Is this heaven?
A look at the Cubs 2016 World Series Run
Is this heaven? Is this heaven? No, it’s Chicago. That was the pervasive feeling as Cub fans around the world witnessed their beloved Cubbies clinch their first NL pennant since 1945 in baseball’s cathedral, Wrigley Field. Some may not understand why millions of adults around the world (including yours truly) were moved to tears watching grown men jump around after winning a game. It is just a game after all.
But for many, it is so much more. It is a time machine to one’s youth. It is a portal to the great beyond; a way to feel the spirit of loved ones that have passed on. It is a reason to cry, a reason to smile, a reason to hope. For me personally when I heard the words, “The Cubs are going to the World Series,” I was 6 years old again and everything was possible. See, the thing about baseball is it is an inheritance. A living breathing family heirloom that links generations in a way that escapes the constraints of the written word and transcends time and space. Allow me to share my journey in Cubdom with you now, and hopefully I can give you a brief glimpse into the heart of a Cub fan. In 1984 I was 6 years old.
It was my first year of little league and the Chicago Cubs were the best team in baseball. Ryne Sandberg was my hero, and baseball was my first love. As everyone knows the Cubs were up 2-0 against the Padres and were 1 game away from their first World Series since 1945. They went on to lose 3 in a row and this Cub fan’s heartache had just begun. But that’s not what I remember about that year. What I remember is my father showing up at my grade school and taking me out of class one spring day so he could take me to Wrigley to catch a ball game. We had $20 total dollars in cash, and we bought tickets on the street for a few dollars after the first inning. We found free parking (a minor miracle in Wrigleyville) and spent the rest of the money eating everything in sight (this was when a hotdog and a chocolate frosty at the ballpark was only a few dollars). Spending that day with my dad…that was baseball. That is what being a Cubs fan is about.
It is because of that moment and decades of memories that I refused to sell my seats to the 2003 NLCS game 6 when the Cubs were again 1 win away from their first World Series since 1945. I passed on a profit of nearly $2,000 total because I wanted to watch the Cubs clinch a berth in the World Series next to my father. We sat a few sections away from a man named Steve Bartman that day; a man who is still unfairly vilified and deserves a break from Cub nation and the media at large (I’m looking at you Joe Buck). And with five outs away from what was almost assuredly to be a Cubs win, I looked at my father and grabbed the “2003 Cubs World Series” towel I got at the game that night and said “Dad, I’m going to storm the field when we win this thing. You might have to bail me out tonight.” My Dad smiled and gave me a look that said, “go for it.” Unfortunately, before I could take a step out of my seat there was a commotion along the left field stands, and the rest as they say is history. But while most will remember that game for the loss. I will remember that game for the look he gave me when I told him I was going to run on the field like a lunatic. It still makes me laugh.
In 1989, I made my first scrapbook, cutting the box scores out of the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times and taping them to blue and white construction paper, while the Cubbies “lost my heart to San Francisco.” But that’s not what I will remember about that season. I will remember watching the games with my Gujarati grandmother, who barely can speak English but watched every playoff pitch with me and cheered the Cubbies on simply because it was important to me. It was those moments and games that overcame the language barrier and strengthened our already impenetrable bond.
In 1998, I was in the bleachers watching Michael Jordan throw out the first pitch of a one game playoff to see who would advance to the postseason. The ballooned ghost of Harry Caray flew over Sammy Sosa and the right field seats and the crowd was abuzz. The game was electric and the Cubs won to advance to the post season for the first time in nearly a decade. But what I will remember about that day is sharing the experience with my brother and a large group of our friends. I learned to play catch and hit a ball with my brother. I traded baseball cards with my brother. I played home run derby with my brother in our house with a nerf ball and little league bat. To me baseball is a lifetime of memories with my brother. For those of you that have a brother, you know what that bond is like and what these words mean.
The 1998 season was extra special because I watched Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout gem that year with my grandmother, who remains to this day, my heart and soul. My grandmother has dementia now, and she doesn’t remember these moments anymore. But on October 22, 2016, I gave her a big hug and kissed her cheek as we watched the final outs of game 6 of the NLCS. I told her that we finally did it. The Cubs were finally going to the World Series. And for a moment, I was a kid again and everything was possible. For a moment all those memories filled my body and I fought back the tears because these are the moments I will remember with her forever, even if she no longer will.
My grandmother celebrated her 100th birthday this year, and though her mind may wander and her memories are now covered by the fog of time…the thought that I will get to sit next to her and finally watch my Cubbies win a World Series is magical. This is why baseball is the national pastime. It is why grown men cry like little boys while watching other grown men play a game. Baseball is not just the national pastime. It is the national passing of time. It is the generational torch that is constantly being passed as the fans that fill Wrigley not only wear jerseys on their backs of players from a bygone era; but also wear the hearts on their sleeves of all their Cub-fan family members that came before them. If you watched the game and saw the fans celebrate the win, you might have caught more than a few fans look to the sky and raise a beer. That moment crossed time and space in a “frequency” type event where the living and those no longer with us could once again share a hug. Where a son could “have a catch” with his father who was no longer of this earth.
Baseball is magic. And the Cubs are that special kind of magic because for 108 years the family of Cubs fans around the world have collectively waited for “next year.” But “next year” is here. One day I will have children and grandchildren and I will tell them stories of watching the Cubs with my family. One day my kids and grandkids will have kids of their own, and they will tell them a similar tale. As the clock ticks and the sands of time continue to pass, there will always be baseball at Wrigley, and “people will most definitely come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”
When you see celebs like Eddie Vedder, John Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Jim Belushi, Bill Murray, Bob Newhart, and many more crying like children on TV, it is because baseball is bigger than fame. Baseball is that spiritual connection to the days gone by and memories filled with love and joy and hope. That’s why this one is for all the Cubs fans out there. For those who are just discovering the game of baseball as I did in 1984, and for those who just want the Cubs to “win one before I die.” For the late Matt and Esther Betchel who shared their love of the Cubs with my family.For Harry, and Jack, and Ernie, and Ronnie, and all the others that bleed (and bled) Cubbie Blue…this one’s for you.
In Field of Dreams, they asked, “Is this heaven?” For this moment in time, maybe, just maybe, Chicago is.