BY JAKE BARTELSON | BALL STATE SPORTS LINK
CHICAGO – Scattered glees of hopeful delight and reluctant terror enveloped the atmosphere while Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant charged a slow dribbler off the bat of Indians outfielder Michael Martinez.
The Cubs’ World Series fate rested in the collective heart and screw of one of the league’s youngest starting infields.
Memories of the 2003 collapse beat with each nano-second ticking by. I thought of my family, including my Dad, who was working in the Netherlands at that very moment. Was he awake? God, I hope so.
Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery was the man tasked with bringing an end to what is already considered by some to be the greatest game of baseball played ever. My mind flickered to Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman surrendering a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth with two outs about 45 minutes earlier.
Bryant scoops the ball up, half-slips and fires towards first baseman Anthony Rizzo. I didn’t learn until two hours after the game a smile from Bryant would tell me all I needed to know.
108 years of excruciating heartbreak, pure elation and the punch line to ageless ribbing hung in the balance as the ball soared into the soggy November night. The generational love for baseball’s timeless franchise had been pushed to the brink of destiny, and hope was our only weapon left.
Some people were too busy with each other; others couldn’t keep themselves upright. Our immediate group was looking on intently. I stood with my arms draped across my friend’s shoulders. Exhaustion from driving through the night to Wrigleyville and adrenaline willed my body. Though a lurking, singeing stress I’ve felt three other times in my lifetime raged in the pit of my stomach.
The weight of notching another year of generational futility loomed large.
The rubber cork wrapped in cowhide smacked the heart of a leather glove, squeezing the last gasping breath of the longest title drought in American sports. The alleged curse of a Billy Goat had hereby been exercised.
With an 8-7, 10-inning victory, the Cubs became the first team to go down 3-1 and win games six and seven on the road since the 1979 Pirates.
Utter pandemonium. We weren’t the ‘Loveable Losers’ anymore. Champaign splattered, complete strangers embraced and the deafening roar of ‘Go Cubs Go’ flooded the night. People danced on tables. Others cried. The two Indians fans next to me sat in shock.
I pulled out my ‘W’ flag from the safety of my left pocket. The pure white and blue symbol of a win since the 1930s unfurled as beer rained down from above. I handed the flag to my two friends atop the table. The ‘W’ was flying proudly over hundreds of people, not too dissimilar from the original purpose so many decades ago.
Wrigley Field was half a mile north, and we took off running up Sheffield Avenue. Thousands of Cubs fans converged in the street; our ‘W’ flag beaming as we sprinted towards America’s second oldest ballpark.
“USA” chants rang out. Car horns blared. One Cubs fan draped the ‘W’ around his shoulders like a superhero would. Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder’s song lyric from “(Someday We’ll Go) All the Way” came to life. It’s true: They wore pinstripes and blue, and for a night, we felt like heroes, too.
Initials in chalk glistened on the left field brick wall – Mostly in remembrance of those who passed on our beloved fandom down the line. Five feet away, a Mom and Dad danced with their toddler son. Another little girl sang ‘Go Cubs Go’ with her mom: The perfect snapshot to somewhat understand the magnitude of what winning the 2016 World Series really means.
This is not simply just a win. It’s a validation into the way of life being a Cubs fans requires. I’ve been in part taught the values of perseverance and optimism by sitting through countless nine inning games in my short 21-years.
Though, I credit my sister, Alyssa, for making me a better fan. She won’t miss a pitch without Cubs radio voice, Pat Hughes, on first.
It’s a familial milestone, evidenced by the cemeteries draped in pennants and Cubbie Blue. We wouldn’t be Cubs fans without those before us paving the path, and bearing the everlasting flame of Cubs fandom during the franchise’s moments of complete despair.
It’s why one gentleman fulfilled a promise he made to his dad, who passed away more than 20 years ago that when the Cubs got to the World Series, they’d listen to the games together. Wayne Williams drove from North Carolina to Indiana so he could listen to Game Seven at his father’s grave.
Those before us never gave up, yet the unofficial motto lived on: ‘Gotta have faith.’
Some chose not to when Theo Epstein embarked on a master plan to completely eradicate the futile franchise foundation before he arrived. Five years, 37 trades, 80 signings, 85 departures, and 140 total players later, The Plan’s prophecy was ultimately fulfilled.
We saw the Cubs’ first African-American player to play in a World Series game, center fielder Dexter Fowler, who hit the first ever-leadoff home run in World Series Game Seven history.
Or, the curtain call of catcher David Ross’ career, retiring at 39 once the final out was recorded. Ross hit a solo home run, and became the oldest player to hit a home run in Game Seven history.
I now understand why the rain prior to Game Seven foreshadowed what was to come. Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, my grandpa and the plethora of Cubs fans who passed on before this moment was quenching the 108-year drought from above.
This win isn’t about us. It’s about them.