I do not care what any of the pessimists say, in my mind, 2016 will always be a great year. Despite the unprecedented celebrity deaths or the political divisiveness, what could possibly be better than the Cubs finally winning the World Series?
I remember last November – packed like sardines inside a Cubs bar, as far as you could possibly be within the continental United States from Chicago – watching Kris Bryant smile as he made the final out of the World Series. My eye’s welled with tears. I passionately embraced random strangers. I cheered and hollered and sang “Go, Cubs, Go” with my new friends loud enough to wake the dead. The improbably had finally happened, the impossible had finally happened, the Cubs won. The Curse of the Billy-Goat was finally broke. In that moment, I couldn’t help but share the sentiment of the final lines of the movie Moneyball (2011).
“How can you not be romantic about baseball?”
Now, I’ve been a Cubs fan for as long as I can remember, and I have been waiting my whole life for November 2, 2016. More than that, the curse of being a Cubs fan had been passed down to me by my father, and my grandfather, both of whom had been waiting their entire lives for the same.
Like most Cub’s fans I know, while we have wholeheartedly cheered for our team, in the back of our minds, we have always questioned the Cubs ability to go the distance. The last 108 years are a testament to the Cubs ability to consistently under perform to our expectations. Heartbreak has been a part of who we were. Like in 2007 and 2008, when in back-to-back seasons the Cubs finished with the best record in baseball, only to lose their first series in the post season. And in 2003, when the Steve Bartman Incidence jinxed the team out of the playoffs. Or in 1998, when after losing Harry – despite having the league’s MVP and Rookie of the Year on team – the Cubs fizzled out in the second round.
For the Cubs, the issue was never a lack of talent. Despite MVP winning players like Sammy Sosa, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, and Ernie Banks, or Rookie of the Year winners like Kerry Wood and Geovanni Soto, or Cy Young Award winning Greg Maddux – victory remained elusive.
As a Cubs fans, it can be difficult to break one-self of the negative thought process, which in some ways must have contributed to the teams self-fulfilling prophecy as Major League Baseball’s perennial losers. Though the team has been affectionately referred to as the “lovable losers”, don’t think for one second we loved losing.
In the weeks following the series, the nation showed nothing but love and support for the Cubs fans everywhere (well, with the exception of those doomed to live out their days in the Cleveland Metropolitan area). This was great, and gave credence to the age-old saying that there “are Cubs fans everywhere” (which there are). But it was also kind of strange.
The 2016 World Series ended up being one of the was one of the most watched World Series in decades. While the baseball play was phenomenal, it is not an explanation of why so many people tuned in to watch the Cubs play baseball. Even people like my sister and her friends – about as apathetic a sports fan as they come – cared about this Series. Why?
Yes, America has a soft spot for the underdogs. That is just embedded in our collective DNA. It probably dates back to the American Revolution, when a bunch of farmers and shopkeepers decided to break away from the all-powerful British Empire. Okay, so we like to believe that the little guy has a shot? But, we don’t see Arkansas fans popping up across America every time they play the Crimson Tide, do we? This past World Series was more than just a typical underdog situation; something like rooting for Boise State to upset big bad Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The Indians, with their severe championship drought, were almost as much of the “underdogs” as the Cubs. In fact, the Cubs cannot even be considered underdogs last season! Back in March 2016, Vegas picked the Cubs to win it all.
So maybe the reason everybody was interested, was because the Cubs have not won the World Series in so long? True. The Cubs have had a very, very long World Series drought. As one of the charter members of the National League, they have been playing a lot of baseball since 1876. But the Cubs have won. Collectively, we do not bemoan the fact that Seattle Marines have never even been to the World Series. I certainly cannot imagine everyone on social media outing themselves as closeted Marines fan should Seattle win the pennant next season. Can you? No.
Our fascination with the Cubs transcends their record and statistics. I think the reason why people cared that the Cubs won, was because of the story which the Cubs have been a part of. Sports, are about story. Ever season we tune in, eager to follow the journeys of teams and players to their conclusion. What captivates sports fans are the same elements which capture the attention of any audience – the story. A good story is about more than just the results, it is about the emotional experience. The appeal of the Chicago Cubs to many people has been their narrative, and the many positive traits demonstrated throughout their quest to return as World Series Champions. It’s about perseverance, as we have watching them attempt to achieve their goal without success for 108 consecutive seasons. It’s about loyalty, as the fans stood by their team and the team did not abandon its fans (or blame them for perpetual failure). But most importantly, it has been about hope. Not just hope for the improbably, but hope for the impossible. The Cubs reminded us – all of us – never to give up, as anything is possible.
As a Cubs fan, with the start of the new season upon us and the “victory high” beginning to fade, I cannot help but wonder what the future of the Cubs narrative will be. For the first time since 1909, the Chicago Cubs will start the season as the defending World Series Champs. Our identity has been founded in losing. As the “Lovable Losers” our baseball lives have been rooted in the perpetually optimistic belief that “there is always next year.” But for once in our lives, there finally was the year. In true Cubs fashion, it went into extra-innings as they presented their opponents with countless opportunities to grasp victory from them, but they finally pulled it off and won. Where does that leave us as Cubs fans? Who are we now?
Despite losing the season opener to the Cardinals, the Cubs are again the favorite to win the 2017 World Series. Does the narrative now change to that of perennial contenders? Do the Epstein-Hoyer Cubs have what it takes to be the elusive back-to-back World Series Champions? Will the “Friendly Confines” become less friendly and begin to reek of the same entitlement as places like the new Yankee Stadium? Who knows?
But with opening day upon us, “how can you not be romantic about baseball?”
All I know is that as a fan, it feels foreign – although great – to start the season as a winner. I do not know what lies ahead for the Cubs or their narrative, but I am excited to find out. With the entire season before us, who knows what other narratives will change when a team hoists the Commissioner’s Trophy in November.
Happy Opening Day baseball fans!