For Dads and Grandpas Everywhere
My name is Robyn, and I’ve been a Cubs fan for 91 years. Heartbreak is a heavy burden, and I’m carrying the weight of three generations of Cub fandom upon my shoulders.
On Wednesday night, when Kris Bryant fielded that chopper, I jumped off my couch. When he lobbed the ball to Rizzo, I stood.
That’s it. I stood, for several minutes, my hands pressed against my mouth. If you come from a Cubs family, you probably experienced a similar bout of incomprehension. Any time the Cubs win it comes with an ounce of disbelief. But the World Series? The Cubs? They won the World Series? In those minutes of shock, thirty-five years of memories came to me.
Of Grandpa Ralph, who treasured his Cubbies and his grandchildren, and always found a way to fit both of them into his life. I’d sit with him in his car at the Portage Jr. Miss Softball field, watching my older sisters play their games while listening to the Cubs hissing and crackling on the radio. I ate popcorn and snowcones in the passenger seat, pretending I was at Wrigley Field. We never went to Wrigley Field when I was a kid. I guess we didn’t have the money. When Grandpa died, my only inheritance was a stuffed Cubbie bear.
Other memories came: all the times we sat in Grandpa’s living room and watched games. Just watched and watched, raptly, no matter what the score. And the times spent working on jigsaw puzzles with the game roaring in the background. Perhaps the most soothing memories of all: lying on Granpa’s couch, falling asleep to Harry Caray’s play-by-play.
The last time I saw Grandpa was towards the end of his battle with cancer. It was 2003; the Cubs seemed magical that year. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Sammy Sosa. Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez. Surely next year was here. Grandpa had a hospital bed in the living room, where his couch used to be. He was weak. He was confused and befuddled from pain killers. He pantomimed smoking a cigarette. I’m not sure he knew who I was. Quite honestly, he scared me. But I sat with him on his bed, and we watched the Cubs. I tried explaining to him that the Cubs were doing so well. They were maybe going all the way. Hang on, Grandpa, I thought. Just another month.
Grandpa died the first week of October. The night he died, Mark Prior, a young pup my age, beat the veteran Greg Maddux (a former and still beloved Cub). I remember thinking to myself that it was fitting: cycles and regeneration. The new coming up to take the place of the old. The torch being passed on.
His death also came 11 days before the Steve Bartman incident. My only hope is that he died thinking that yes, this is their year.
Of course it wasn’t. But we picked up the pieces and continued on for thirteen years, which I suppose is a bat of the eye in the life of a Cubs fan.
While Grandpa was a calm, quiet, fan, eternally hopeful, my dad is more dynamic. I’m certain he has personally cursed every player on the Cubs roster throughout his lifetime, declaring each and every one of them a bum or worse at some point, and dramatically switching off the television before Harry had the chance to shout, “Let’s get some runs!” But, of course, he always turned the game on the next day.
As a Cubs fan, I take after my dad more than Grandpa. After every loss, I declared the entire season a failure. After every season, I gave up. But like Dad, I itched every spring; walking with my heart abuzz with hope. The Cubs have been one thing we could share together. Being the strange daughter, I’ve always done my own thing, and I’m sure I have been incomprehensible to my dad my whole life. But there has always been baseball. The Cubs: allowing dads and daughters understand each other for thirty-five years.
In the moments after that final out on Wednesday, after all of my memories of my dad and grandpa passed by, only then did I cry.
It will be interesting to see how things will change now that the Cubs are champions. To be honest, I’m prepared for next season to be an embarrassing failure, and in some ways, I’m hoping for it, because that’s how I’ve always used the Cubs to relate to others. Commiseration. While the Cubs winning it all is a huge relief, it’s also sad, like saying goodbye to an old friend. Like saying goodbye to Grandpa. After all, the Cubs are not Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. They are not Addison Russell and Javy Baez. The Cubs are their history, whether Joe Maddon likes it or not. And now that they are winners, I worry that they won’t be the Cubs anymore.
But, of course, win or lose, life will go on, and we’ll find a way to love and hate the Cubbies. Grandparents and grandchildren will go on making memories. Because baseball is not life. While this feat is amazing, the Cubs winning the World Series is not world-changing, as many people have boldly proclaimed. In the grand scheme of things, it was just a game, and the success of the Cubs is unnecessary to anyone’s survival and well-being. Of course, so is birdsong and traffic hum. So is the smell of rain, and red and gold leaves in the fall. Even the years I didn’t follow them closely, the Cubs have always been something rather close. Always in the background, filling the spaces as I moved from one place to the next. I’d still get to where I was going, but the journey would have been duller.
So thanks, Cubbies. Or, perhaps more accurately, thanks Grandpa and Dad. You are the real Cubs, after all.
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