It has taken me a long time to process that the Chicago Cubs—my Chicago Cubs—are the 2016 World Series champions. I’m sure this has been the case for many Cubs fans. Just as I am sure that most fans have a different moment when they knew, they just knew, that it was going to happen this time. I can’t say that I have such a moment, because I never truly knew they were going to win it all. I did however, have one moment in time where my entire fandom and perspective on the Cubs changed. Because of that, my feelings on the 2017 season are drastically different than they have been for any past seasons.
The top of the 8th inning of Game One of the National League Championship Series was heart wrenching. I was elated that the Cubs were certainly on their way to a Game One victory, but trepidation kicked in as the bullpen began to falter. I tried to feed off of the energy of Anthony Rizzo, who did not seem fazed in the slightest. The slight twinge of regret I displayed for Aroldis Chapman even being on the team gave way to a hope that maybe he was going to get us out of this jam. Then Adrian Gonzalez smacked a single up the middle of the diamond and I was dropped back into the gloom and doom that resided in so many Cubs fans.
The game was tied 3-3 as the bottom of the 8th began. This started to feel like just another year when the Cubs were going to blow it. I’d given up, despite the protestations of those around me that the game was only tied and they had plenty of time left. Toss all the statistics and logical reasoning at me you want, I was not about to budge from my seat of resignation. As the inning progressed the room perked up, and as the bases were loaded and Miguel Montero stepped to the dish there was a palpable sense that something could happen. Still, that voice in the back of my head said, “Yeah right, this is the Cubs, c’mon.”
Everything that had happened in the top of the inning had me prepared for the worst in the bottom of the inning. Even as Jason Heyward and Chris Coghlan were intentionally walked, I couldn’t shake the top of the inning and how the Cubs had lost the lead in such typical Cubs fashion. I now realize this was the defeatist in me talking, but as a Cubs fan I never truly felt like there were individual moments so much as there were generalized failures repeating themselves over and over again.
As I watched Montero’s bat connect with an 0-2 slider from Joe Blanton, I knew the ball would clear the right field basket. It’s also in that moment that I realized, “Man, they really can win this thing!” It was an important moment, because it allowed me to be happy just as much as it allowed me to deal with the losses to come. The road to winning the World Series was never going to be easy, not with this team, or with most teams for that matter. And in the moment of Montero’s grand slam I realized that this Cubs team could overcome any obstacle put in their path.
The more I talk to my fellow Cubs fans, the more I realize I am not alone in having a moment that changed me as a fan. It’s not true for all fans of course, but for many of us there exists a moment when the Cubs and our belief in them changed forever. For some it is Jason Heyward scoring on a Jon Lester squeeze bunt during a July game against the Seattle Mariners that the Cubs should have lost. Some prefer Javier Baez’s extra inning heroics during an early season sweep of the Washington Nationals. I have one friend who swears by the Willson Contreras debut homer as the moment he knew these Cubs were different. Point being, there are plenty of moments where Cubs fans felt things changed forever in 2016, and my moment is but one of them.
As the new season looms, it’s almost difficult to process the way I know feel about the Cubs. I’m no longer worried about if they will win the big one, but it’s not that I’ve stopped caring about the Cubs winning. Rather, it’s that I know they can win, and the 2017 season has changed into a sort of hybrid of celebration and expectation. I’m not hoping or wishing they will contend anymore, I’m expecting them to be great in 2017. There’s no fretting over them blowing it in the end, or coming up short. I realize both of those may happen. At the same time I am acutely aware of how good the 2017 Cubs should be, and am more willing to now go along for the ride.
Lead photo courtesy Jerry Lai—USA Today Sports