Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber.
By Ray O’Hanlon
A few days have passed. The nerves have stopped jangling. More or less.
What is it about this baseball thing?
I’ve been trying to come up with the answer.
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I’ve been saved the trouble by my wife.
“It’s the story,” said she, trying to be patient with her Irish-born lesser half.
And me the journalist who should know about stories and their place in the scheme of things.
Yes, I married an American girl.
But it’s a polygamous relationship.
You see, I also married the Chicago Cubs.
And boy has that been an up and downer.
Right now it’s up, out of sight, out of the park.
What the hell happened?
My wife, Lisa, was born in Danville, Illinois, home of the Danville Dodgers, a farm team for an outfit that used to be in Brooklyn and should have stayed there.
Had Lisa lived her life in Danville she would have been a Danville Dodgers fan, and perhaps even a Cardinals one as St. Louis is more or less as close to Danville as the Windy City.
One day quite a few years ago we were visiting Danville and we took time to visit the Danville Dodger stadium.
The place was being torn apart and refashioned to look like a ballpark in the 1920s.
It would be the setting for the John Goodman movie, “The Babe.”
The guys doing the job were working flat out, and I remarked on this dedication to their labors.
It turned out they were residents of a nearby prison on day release and charged with turning a 1990s facility into something that Al Capone would have recognized.
I hoped they were earning time served for their effort.
But I digress. The Cubs.
At the age of 11, Lisa’s family move up the road to Chicago. She would attend school on the north side of the city, thus being invested in the lore of the Chicago Cubs.
It was 1969. Men landed on the moon in July of that year. A few weeks later the high flying Cubs crash landed.
Oh lore indeed!
Lisa’s grandfather worked for a company that could lay its hands on Cubs tickets.
He wasn’t much interested in baseball so grandma, who was a fan, took my future spouse to Wrigley Field at every opportunity.
The ballpark became a second home and within its friendly confines Lisa was getting religion, that peculiar faith that comes with annual heartbreak.
By adulthood she was not just a Cubs fan; Cubs fans are not just, well fans.
But you could pen a theological tract on this stuff, so on to next base.
I grew up in Dublin, which might sound a bit like Danville late at night after a few beers, but decidedly isn’t.
I followed and played various sports. We had our own Wrigley Fields, with goal posts and netting.
How we met was a result of the fact that Lisa would end up living in New York.
We were introduced by a mutual Irish friend in a Manhattan bar. Next day, as fate would have it, I was in Yankee Stadium with a bunch of fellow traveling Irish.
Lisa, a teacher, was there with a bunch of her kids.
We were on first base.
Skip a few years. We’re married with three kids. I’ve made the pilgrimage to Wrigley. Being Catholic I understand the shrine thing.
I can’t call myself a score card baseball fan.
I find it hard to get overly excited about game five thousand and whatever of the regular season.
Over the years, however, October has been another matter, this because every pitch and at-bat can be the last.
The Yankees and Mets always get a cheer if they are still in it. After all, New York is now the adopted hometown.
Chicago is a long way away, and besides, the Cubs usually seem to be elsewhere in the fall, fishing or playing golf.
The real life game apart, I confess to enjoying baseball movies like “The Natural” and “Field of Dreams.”
We even visited Dyersville, Iowa, on a road trip once.
The town is about eighty percent German, twenty percent Irish.
The field looked just like the movie, but apparently there was as bit of a feud going on between the owners of the house and the cornfield from which all those ghostly White Sox guys materialized.
Still, it was easy enough to dream.
The years roll on. The Cubs flicker, sometimes flash into life, then they fade.
And it’s 2008. A hundred years since they last won the World Series.
We have a framed Copy of the Detroit News from October, 1908.
It has a page one headline that the writers of “Back To The future II” must have seen: “Chicago Cubs Again Win World B.B. Championship.”
You keep looking at that word “Again.”
Of course, the Cubs also won in 1907.
Since that time it would be a series of back to back losses, ad nauseam, seemingly ad infinitum.
I found reasons to be busy each baseball season around the time that the Cubs checked out.
The Cubs thing, the story, was not quite hell.
But to answer Shoeless Joe, it sure wasn’t heaven either.
It was a kind of sporting purgatory.
So we took comfort in other sports, often being played by our kids.
But in the background were the Cubs, always the Cubs.
It was that damn story.
Fast forward to last year. Suddenly the Cubs were showing signs of, well, showing signs.
Our son Jack, in his high school senior year, had imbibed the Cubs Kool-Aid. He played lacrosse but he was his mother’s son when it came to baseball.
Lisa bought him a Kyle Schwarber pinstripe shirt.
I muttered something about baseball gear being very expensive.
Sticking to the tried and tested script, the Cubs crash out of the 2015 National League Pennant series at the hands of the Mets.
In April, at the dawn of the 2016 season, Schwarber does a number on his ACL.
I mutter some more.
That shirt with his name on it isn’t heading for a wall in Cooperstown.
Last Wednesday night, Jack, now in college wearing his Schwarber shirt, is roaming his dorm building rousting the disinterested and uninitiated in an effort to get a Cubs karma thing going in southeastern Pennsylvania.
It is game seven in a World Series that seems to cram 108 years of Cubs God knows what into a handful of October days.
At this point I am still casual enough about baseball in general, but anything but casual about the fate of the Chicago north siders.
I have latched on to the story, and the story won’t let go.
This World Series will be the season’s final chapter no matter what.
And of course it starts out as a classic Cubs tale.
The Indians are one up, then the series is tied, than the Indians surge into a three-games-to-one lead.
Lisa was stressed. I was stressed. The kids were stressed. The dog was stressed.
If I tried to suggest that the Cubs did great just getting to the World Series the response was sufficient to convince me that a quick trip to Outer Mongolia wouldn’t be a bad idea.
And so, game seven.
All or nothing now.
I figured it was like being on Everest and within sight of the summit.
Yeah, you might make it, but most people get wiped out on the way down.
The Cubs seemingly summited when they reached six runs.
Then it was down into the abyss.
Then out of it again.
Then, well, you know the rest.
It’s a new story now.
Off we go into the next 108 years.
And I keep thinking of that word.