More Than Baseball
Wednesday, November 2, 2016, Des Moines, IA, just before midnight.
Rally cap firmly in place and Jake Arrieta jersey donned, I had been standing up behind my recliner since the Davis homerun in the 8th inning that had evaporated what had once been a 5-1 Cubs lead. I nervously sipped at my glass of bourbon and watched history happen right before my eyes. The Chapman meltdown. The rain delay. The Zobrist go ahead RBI. The "almost" rally from Cleveland in the bottom of the 10th.
And then the moment so many of us will never forget. A bouncing ball hit towards the gap between 3rd and short, a charging Kris Bryant up with it. The throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base. The out heard around the world. After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs had won the World Series.
My initial reaction was stunned silence. As my phone began to buzz with incoming text messages and snap chats, tears began to roll down my face. It had happened. Next year was now. As Harry once put it, "Sure as God made green apples..." the Cubs had won it all. It was a story that had played out so perfectly, the eventual movie won't have to change a single detail. Two storied franchises, both facing gigantic championship droughts. Kyle Schwarber back from the DL after missing the entire season, just in time for the series. The rally after being down 3 games to 1, which included two road wins in hostile Cleveland. Oh, and Bill Murray.
In the days that followed, stories began to emerge that would prove infinitely more meaningful than a simple baseball game. The Iowa man who clung to life just long enough for the final out. The man who drove from North Carolina to Indiana to listen to the game with his father, at his grave site. The brick walls that line the outfield converted into a impromptu memorial for all those who didn't live long enough see The Curse broken.
Stories like this man, John Motiejuanas. According to ESPN, John met his wife four blocks from the stadium. She passed away 6 months ago from cancer. He wrote her name on this wall, sharing the moment they had waiting so long to see. A moment, I imagine, that was more bittersweet than he had anticipated.
Like Brad Pitt said in Moneyball, "How can you not be romantic about baseball?"
Several years ago, I wrote an essay about baseball in which I admitted that for a long time I was not a fan of the sport. When I was young I had a poor little league experience that revolved around a coach who wasn't very supportive of those of us who were not tremendously gifted athletically, and for a long time it ruined the game for me. Then when I was in college, I decided to give it another chance. I dabbled with fandom of a few other teams before settling in with the Chicago Cubs, thanks in part to my friends and the fact that the Triple A Iowa Cubs are here in Des Moines. Over the years, my love for the team grew immensely. Why? Not because they were good or because I had any particular connection to the city of Chicago.
It was the fans. The way that, no matter what had happened the previous season, everyone believed this could the year. The never give up hope attitude that was pervasive and infectious. I fell in love with the Chicago Cubs and with baseball.
I have met many people who do not like baseball. And I can't say that I really blame them. The season is long and games can seem to take forever, often end with scores like 1-0 or 3-2. The pace of the game doesn't reach anything near that of football, hockey, or basketball. It's slow. It's long. And dear readers, sometimes it's very, very boring.
And then every once and awhile, something special happens. The sudden crack of a bat when you know someone just went yard. The slow realization that it's the 7th inning and the pitcher hasn't allowed a hit. The increasing buzz of the crowd as an outfielder races to make an impossible catch. The routine ground out to first that will go down as one of the most important plays in the history of sports.
It's not always interesting, but sometimes baseball is down right magical.
That's how life is too. It's often boring. It's all too easy to settle into a routine and just stop paying attention to the world around us. We are all guilty of it. But every now and then, something special happens that reminds us how beautiful life can really be.
What happened on Wednesday night was about so much more than baseball. The moment I stood behind my recliner in 2016 and watched the Cubs win the World Series, that moment isn't ever going to happen again. Sure, the Cubs might win more titles, and I hope that they do. But the circumstances, the pure magic of that moment, can't ever be reproduced. Every now and then something happens in sports that transcends the game itself.
On Wednesday night, so many people's thoughts were on - not the game - but their loved ones, the ones they wished could see this moment. The energy was palpable, even in my apartment 300 miles away from Chicago. This wasn't about baseball, bragging rights, or bringing home the trophy. It was about fans who were taught to believe in the impossible. It was about memories of listening to the radio and playing catch in the backyard. It was about the first time you set eyes on that huge iconic red sign that read "Wrigley Field Home of the Chicago Cubs."
I loved seeing the Cubs win the World Series, I really did. But what I am going to remember forever are the beautiful and heart-breaking stories that have emerged from it. Stories of promises kept and how hope was handed down across the years, staying alive for over a century. What the 2016 Chicago Cubs reminded me was that it's not really about score or records. It's not even about the individual players. At the end of the day, it's a game we made up. But these sports we watch, these games we play, they can be magical. They connect us across generations and with total strangers. They remind of the good times and are there for us during the bad times. They make us believe in crazy things. And sometimes they give us incredibly special moments that will never be forgotten.
There is a word for all of that: love.
I mean, come on. How can you not be romantic about baseball?