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Monday, November 7, 2016

On the Cubs, Grandfathers, Fathers, and Sons

I have said many times before that while my father is a die-hard Cubs fan himself, I actually inherited my Cubs fanhood from my grandfather.

Dad is loud, boisterous, gregarious, quick to the occasional outburst but equally quick to make it up to you with kindness a thousand times over. His temperament has always been more suited to the Bears, a team he could follow once a week, with a game on the TV in the corner of the garage as he worked on yet another project, never one to sit still, certainly not for the 162 games a baseball season demands. He's probably lucky a hip surgery rendered him immobile so that he had no choice but to sit and watch the greatest postseason in Cubs history, rather than fuming off whenever things went south. So yeah, while I love the Cubs and I love my old man and my old man loves the Cubs and the first call afterwards went to Dad and we both cried on the phone together, Cubs fandom is something I share with him, but he's not the reason I care so much.

That came from Grandpa. Grandpa was the Cubs, man. Proud and old and stubborn as hell, always willing to tell you a story about life in the 1930s. He was raised in the Depression, and patience was his greatest virtue, and it suits a Cubs fan well. He'd save every nickel for rainy days, sometimes to the frustration of my Grandmother, whose kitchen came straight from the set of That 70s Show even in 1997. No one was more well equipped to handle the kind of annual disappointment and prolonging that the Cubs would throw at you than Grandpa.

I think back often to Grandpa's 74th birthday party, held on the day of game 5 of the 2003 NLCS, the Cubs up 3-1 and looking to close out the Marlins. They lost that day, stymied by a Josh Beckett gem, and yet I had all the faith in the world they'd pull it off. I had Dad and two uncles trying to ward off the pain, begging me to take heed of their scars and their pain, warning me that even Prior and Wood could lose back to back games at home. Grandpa believed, though, and he told me to do the same.

Game 6 and 7 came and went, and I earned my first true Cubs scars, exhibit A and B in the case I built to defend the pervading cynicism that would color my fanhood in the years to follow.

A funny thing happened, though. When the Cubs were swept in the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, whent hey lost the NLCS in 2015, I still cared. The more I tried to hide myself in snark and sarcasm, building a wall of scar tissue to protect my heart, I never did succeed. Some part of me believed they'd do it someday. Grandpa's voice won out. It meant they could still hurt me, sure, but it meant the joy I'd feel if they ever pulled it off would be something to behold for sure.

On Tuesday night (actually Wednesday morning), the Cubs did win it all, and man, did I feel it all.

Every bit of disappointment gone in an instant, every heartbreaking loss, every bit of snark and cynicism I'd put together as a self-defense mechanism vanished in an instant (alright let's be honest, an hour, a day, entire years I will feel this feeling because f--k you, I waited a long time for this). I sobbed, like a baby, and my wife must truly love me because somehow that's not on facebook right now for everyone to mock. I called my Dad and I don't know if he got a single word out of me other than "*sob* CUBS *sob*!"

That speech from Field of Dreams can get awfully sappy and pretentious but for a moment I truly was dipped in the magic waters James Earl Jones discusses, the memories of a lifetime of baseball with Grandpa, and Dad, and friends and family just overwhelmed me. At some point when words were manageable again I whispered aloud "Grandpa, they did it" as though he wasn't watching, riveted, from wherever he was anyway.

Then my son stirred and woke up and cried and I went and picked him up and hugged him tightly. He is just 18 months old tomorrow, but already he swings a stuffed bat at a stuffed ball on a tee whenever you'll let him. He wears a baseball cap everywhere because Dada wears a baseball cap everywhere. He says "ball" excitedly whenever the game is on TV and I sure hope that sticks. Any composure I had regained up till then broke and I cried some more holding him and thinking about how different life will be for him growing up as a Cubs fan in this brave new world. Because the only thing that should ever grip you tighter than the past, as a Cubs fan and a person in general, is the future, and that future is really bright.

-If you used to read this blog for Bears takes, I'm sorry, they broke me, and they still suck.