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Monday, October 14, 2013

Ten Years After Bartman: A Missed Call

I don't write much about the Cubs here. For one it's because they aren't much worth discussing these days, and for another it's because I know some very excellent Cubs bloggers who do a better job at it. Tonight, however, as you may have heard, is the ten year anniversary of the Steve Bartman game, and I felt compelled to share my own story.

Now I'm not going to relive the awful play by play of that night or recreate where I was like some kind of breakdown of the Zapruder Film, but there is one thing about that night that has always haunted me, and I'm not sure when would be a better time to admit it.

I inherited my Cubs fandom, like my Bears fandom, my Illinois fandom, and everything else I should resent him for, from my Dad. The actual nature of that Cub fandom, however, was shaped by my Grandfather. Grandpa, like me, was a perfect Cub fan because of his stubborn nature and willingness to waste years in an ultimately futile attempt to prove himself right. So I grew up spending summers helping Grandpa work in the yard as he would shout to my Grandma "Why would he do that Suzie!?" after Mickey Morandini bobbled another double play (Grandma, good sport that she is, never failed to answer "I don't know, Orvis"). 

In May of 2003, Grandpa suffered the first series of the hemorrhagic strokes that would ultimately claim his life. At the same time, the Cubs were having their best season in ages. I remember sitting beside Grandpa's hospital bed as Mark Prior struck out 16 Brewers in a single game and the two of us marveled over the phenom's ability. The Cubs, in true Cub fashion, still managed to lose that game. The doctors told us he had a few weeks left, at best, and among my many complaints with the world was that it seemed unfair that he'd be unable to see that season through to the end.

Then a minor miracle bought us a few more months. Grandpa actually went home and spent the whole summer watching Prior and Wood and discussing their efforts with me to the best of his ability. October rolled around and the Cubs were still in it. At a family gathering as my Dad and Uncles tried to warn me, with the wisdom of bitter experience, that I should prepare myself for the worst. Grandpa merely smiled and told me that they were going to pull it off. I believed him. Game 6 of the NLCS came and we all know what happened then.

As that 8th inning had approached I had grabbed the phone, preparing to call Grandpa as soon as the Cubs had clinched, imagining how fun it would be to have that conversation after all of those years of discussing failure. Once the whole thing had gone up in smoke, however, I put the phone away. "Let him sleep," I thought, "you'll talk to him some other time. No need to burden him with your anger."

It wasn't until much later, long after he was gone, that I realized how stupid of a decision that was. Tired as we was, sick as he was, Grandpa wouldn't have cared. He didn't need me looking after him. He'd gladly have taken a few minutes to make me feel better. To tell me, once again, that they would pull it off, or that they'd do it the next year. He'd have done what grandfathers do in that situation, particularly ones who've been down the Cubs heartbreak road before, and told me that the sun was going to rise the next day. I could have used that. Hell, I still can.

I'm not writing this to ask for pity. We're Cubs and Bears fans. Everyone has a million stories of disappointment and sorrow. I've never cried over a sporting event and never will. That's asking people to feel pity over a choice you willingly make to spend time and energy on a game. I've never felt self-important enough, arrogant as I am, even, to ask someone to feel sorry for me because of the Cubs.

I would, however, like to share this with people as a lesson. For all of the hours I spend on analyzing X's and O's and yelling at Brad Biggs on Twitter and debating Jay Cutler's mechanics, sports are entertainment. Games are meant to be enjoyed and shared with people who share the same rooting interest as you. For most of us, like me, that means family. I call my Dad almost daily to discuss things about NFL players he's never even heard of. I let him talk me off the ledge every time they lose because I still sometimes need the "it's just a game" talk. Talk to people who care about you even about stupid stuff like the Cubs, because in the end you only get to talk to them so many times

P.S.: I got a Cubs calendar for Christmas that year. Grandpa, just a few weeks from the end, pointed at the month with Corey Patterson's picture on it and said "he's going to be a great player." If any of you run into him again before I do, maybe don't let him know how that one turned out.