When something occupies your mind absolutely, other thought is impossible. Any attempt at distraction is futile. Your mind finds its way back. On Wednesday, November 2nd, I was not the only Chicagoan experiencing this problem. All work and other thought attempted that morning led me back, and quickly, to the Chicago Cubs and Game 7 of the World Series set for later that evening. My nerves only intensified. It took only a couple of hours of spastically clicking through the world wide web before I jumped toward the door.
This was the great American sports story, and we were all in the middle of it. This was special for me. I felt it. I needed to know why. I was, at times, un-eased by the feeling. My mind could not slow long enough to understand it. On the way to meet friends, I forced it. Despite the chill and sporadic rain, I decided to walk. On the trek, this half-hour trek, I was going to breathe it all in. I had to embrace what was happening—slow it all down, and let my thoughts cycle through.
With my first steps, my mind started with the here and now, the 2016 Chicago Cubs and their historic regular season. I smiled wide. It was Kris Byrant, the humble superstar launching home runs into ballparks across the country; Anthony Rizzo, the fun-loving captain leading by example; Addison Russell, the clutch up-and-comer with his big-moment heroics; Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist, the day-to-day professionals putting in the means to find gloried ends; Jake Arrieta, the tough guy constantly defying experts; Jon Lester, the stubborn ace and his refusal to quit; David Ross, the wily veteran, Javy Baez, the slick kid, and every role player in between; and Joe Maddon, the non-conforming genius. This team did not need to ask for our love. We gave it unquestionably.
As I strode east on Addison Street past Lincoln Avenue, my thoughts moved to the off-the-field talent, from the main man Theo Epstein to the dozens of men and women doing their jobs to hold Wrigley Field up so high that it is the envy of every professional organization in the business. Without the grunts, from the suits in suites, to the peanut-slinger walking Wrigley’s aisles, to the guy riding rickety bleachers in the Dominican Republic, none of this is possible. I wished I could shake all their hands.
Moving toward Ashland Avenue, I thought of the Cubbie past. My smile faded, and I fought back tears. I thought of my favorite teams and the men I watched and admired since I was old enough to speak: Recent talents like Derrek Lee and Ryan Dempster. Further back to Sammy Sosa and all the joy, and eventual pain, he delivered. Lovable tough-luck guys like Kerry Wood and Corey Patterson. The hard-working guys in between, the fillers who gave it their best shot, guys like Brian McRae and Steve Buechelle. The heroes of my youth, the first baseball players I remember, Rick Sutcliffe, Andre Dawson, Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston, and my idol Ryne Sandberg. The legends, whom I never saw play but wish hopelessly I could have, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo. I thought of all these men individually and how without them I wouldn’t be here, living within walking distance of an American institution, Wrigley Field, and how the Cubs wouldn’t either. They were all part of it, our ghosts in the ivy.
That got me thinking of those who, cruelly, were not here any longer to cherish this day. My heart swelled. I wept as I thought of my grandmother. Walking in her home on a weekend afternoon meant a greeting from the smooth Pat Hughes for a Cubs’ matinee on WGN Radio. It was as warm as her embrace and is the soundtrack to dozens of unforgettable memories. I imagined what it would be like to celebrate with her. Every day I wish my grandmother, one of my best friends, were here. On my walk, the sentiment was significantly stronger.
I could see Wrigley Field now as I left Southport Avenue behind. Splashes of blue peppered every angle of my view. I looked up at the stadium lights independent against the sky. It drew from me a childhood energy. My memory dove deep, back to the beginning, to the root of the corny romance I have with the Chicago Cubs. It was baseball. As long as I can remember, I’ve been playing a form of it. I am attached to the game, the ins and outs of play, the unwritten rules, the iconic names, and the inspiring films. I know there’s no better feeling than perfectly squaring up a ball with a bat, or running down a ball hit in the air to catch it in the webbing of your glove. My eyes welled again as I pictured my father tossing me balls to hit off a fence at a local ballfield and three of my cousins and I whipping around a baseball with near perfection in a game of quick catch. It’s more than a game for me. It’s a part of me.
Alongside the park now, walking north on Clark Street, I couldn’t look away. Though hours away from first pitch, I was ready. I understood. Game 7 of the World Series was the culmination of something unique, and it would be impossible to feel this way again. In a season of one hundred eighty games, it was about this one. Just one to kill a reputation, a handful of curses, and dozens of punch lines. This one was for Ernie and Ronnie, Ryno and Hawk, the scout watching winter ball and the security guard on the dugout. It was for my mother and my father, my grandmother, my friend Seth, and all the dreamers. It was for the guy against the farthest fence in Section 538, the woman watching in her lucky T-shirt, and the kid standing on his box seat. This one was for me; it was for you.