This was not supposed be this week’s blog post, or next week’s, or even in my lifetime. Never imagined this could happen: winning. Any kind of winning, for that matter.
A child growing up in Nevada in the Sixties and Seventies faced challenges. All kids do, but the Silver State in those days was extra “special.” It was not diverse, to say the least. If newcomers were anything but white, and we were all newcomers, it probably took hours for people to learn Nevada was rightfully called “The Biloxi of the West” (truth: my graduating class on 430+ had one African American). The K-12 education system got by economically with the few bread crusts thrown from the local table (re: casinos). Someone who looked like me was a frequent playground target, what with the glasses (“four-eyes”) and weighing less than a hundred pounds up until high school.
Yeah, there was not a lot of winning for someone who looked like me in those days. My high school teams sucked eggs and were mere toys for the Washoe County Schools to the north, save for flashes of glory. I didn’t follow pro or college sports, though I admired Muhammad Ali while he danced in the spotlight. There was a brief fling with the Yankees, which I admit was a bandwagon thing during their Seventies glory days.
On a personal level, there weren’t too many local heroes and fewer adults to provide guidance. I doubt I would have listened much, anyway, as I was a spastic little shit. I’ve no defense, other than being a hormonal teenager, and I managed to offend most in my small circle whenever I could. Maybe my life would have been directed towards more, shall we say, positive influences if someone had sat my ass down and talked about the future after school, if someone said someday I’d pretend to be a responsible adult with a family and job. As it was, I graduated high school with no college prospects, no job, no ideas on what to do, and nobody who cared about me.
Eventually I joined the Air Force and married the best person I ever met, two lucky decisions, the second more important than the first. They were connected, though, because we as a couple were stationed in a land about as different as can be: Nebraska. The summers were too hot and the winters were too cold, and if the hot humidity didn’t drain you, then the winter wind chill froze you solid. Therefore, we stayed inside a lot. In those pre-internet days, there were three sources of entertainment: movies, television, and each other. Two of those are free (money was tight), so we watched a lot of television together and discovered the Cubs on WGN.
That may have been a mistake, though we didn’t know it at the time. Everyone but us knew the Cubs’ sad story: bad plays, bad managing, and an ownership who wanted butts in the seats more than victories. To get the maximum gate and ratings, they played up the Lovable Losers angles to the hilt, even hiring a slightly-inebriated broadcaster with thick black glasses and a booming voice. Funny thing happened, though. In the mid-Eighties, lightning struck in a bottle and the 1984 Cubs were damn good, making it to the NLCS before losing to ****ing Steve Garvey and the Padres.
We sort of liked the Northsiders until those playoffs. That indifference ended in 1984, and like problem gamblers almost hitting the jackpot, that small taste of postseason success turned us into passionate Die Hard Cubs Fans. We were hooked because we were certain we’d see the postseason next year, with more after that.
No, and no, and no. There was so much losing with flashes of glory. Sound familiar?
Thirty years disappeared in a blink of an eye and we’re back in Nevada. Not much changed in the Silver State since the Seventies. Casinos were first and education was last. The high school student body was a little more colorful but not by much. The kids who could afford to leave the area do so. The ones who stayed spent a lot of time looking for jobs that paid a decent wage.
The Cubs were still losing, but change was on the horizon. The various owners and managers that had weighed down the franchise like anchors were jettisoned, and the Ricketts family spent a few dimes to re-energize the team. There was skepticism in our house. We’d heard it before, the promises about vast blue skies, plus our politics are not the new owners’ politics, gently speaking. They eventually hired Theo Epstein, the Savior of the Red Sox, to head up the Cubs front office and Joe Maddon to manage the players. Politics were quickly forgotten. The hypocrisy of winning always supersedes political convenience, in case you’d forgotten.
If you have a pulse, you know where we are now: the Cubs are four games from winning the World Series. Four games. Still a lot to do, but don’t discount the Theo/Joe effect to date. For the first time in a score-and-a-half, The Bride and I are not only following winners, but we have genuine confidence in our winners. This is uncharted territory. True Cubs fans are used to waiting for next year, sometimes starting the wait as early as May, and I thought the fanatics (root word: “fan”) of successful teams were odd little creatures with no life other than team colors. Now we are them. We bleed Cubbies Blue and their success has infected our DNA. It’s a weird sensation.
I’m not naïve. We could crash and burn when we meet Cleveland in a couple of days. The resulting avalanche could end the franchise’s glory days, putting Joe on his fishing boat and having Theo take your burger order at the local Wendy’s. We might wake up in May, and start dreaming of next year’s success…and the year after that…with no promise of prolonged winning.
That’s tomorrow. Today we have confidence, as much confidence as Cubs fans can have. In a week, we’ll be world champs or biting our nails. In two weeks, we’ll be dancing in the streets or cursing that ***damn billy goat, again. The happiness or pain will fade. After a few months of cold tundra, the ground will thaw and a new season will begin anew. The 162-step parade to October will be the usual grind of highs and lows as we scratch for a postseason ticket to the dance. Maybe we’ll make it, maybe we won’t.
But we’re winners today. No matter what happens in the World Series, Cubs fans like us will always have 2016. I never thought or hoped this year would happen, and I will remember this for the rest of my life.
Today, I am a winner.