Column: This is what Cubs fans have been waiting for

Cubs’ World Series berth gives longtime fans a concrete reason to believe.
Adam Reckamp smiles as a young child. Courtesy of Adam Reckamp

The Chicago Cubs are playing in the World Series.

It still doesn’t feel real typing that. The Chicago Cubs, the lovable losers, serial chokers, the most tortured franchise in professional sports, are going to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

The Cubs were my first love. Growing up, baseball was my favorite sport, and I inherited my dad’s passion for the team, not knowing at the time what I was getting into. I remember waking up at 6 a.m. when I was in elementary school, the first thing I would do was run outside and grab our copy of the Northwest Herald. I’d run inside, pour myself a bowl of cereal and comb through the sports section while I ate, reading everything I could find about the Cubs, checking the standings and the stats from around the league.

I told all my teachers I wanted to be a Cubs player some day, and after looking through all my old school assignments my mom curated for me when I graduated, I mentioned the Cubs any chance I got.

I truly believed that the position I was sitting in influenced how the team played. Sometimes I would stand in front of the TV in my basement and swing my bat while the Cubs were hitting, hoping through some strange baseball osmosis it would help my team out. I’d like to say the weird superstitions have ended in my adulthood, but they haven’t. I still knock on wood anytime anyone mentions the Cubs winning the, well, you know, just making sure they don’t get jinxed.

The misery I have experienced as a Cubs fan over my lifetime certainly pales in comparison to the pain of older Cubs fans. I was not old enough to experience the pain of the 2003 NLCS collapse, I wasn’t alive to witness the heartbreak of 1984 and I haven’t lived through the decades full of terrible teams. But whether through conversations with my dad or other Cubs fans, you feel the history all the same. It’s part of the collective history of your team; the past failures weigh on you whether you were alive for them or not.

But even in my relatively short time on this earth as a Cubs fan, I’ve experienced a lot of misery. I was the perfect age to have blind optimism during the Cubs teams of 2007 and 2008. I hadn’t gone through the decades of pain many of my fellow fans had, and I had an undying belief the Cubs would win it all. In typical Cubs fashion, they let me down, losing both series in straight sweeps, leaving me a teary-eyed child finally believing in the Curse of the Billy Goat — a curse that was placed on the Cubs by Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis in 1945. Allegedly, Sianis was asked to leave Wrigley Field because his goat smelled and, in retaliation, he said the team was never going to win another World Series. The team slowly deteriorated from there, quickly becoming one of the worst in baseball; every year promised summers full of losing and miserable baseball, the only solace in box scores from minor-league games.

Being a Cubs fan is an entirely unique fan experience. Not only is their institutional history of losing more rich than any other, but there is also a surprising amount of optimism in the fan base, epitomized by the mantra, “Wait ‘til next year.” Unlike many fans of horrible teams, Cubs fans for whatever reason manage to stay positive. But this isn’t always a positive trait. You’ll often hear Cubs fans root for their team with skepticism learned through years of failure only to give way to optimism just before they’re let down again. This switching from blind optimism to utter despair is the most brutal part of Cubs fandom, but it's also the best. It's the reason Wrigley Field is consistently near the top of the league in attendance, even in years where the Cubs lose 100 games. This intense attachment to the team is what makes nights like last Saturday, even though they only come around every 70 years or so, so special.

Mizzou is an interesting place to be while this whole run is happening. After living in the Chicagoland area my whole life, it feels strange to not be there through this magical stretch. It would seem even more cruel to be surrounded by throngs of Cardinals and White Sox fans, the Cubs’ two biggest rivals.

Growing up a Cubs fan in this generation meant dealing with constant abuse from fans of those two clubs constantly pointing out their World Series victories; rival fans are seemingly unable to make it through a conversation without bringing up the Cubs’ World Series drought. But much to my surprise, almost all the White Sox and Cardinals fans I’ve met here have been supportive, with many even actively rooting for the Cubs and celebrating with me after wins.

As a lifelong Cubs fan, Saturday’s win had me overcome with emotions I’ve never experienced watching sports before. Sure, I had the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cups, but I’m hardly a hockey fan. Those three titles gave me more of a satisfied feeling than the euphoric, radiant joy I felt when Anthony Rizzo caught the final out Saturday. After the Blackhawks won I think I emoted with a smile and a fist pump. When the final out was made Saturday, I think I ran down my dorm hallway screaming, doing my best rendition of Michael Jordan’s celebration after he hit the game winner in the playoffs to eliminate Cleveland. After composing myself, I returned to the room and sang “Go Cubs Go” as loud as I could, hoping for another time this postseason my PA would find Cubs playoff games a sufficient excuse for violating quiet hours.

I wasn’t the only one losing my mind. There were plenty in Wrigleyville partying and celebrating just like me. But the best reactions were undoubtedly from older Cubs fans, those who have endured decades of misfortune and heartbreak. Seeing shots and hearing stories of fans overcome with emotion to the point of tears puts on full display the passion Cubs fans feel for their team, and why this team is so special for the city.

The visuals from after the win were incredible, with Wrigleyville packed down every street full of deliriously happy Cubs fans waving W flags, and basking in one ray of sunshine in the darkness that has been Cubs fandom. But if you thought this was crazy, imagine if they win four more postseason games. I know for me and the legions of Cubs fans across the world, that's all we’ll be thinking about.

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