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    What it means to be a cubs fan

    chicago- on thursday, still reeling from the glow of the chicago cubs comeback in the ninth inning in their deciding game 4 against the san francisco giants to advance to the fifth NL championship series in history from the team, I went to a place I haven’t been since 2003.

    waveland avenue.

    Reading: What it means to be a cubs fan

    the place where, 13 years ago, I reveled for eight innings as a mere fan before coming to believe (fully, deeply, utterly) that ghosts are real, at least the ones that haunt the lovable losers in 1060 w addison here in chicago.

    This time I came with my children. madeline is seven, henry is four, and even though we live in los angeles, something deep and embedded has turned them into puppy fans. I usually feel guilty about this. we are in many ways the products of the clans to which we belong. some of us join voluntarily, others join us long before we have a chance to choose.

    That, more than anything, is part of the pain of true Cubs fans. we didn’t choose this, but it still makes us as much of who we are, at least as sports fans, as anything we’ve ever had control over. the losses, the ineptitude, the anguish, the disappointments and the collapses, are not just part of us. are passed down from generation to generation. they are also part of where we come from, part not only of us, but of the people we love the most.

    my kids saw wrigley field for the first time and forgot how cold they thought they were on this october night. They ran towards Wrigley. they touched its outer walls, as if it were something sacred because, well, it is. my daughter yelled, “cubicles!” my son shouted: “I want to go in now!” and i thought oh god i gave them this, this puppy fandom disease.

    I sincerely understand. some of my earliest and fondest memories are of wrigley field: the autographs in the old cubs player parking lot next to the ballpark, harry geez slurring his words before the game to say hello to me and my brother a good day summer, the ryne sandberg foul ball bouncing off my fingertips, memories of my mom and dad and brother and sister and me on that hallowed ground, happy, together, believers.

    My grandfather, whom I am named after, met, courted, and married my grandmother in Chicago. Aside from his wife and his seven children, 17 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren, whom he indoctrinated with a true love for Chicago puppies, he may have loved nothing more than his cubicle. p>

    I have a puppy-themed children’s book that Grandpa gave my daughter when she was born, and though we had read it to her many times, we thought she forgot about it a long time ago. we live in los angeles now, and her affection and her ingrained interest in the dodgers always amused me. But the words Grandpa scribbled on the inside of that book for him, words we read to him every time we opened the book, every time he worked his way through the bedtime reading rotation, must have stuck.

    They say, in Grandpa’s signature handwriting: “A day without the puppies is like a day without the sun.”

    This wasn’t just his motto. it was a creed she lived by.

    I realized that Madeline had embraced that creed when, at a Cubs-Dodgers spring training game last spring, when I was working for a partially Dodger-owned radio station and we were surrounded by fans. of the Dodgers, she stubbornly insisted on buying a Cubs cap and cheering as a lone voice against the Dodgers fans. when the puppies lost, she burst into tears.

    that fact was reinforced this week when i got back from work on tuesday, just before the cubs mounted their first ninth inning comeback in a decisive postseason game since 1910. madeline had been on our couch for hours, screaming on TV: imploring the puppies to do it, screaming over and over again that she believed in them. when they won, surprisingly and against all belief and belief, she went as crazy as any rabid fan could hope.

    His reaction made me nervous. made me feel proud and happy and guilty as hell. so two nights later, when we drove through wrigley and finally onto waveland avenue, the joy of sharing this place with my kids gave way to something else. a knot in my stomach.

    “That,” I told my kids, pointing to waveland, “is the place of the worst moment of my life as a sports fan.”

    “why?” my daughter asked.

    “why?” asked my son.

    i looked down the street, i looked all the way to 2003. why? what could I really say?

    “because”, I said, “when you’re a fan of cubs…”

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    This is not an isolated event, this long-standing juxtaposition of deep affection for our baseball team and the real pain the cubs have caused us as fans.

    Nothing can properly explain the doubt that grips the heart of a puppy fancier at the first sign of real trouble, or even imagined trouble. After Aroldis Chapman, who can throw 100 mph in his sleep, failed to secure a six-out save in Game 3 against the San Francisco Giants, Dan Le Batard tweeted this: “Cubs fans hope all fall apart in the whole season from here, right?”

    I don’t know dan personally; I just know that I respect his work immensely and find it funny, thoughtful and uniquely smart. but still. he doesn’t get it, and by not getting it he reminded cub fans that you can’t know what it’s like to be part of this tribe unless you were unlucky enough, at least for now, to be born. on it.

    because yes, we expected it to be undone down to the last detail. I certainly did. These are the puppies. Numbers can’t show you another sports fan’s pain, not really, but they sure can point you in the general direction.

    It’s been 108 years since the Cubs won a World Series. They haven’t touched one since 1945, when my grandfather was serving in World War II. they are 0-4 in the nlcs. There have been 18 Cub teams in the postseason, and most of them have just made us suffer. the never say die mets, the pups fight the parents in 1984, bartman, everything.

    and yet…

    this 2016 version of the chicago cubs should certainly be different. they have the third best offense in baseball, and since the teams ahead of them are the red sox (designated hitter) and the colorado rockies (coors field), it can be argued that chicago has the best adjusted run producing team for other factors in baseball.

    They have the best pitch in baseball by a wide margin: best earned run average, best batting average against, possibly their deepest starting pitch and their best closer.

    They have the best defense, so important, so underappreciated, in a generation.

    they have the best managerial mind in the game.

    they have, at the top of their hierarchy of baseball operations, a man in theo epstein who has already broken a curse in boston and who, if he wins a world series with the cubs, should be considered one of the greatest people baseball of all time – players, executives, commissioners, anyone.

    They have two mvp candidates in anthony rizzo and kris bryant, with the latter capable of being the best player in the game for a long time.

    they have… well, they have it all.

    then why the hesitation? Why did the grown men cry when the Cubs mounted that comeback from a 5-2 deficit in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s Game 4, even though they still would have had another chance to beat the Giants had they lost? Why the fear that cannot be separated from the euphoria that has drawn so many of us here over the weekend? why is joy mixed with a deep, deep sense of worry?

    because we cub fans have experienced the darkness that, while looking down waveland avenue with my kids, made me cringe.

    It was 2003, I was unmarried and living in Des Moines, and the curse was about to be broken. or so they said. I didn’t believe in curses. not then. not yet.

    I had no money, but who needs money to be a part of history? i got in the car and drove to chicago for game 6 of the nlcs. mark prior was pitching. the marlins were on the ropes. my whole family had suffered with puppies for generations. I’d be there when we, when all of us cub fans, were rewarded for our painful but pure loyalty.

    couldn’t afford to buy tickets, but waveland welcomed me. took a friend, a Cardinals fan who promised kindness if anything awful happened; It might not surprise you to learn that I’ve hardly spoken to him since then, and hours before the first pitch took my place. by the time the game started, bikers, lawyers, iowa journalists, bartenders (puppy buffs of all stripes) formed a merry crowd of merry-go-rounds ready to dump a sporting load that we fully felt only now that it was about to disappear for forever. .

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    Radios at full volume, with a noticeable delay in action. We heard wrigley’s mood before the words confirmed and explained what we had already felt.

    That’s how I found out the curse was real. i heard wrigley make an inhuman noise that to this day makes me cringe when i remember it. I felt wrigley’s ripple of terror to those of us outside of her. trite? excessive? sure, yes, unless you were there. unless you’re a fan of puppies.

    you know the rest. bartender collapse. when the game was over and the mood turned ugly, I knew it was all over. I knew the series was over. game 7? please. I had planned to stay but walked several miles directly to my car, got in and headed back to iowa. I didn’t want any more part, first-hand, of this.

    The ride home highlighted that being a puppy fan is different. I was exhausted. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I arrived at a closed gas station and went to sleep somewhere in Illinois. it was the homeless people who woke me up, banging on my car, a few hours later who informed me that the gas station had long since been abandoned. like the cubs’ possibilities, it was an ugly illusion.

    Back on the road, I rolled down the windows and accelerated to stay awake. an officer stopped me. When he came back with my ticket, I begged him: why did I think this would matter? “I’m a puppy fanatic.” I thought given what had just happened I would show some mercy. He handed me my ticket, smiled and said, “I’m a Cardinals fan.” and he got home to des moines in time to see the cubs lose game 7.

    my story is not unique. he’s not special he’s one in a million, just another example of why puppy fans are who they are. well yeah, we expected it to all fall apart the other night, and it probably still does.

    It’s not just about baseball or sports. It really isn’t. It’s about a shared experience with our friends, with our fellow fans, with our grandparents and fathers and mothers and brothers and, now at least for me, our children. It’s not just about the failures, it’s about sharing them as part of our sporting life, together, and still coming back for more punishment, over and over again, together.

    It’s tribal, it’s family, and it’s time we passed on a different kind of experience to those we’ve in turn brought into this pup fraternity.

    madeline and henry ran around wrigley, yelling and yelling “cubicles!” and “come on pups!” and “when is the game!” as strangers yelled “that’s it!” and wrigley loomed over us.

    the cubs team trying to beat the los angeles dodgers on saturday is the best cubs team in my life, and maybe in any life. they’re so good that’s why my parents in missouri, my brother in brooklyn, my best friend from minnesota and my kids from los angeles will be at the games this weekend, while i cover for cbs sports. That’s why the hope and optimism, backed by Vegas’ continued belief that this World Series is the best thing to lose, seems legitimate.

    And that is why, if the curse I now know to be real cannot be overcome by this incredible team, the pain will be as deep and lasting as what happened in 2003.

    my kids don’t know about this, just like i did when i was a kid screaming for autographs from jerome walton, dwight smith and mark grace. Last night, as my kids posed for photos, they stared at Wrigley in amazement and insisted that the pups were going to win outright.

    We noticed a light on near the ballpark. the official pup store was open, despite how abandoned the rest of the area seemed. a literal light in the dark. we went in together, and the speakers sounded “don’t stop believing” by journey.

    As my kids ran around taking in all the puppy stuff, I laughed and turned to the guy working the register.

    don’t stop believing

    “is this song on loop here?”

    wait

    he seemed confused. “what? no.”

    “nothing”, I said, but it’s nothing.

    is exactly right, the other thing that makes us cub fans, that unites us, and that may finally be rewarded as of Saturday: the fact that we have never stopped believing that our day will come, and that if we can let’s not experience it, maybe our children will one day do it.

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