Taking a refreshing turn away from politics, I received an e-mail this morning from a relative which read, "I’m doubly happy, the Cubs clinched their division and the Mets went down to defeat. Ha ha, payback is hell. That’s for what they did to us in ’69. That’s how far back my disappointment goes." (Thanks, mom, for writing in.)
This aptly summarizes the sports heritage I grew up with, which was, namely, to root for the Cubs and know their history, and hate the Mets for what they did to us in 1969. Yesterday both things came around full-circle. The "unsinkable" Mets finished their floundering, broke in-two, and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic, handing the division title over to Philadelphia. The Cubs ended on top of the National League Central. A chapter of family angst has been closed.
The Cubs and their lore is but one leg upon which my childhood was carefully erected. The other two are Ronald Reagan and cable television. This might explain a few things. I have successfully renounced two but shaking baseball has proven less simple. The oddity is compounded by the obvious fact that the Cubs are the cruel mistress which has mistreated me the most. And yet I continue to enter into her temple. I play the role of the hapless man who keeps returning to the woman who lifts him up and breaks him when he leasts suspects it (Game 5, 2003 NLCS). Why do we keep coming back for more punishment? Because we believe that all the pain we have endured will make the victory that much sweeter when she comes around. And if she doesn't, well, maybe as Cubs fans we just can't change.
It has been 99 years since the Cubs have claimed a World's Championship, and so their clinching the National League Central division, and thus making the playoffs, is the first step towards redemption, right? Which is sort of like the rush you get when your ex accidentally drunk dials you in the middle of the night. (Ohh, she was thinking about me!) Hell, we are nothing if not hopeful beings, but I'll let my left brain have the rest of the paragraph. How do I like their chances? Well, on paper it doesn't look good. Their 85 wins are the fewest of any team to reach post-season play this year. But the Cardinals held the same dubious honor last year and went on to beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Cubs fans believe their team is this year's Cardinals but I wont go that far because, one, these are the Cubs and their history is my catechism. And two, what makes teams like the 2006 Cardinals so special is that they are atypical.
Still, I will be doing my part to will the Cubs to victory. Borrowing from hockey tradition (after all, I am dislocated in Minnesota) I will not shave until the Cubs have won the whole damn thing or have been raucously booted from the post-season play. May my beard grow long and bushy. Amen. I also prepared to don Chicago paraphernalia and heat up a Chicago-style pizzas from the store, consuming them at my vigil. I am prepared to do these things to appease the mistress. Yes, here she comes now. And, if they make the World Series, I can drive to Wrigley and pray at the left-field wall on Waveland Avenue. And maybe fool the mistress into loving me with a World Series title. When patience fails, a little trickery cannot hurt.
And if they lose? I'll be the unkempt fat man with the Chicago shirt on. If they lose, life goes on. But who lives their lives on "if they lose?" anyway? Life is but a perpetual giving of your heart hoping one day it will return to you truer than when it left. No guts, no glory, or something.... Either way, I am prepared for a gut wrenching week or two, and I hope the Fates smile on me, or at least overlook me. One false move and it will be my heart tore out and tossed into the disposal. It would not be the first time.
Update: From SI.com, last night "the NL wild card came down to a wild, 13-inning finish Monday night that put Matt Holliday and the Colorado Rockies into the playoffs and sent Trevor Hoffman and the San Diego Padres home weary and dazed." Another choke by a team which looms large in the Cubs' legend (1984 NLCS), perhaps Cubs fans are calling in all their favors.