubs one game short of the World Series. Shortly after the Cubs took the 2016 World Series, surrounded by reporters, the retired Wood cried again. Only this time, his report was, “It happened Chicago.” Similar sentiments were shared by many more former Cubs icons, such as Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams, Shawon Dunston, Mark Prior, and Derek Lee.
When first baseman Anthony Rizzo squeezed the final out at 12:47 AM ET, my feelings were irrelevant. It was time to think of my grandfather, Kenneth Neiman, who has waited his whole life to watch that trophy be lifted. It was time to think of my father, brothers, and the rest of the family huddled together in my Chicago basement. It was time to think of my great-grandfather, Harry Neiman, who was two months old when the Cubs last won in 1908 and spent his entire life waiting for them to win again. This would have meant the world to him.
Don’t accuse the Cubs of not getting what this is about. When Zobrist arrived at his Chicago home the day after the game and found some 3,000 fans lining his front lawn waiting to thank him, his natural reaction was to spend three hours signing autographs and posing for pictures. Immediately upon spotting Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg a few minutes after the game, Rizzo stopped what he was doing, walked up to the Hall of Famer, and hugged him. His message: “This is for you.” On the executive side, shortly after the game, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein refused to allow himself any joy. "I'm just so happy for Cub fans over the last 108 years, generations, some still here, some not," Epstein said. "They were all here tonight. Everybody who ever put on a Cubs uniform, this is for you." Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer chimed in, “I know there are so many that are thinking of their grandfathers and their fathers right now. It’s bigger than these 25 guys (on the team). It’s bigger than the organization. It’s about the city that stuck with the team forever.”
The facts are not in question. Wednesday night’s number two hitter, Kyle Schwarber, recorded zero hits in the regular season over three games after tearing the ACL and LCL in his left knee. He made it back for the beginning of the World Series and provided some of the most important base knocks. Pitcher Jake Arrieta’s career was left for dead in 2013 when the Baltimore Orioles gave him to the Cubs for practically nothing. He pitched two of the Cubs’ four World Series wins. Zobrist, the devout Christian and son of a pastor who took less money to join the Cubs’ larger than life journey, came up with the biggest hit in the history of baseball in the top of tenth inning. Manager Joe Maddon outmaneuvered the world to lead this team to the promise land. Epstein is the greatest executive in the history of sports, presiding over the Boston Red Sox breaking their 86 year championship drought and supposed curse, and now guiding the Cubs to breaking their 108 year drought and supposed curse. However, all of these are simple footnotes for the history books. This is all about the long-suffering city of Chicago. To my fellow Cubs fans, both alive and departed, there are only three words that matter: We did it.