The Lifelong Fan and The Bandwagoner
There is often an accusation of triviality when talking about sports as if they are more than just games. Elevating what amounts to organized recreation to something transcendent seems, to some, silly and inappropriate.
But the Cubs winning the World Series on Wednesday evening was something far more than a blue W on a white flag. That night was more than just the best “game” in the history of baseball. Far from silly, there were a lot of things about November 2nd that can hardly be put into words. But those things were beautiful, and so I will try.
Let me start by saying that I didn’t grow up in Chicago, nor did I know much at all about the Cubs until I moved here in 2009. In 2014, I married a lifelong Cubs fan. So that makes me a Cubs acquaintance for seven years, a fan for a little over two years, and a superfan for only the past two-ish months of crazy, heart-stopping baseball. My husband has been supporting the Cubs for his entire 28 years, but even with his contribution, our combined fandom has spanned only about a third of their famous 108 year drought. There were loyal Cubs fans praying for a victory of this magnitude when Lindbergh fired up the Spirit of Saint Louis, around the time that Americans were clawing their way out of the Great Depression, before the Allies invaded France, when Alaska and Hawaii weren’t even states, and in the years that stirred Martin Luther King, Jr. to deliver his “I have a dream” speech. The loyalty of this fanbase simultaneously weathered this drought along with so many other storms, storms that made baseball the quintessential American pastime: three hours of a summer afternoon given over to peanuts, crackerjacks, hot dogs, cold beer, and the home team.
So, this past Wednesday morning, when preparing for Game 7 of the World Series, I was fully aware that my window into the excitement of the day was a little peep-hole compared to my fellow Chicagoans’. For weeks, they had been flying W flags and lighting fireworks in honor of their own crazy Cubs stories, “wait ‘til next year” years, and their loved ones who’d have given almost anything for a November 2, 2016. And yet, I had heart palpitations all day.
My husband and I listened to Eddie Vedder and watched the slow motion highlight reels. We talked about Baez’s superhuman tagging ability and pleaded with Ben-Zo to keep hitting them home. We smiled proudly about Miguel Montero's grit and humility, hoping he’d have another chance to prove his worth. We agreed that we’d like to road trip with Schwarber and Ross, and I blessed their hearts several times and thought maybe someday I could give them a hug. We even prayed for hot bats for Rizzo and Bryant. I made my husband look at more pictures of the Chicago skyline lit up in blue, red, and “Go Cubs,” with the C flag draped next to the logo of the UBS building (absolute genius). We did everything we could to bottle up the day, knowing that those overwhelming hours would too soon pass, and with tomorrow would come the end of this particular brand of happiness, even with a win.
7:08 pm Central brought the first pitch, followed by 10 solid innings of what I am told are among the best ever played in the game (but, a few of them I really hated). Social media eased the anxiety between pitches, outs, and innings, and I laughed about my nervous-baker friend who had whipped up yet another batch of cookies, the last of many recipes that had carried him through what could have been a nail-biter of a postseason without all those baked goods to munch on. There were the stories on Facebook (like the man who drove 600 miles to listen to the game over the radio beside his father’s grave) that made me look like I was crying at Progressive commercials.
In the staggering 8th inning, the friendly tides turned, so I pulled out my rosary and unapologetically begged Mary to step even further in. We implored All Cubs Fan Souls to intercede on this, their feast day (The Indians Fan Souls could keep quiet for just a few minutes, please.). We didn’t say a word out loud, but my husband said a lot of very serious words with his intense, full-house pacing. We eeked through the 9th into a rain delay and then into the 10th inning…
And then the Cubs won. Holy Cow, they won.
I can hardly add anything to the delight of that moment except to identify the purity of it: the looks on the players’ faces, the uncovered heroism of the behind-the-scenes contributors, the response of this camaraderie-driven Midwestern city taking to the streets to cheer their beloved Cubbies and all they represent. Hard work coupled with endurance and patience and a recovered ability (thank you, Joe Maddon) to take light things lightly made this sport into what it was always meant to be.
As a bandwagon fan by all accounts, on November 2, 2016, I stumbled into a joy that I didn’t earn, a delight for which I didn’t have to pay 108 years of dues. I ordered the W flag and the commemorative tee shirt and am soaking up every minute, all the joy that my 7-ish years of sporadic fandom has the capacity to allow. I was the worker late to the vineyard that received the same pay. But you, lifelong fan, you have been at the vineyard all day. We may walk at the same parade on Friday, but you have yearned for that parade your whole life. I don’t know what I am missing, but you do.
As is every beautiful thing, this World Series experience has been a microcosm of heaven, and no old-timer would disagree. In those terms, the difference between being a lifelong fan and a bandwagoner doesn’t necessarily mean that the bandwagoner is deprived of the incredible joy of the win, but that win means something more, something different to the lifelong fan because the hope of it carried him through the drought and shaped who she would become. That fan lived out Wednesday’s win for 108 years.
Well done, good and faithful servant.