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You’ve surely heard the news by now: The Chicago Cubs are going to the World Series. When the Dodgers bounced into a game-ending double play Saturday night, the dining room of the restaurant where I was eating dinner erupted in gasps and cheers. Then, the texts and phone calls started rolling in:
“I thought of you when they won!”
“Your brother was the first Cubs fan I ever met!”
“Your wish is going to come true!”
My family is a Cubs family. We count down the days to spring training each February. Our hope springs eternal that this year could be the year. On Tuesday, the Cubs begin their run at history against Terry Francona’s Cleveland Indians, another team of lovable losers: Cleveland hasn’t won the World Series since 1948. Red Sox fans may already be gunning for Cleveland, because they ended Boston’s World Series dreams this year (by sweeping the Sox in the division series), but here are five more reasons the Fenway faithful should root for Chicago.
No one understands this heartache and devotion better than Sox fans.
1. History. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series in 108 years, since 1908: that's before women had the right to vote, before the Titanic and well before World War I. They haven’t even been to the Series since 1945. Generations have dreamed of seeing the Cubs win it all, only to die disappointed (this includes my Chicago-based grandparents who lived to be 100 and 97). My dad, who is nearly 70, doesn’t carry a photo of his grandchildren in his wallet, but he does carry a picture of Ernie Banks, a.k.a. "Mr. Cub." He also wants us to scatter his remains on the warning track in Wrigley Field, but that’s another story. No one understands this heartache and devotion better than Sox fans.
2. Personnel. The Cubs roster is full of former Red Sox players: John Lackey, Jon Lester, David Ross. Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs slugging first baseman, was a top Sox prospect before he was traded in the deal for Adrian Gonzalez (who gave the Cubs trouble as a Dodger). Lester and Rizzo, both cancer survivors, share a special bond and are the beating heart of this young Chicago team. And then there’s Theo Epstein, baseball’s aging wunderkind, and his field marshals Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, who are wheeling and dealing and plotting for the Cubs as they once did for the Sox.
3. Fun. Cubs manager Joe Maddon tortured Boston fans as the hipster-eyeglass-wearing coach of the Tampa Bay Rays. Since bringing his zany style to Chicago in 2015, the team has a winning percentage over .600. After every victory, the Cubs celebrate for 30 minutes in a “party” room, complete with music and disco ball; after every defeat, they have 30 minutes to wallow before Joe commands them to let it go. (There have also been clowns and pajamas this season.) The Cubs don’t have the goofballs of the 2004 Red Sox team, but they do have young players with flair: guys like infielder Javier Baez and catcher Wilson Contreras who play with 110 percent hustle and web gem-worthy defense.
4. Game. In 2004, the Sox had Big Papi, Jonny Damon and Manny Ramirez — dynamic players who could hit for power. With Pedro and Schilling on the mound, and Keith Foulke in late relief, the Sox had one of the best bullpens in baseball. The 2016 Cubs have similar muscle and depth. Kris Bryant and Rizzo, at 24 and 26, are Chicago’s long-ball hitters and elder statesmen. On the mound, Jake Arrieta, Lester and Kyle Hendricks (a Dartmouth graduate with finesse like Koji Uehara) have dominated. And the Cubs closer, Aroldis Chapman, rarely throws slower than 101 mph, making hitters look like senior citizens at the batting cages. For fans of the game, this team is fun to watch: They outscored their opponents in the regular season by 252 runs (Boston was second, with 184) and staged seven walk-off wins. “Hitting before the ninth inning is overrated, anyway,” says Theo Epstein.
Hope and devotion make it possible to see connections between seemingly disparate things.
5. Curses. Kids in Boston grow up learning about the Curse of the Bambino. Chicagoans are staring down the Curse of the Billy Goat. As the story goes, a local bar owner and Cubs fan, brought his pet goat, “Murphy,” to game four of the 1945 World Series at Wrigley Field. When he and his goat were asked to leave (because Murphy stunk, like a goat), he hexed the team. Since then, whenever the Cubs get remotely close to meaningful victory, something terrible happens. For every Bill Buckner incident, the Cubs have a Steve Bartman catastrophe.
Around this time in 2004, we were hurtling toward the end of another long election season: swift boat attacks, unfounded weapons of mass destruction, John Kerry’s mustard-colored barn jacket. And, of course, the Red Sox had staged the greatest comeback in baseball history, on the way to winning their first World Series since 1918 (where, as fate would have it, they beat the Cubs).
Hope and devotion make it possible to see connections between seemingly disparate things. I can’t imagine a better end to this vitriolic election season than a captivating and wild celebration of America’s pastime. Help long-suffering Chicago fans make history: 108 years is long enough.
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