Fly the W: Cubs Win, Cubs Win!

Written November 4, 2016

I remember the summer of '95 like it was yesterday.

A doughy little lad of 9 years, fresh off a mission trip to Seoul and a series of doctor’s appointments in which I was literally told to stop eating seconds, I was all about two things: 1Jim Cantore
/John Hope on The Weather Channel (very active hurricane season…look it up) and 2) Chicago Cubs baseball.

like most mid ‘90’s southside converts, I couldn’t get enough of the legendary Harry Caray, his underrated partner in ‘prime’, Steve Stone, the pre-steroid Sammy Sosa, the consistency of Mark Grace, the defensive reliability of Brian McRae, the sage shortstop play of Shawon Dunston, home runs hit to Waveland Avenue, and the goosebumps every time I heard, ‘This is America’s #1 sports station, WGN-TV…Chicagooo…’ 

To put in perspective, an afternoon of Cubs baseball, for me, was the equivalent of going to Six Flags during a severe thunderstorm watch. Each week, a fresh slate of opportunities to watch my favorite players go up against the game’s greatest.

I remember every Sunday, I’d run out to the driveway, collect the morning newspaper, pull out the TV guide, and circle all the Cubs telecasts. And if the Cubs were off, I’d simply pop in ‘The Rookie’, ‘Major League’ or ‘Angels in the Outfield’ to hold me over. 

I remember my first Cubs game. Fulton County StadiumAugust 24, 1996. Cubs built a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. The future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg had homered in the 4th inning. And now Turk Wendell was out to seal the deal. I was on cloud nine, which on this day, was behind the plate in the upper deck. I could see everything…and I gotta tell ya…it was absolutely glorious. Forget the fact I was a copout trying to blend in with my tomahawked Fred McGriff sign in a place where signs didn’t belong. I honestly couldn’t care less. I was just a kid at a baseball game in love with his team.

So picture this: we’re in the bottom of the ninth. Lemke strikes out. Mordecai grounds out. And just like that…we’re just one measly out away from upsetting the big, bad Braves.

Then the skies start to darken. Grissom singles, Pendleton walks. Bye, bye, Wendell. Enter Larry Casian. Chipper Jones hits a RBI single to right scoring Grissom and sending Pendleton to third. Up next? Fred freakin’ McGriff. 

From my view, he was a peanut, but down on the ground, 1996 McGriff was legit S.I. cover material fresh off a 1995 World Series win. The guy was loaded and everyone knew it. So when he stepped into his stance, I was dropping back in my seat.

After all, I may have been 10, but I was old enough to know what happens next… 

First pitch…low and away. Ball one. Second pitch…down the middle. Strike one. Third pitch…foul ball. Strike two/ Oh, my ‘lanta. Just one more strike. One more swing and a whiff for Fred McGriff. We can do this!

Fourth pitch…Casian winds. I close my eyes. Suddenly…*CRACK*. The ball is up, it is high…it is gone.  

Game over.

Braves win 6-5 on a three-run bomb by McGriff. The crowd is going bananas. Strangers are high-fiving. Tears of joy and secondhand alcohol are flying across the stadium. But there I was…crushed like the day my fourth grade teacher gave me my first C ever in reading comprehension. 

And it was at that point…that specific moment in time when I realized why they called the Cubs, ‘lovable losers’. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. But after all that, I was well on my way…

For the next decade, I stuck with my Cubs through all the ups (’98 home run race between Sosa & McGwire, 2003 NLDS revenge series win vs. Braves (again gotta love the irony)) and downs (Bartman, 2001 & 2004 late season collapses, playoff futility/wasted seasons of mid ‘00’s), bleeding red and blue at every opportunity.

But after the team was blown up in the mid/late ‘00’s, my fandom luster couldn’t help but fade some. Trust me… I wanted to root for the Cubs. I wanted to remain diehard. But when your new favorite player is wearing the red and white under the arch (i.e. Albert Pujols), anyone can tell that’s a tough predicament. Kinda like watching late 2000’s post-Tina Fay/Jimmy Fallon SNL hoping it could be as funny as the Farley/Spade/Kattan/Ferrell era.

Still, there was always a special underground undercurrent of devotion to Cubs nation. Once a Cubbie, always a Cubbie, I guess.

Flash-forward twenty years after the Fulton County collapse of ’96 and I’m lying in bed next to my wife watching last night’s game 7 on my iPhone, where once again, the Cubs are blowing a sizable lead. Chapman is doing un-Chapman like things. The momentum is rapidly shifting. And the spirit of McGriff has apparently penetrated the bat of Rajai Davis. I look over and tell Lyssah, ‘This is the part when the Cubs blow it. I’ve literally seen this before.’ Even she understands the magnitude of what’s going on.

Bottom of the eighth…and I’m sweating more bullets than a Metal Storm. ‘Can we just get through the inning tied, please,’ I say to myself.

Well, it’s at this point the baseball gods must have heard me because not long after they send a reverse-jinx rain delay to stall the Indian’s rally. Meanwhile, I’m closing my eyes once more, praying for mercy to merge with history in a way my grandparent’s generation never knew.

Unfortunately, I’m no match for a super long day’s work as I fall asleep as the tenth begins. One more hour to dream of what millions upon millions have long anticipated.

Around 12:48 am, my tummy wakes its master. ‘You didn’t eat enough dinner. Feed me ‘Cinnamon Toast Crunch’! As I make my way to the kitchen, I grab my phone and wouldn’t you know it…two texts, one from the Italian Stallion (i.e. Joel DiModica) and one from my little couz. I open the latter, note a Cubs logo sent with fireworks, and suddenly I’m nine years old again watching the end of my first Cubs game, caught up in the splendor of knowing…

Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win! Holy Cow’
 Cubs are 'lovable losers' no more...

Photo creds: 2016 Chicago Cubs Hype Video; gettyimages 

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