Having been born in Chicago and having lived there for a brief time until I was 3, every morning since the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series,  I have to reassure myself  when I awaken that their victory wasn’t a dream.   However, my  father’s family has been firmly entrenched in the Windy City since the end of the 19th century, so many of them have been life-long Cubs fans.  To them,  it has been a humbling experience to remain die-hard fans.   My father used to have a saying born out of his love for the Cubs and disappointment at their dearth of World Series victories -- “Sports teams ought to pay me not to root for them, because every team I follow tends to lose the championships!”  Well, in spite of this familial defeatist spirit , I have to say a big “THANK-YOU” to the Cubs, not only for winning the Series but how they have definitely taught us many valuable lessons about life.   

A couple of weeks ago, right before they won the National League Championship game against the L.A. Dodgers, I was in the northwest part of Chicago for a conference (because I love the city so, I go to Chicago as often as I can).  Cubs fever was rampant everywhere!   There were decorations on display representing players in some of least expected public places (like the base of the John Hancock building).  While driving through the northern suburbs, I noticed that white flags with a large, dark “W” were frequently displayed flying from people’s front porches.  I had no idea what the “W” flag was about – I thought it might be for the Chicago White Sox, or maybe for some team up in Wisconsin.  It took several days for me to realize this “Fly the W” flag campaign represented  the hopes and aspirations that many Chicagoans had of the Cubs going to the World Series again.  When I’d go out to eat, every restaurant was showing “repeats” of recent Cubs’ play-off games on their overhead televisions.  The Friday night before the big National League play-off, I met an old friend at a deep dish pizza place, and the crowd there was absolutely electric as people sitting at the surrounding booths and tables were exuberantly telling stories about their favorite moments in Cubs’ baseball history. photo 3.jpg

The Saturday night that the Cubs won the National League pennant, I was at another deep dish pizza restaurant (okay – so I couldn’t get enough of the stuff while I was there!).  While I was waiting for my pizza take-out, the pre-game analysis was on the television.  The cooks were so excited that they kept running out of kitchen into the dining room asking me, “What’s going on with the game?” (And, yet,  the game hadn’t even started!)  Afterwards, I left the restaurant to eat in a little more quiet environment in my room, which resulted in falling asleep watching a 24-hour nation-wide news network. While asleep, I began dreaming that the Cubs were playing in the World Series – this, in and of itself,  is really strange because I don’t remember ever dreaming about professional sports before.  Suddenly I awoke and heard the talking heads on the television saying, “Yes, it’s true Cubs fans!  They beat the L.A. Dodgers in the National League pennant race, and the Chicago Cubs are going to the World Series!”  Even then, I had to get up and walk around a bit before I realized that I wasn’t still dreaming! 

One set of my paternal great-grandparents immigrated to Chicago towards the end of the nineteenth century from a part of Europe that was then Germany (now, it is part of France).  To make a short story from a very long struggle, over-taxation led to confiscation of their property (a small vineyard, they said) because they could no longer pay the taxes.   They tried a number of things to make earning a living possible, but after feeling that persecution against them would never end, they finally decided to emigrate from Europe to America to begin new lives.  Part of their “starting over fresh in a new country” involved keeping most of their history a secret, thus averting any future harassment.  A few years later in 1903, my great-grandparents  became the proud parents of the first American citizen in their family, my dear paternal Grandma,  who grew up believing she was descended  from Catholic Germans.   So, the last time the Cubs won a World Series, my Grandma was only 5; now my Dad, her 82-year old son, can say he’s finally seen the Cubs become World Series Champions!

Grandma’s French-German-immigrant family settled in what was the northeastern part of the city, and several years later (in 1914) Wrigley Field (the Cubs’ legendary home stadium) was completed and opened in the vicinity.   My father (born in 1934) grew up close to Wrigley Field, and he said that as a child, he could hear parts of the ballgames at his parents’ apartment building (especially when there’d be a hit and the crowds would go wild, roaring their lungs out) .  If he had the money to go to the games, he’d go; but more often than not he would listen at home to the game broadcast over the radio next to an opened window.  He said that he propped the window open because if he was outside, he’d hear the fans boisterously cheering whenever anything exciting happened on the field.  Then he would be dying of curiosity to know what happened, so he’d rush inside to turn on his family’s huge, wooden cabinet-clad, free-standing radio to listen to the game.  Listening to the cheering through his little open window just seemed to make the experience “more real and exciting to him” – it wasn’t the same as being in the stadium but he still felt connected to the team and the fans.   In a way, the Cubs were a part of his family while he grew up and this was one of many life lessons we learned from Dad, the dedicated Cubs fan.

One blustery, chilly day when when I was around 8 years old and my immediate family was on a visit to Chicago, Dad, my older brother, and I went for a walk to Wrigley Field when there was no game playing and the ballpark was completely empty.  It was kind of a sad time because one of Dad’s cousins had recently died at a fairly young age (this cousin was less than 50) and I guess Dad was trying to reconnect to things which were especially meaningful to him.  But I know that Dad brought us along with him because he was trying to build a bond with my brother, who was going through an unusual, rough, pre-pubescent rebellious stage.   To spend time together in hopes of getting my brother back on a good track, Dad and my brother would regularly travel  from our central Illinois home to attend St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball games.  So, talking about baseball was their “special thing” in common at that time.  

When we were walking around Wrigley field, we tried peeking at the field and the bleachers wherever we could through locked gates.  However, Dad spotted a gate that was locked with a very slack chain wrapped around vertical bars where two mirror-image chain-link gate panels met, thus comprising the support for its latch.  My brother tried to see if he could slip through the gap to get onto the baseball diamond and found that he was too big to get through.  But being a rascal, my brother’s sharp brain did a few mental measurements and he determined (and stated out loud) that I could slip through under the chain. 

Now you wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I was a really little kid for my age and usually I’d be the shortest child in my classes at school; I remember growing to be only a whopping 37 pounds that year!   But I’ve always had a pretty sensitive conscience and sneaking into an empty ballpark was something  my conscience wouldn’t let me do.   My Dad started separating the gap wider than the gates normally formed while encouraging me to worm my way between the upright ends bars which supported the latch’s hardware.  But before Dad could say much, a security guard came up and told my Dad, “I’m sorry sir, but you’ll have to move along.”  My Dad started telling the guard  that I “wanted to go inside” because I’d never been in a professional ballpark before ( I think Dad was hoping the guard would unlock the gate and take us all inside).  But, that conscience came out true and clear when the guard directly asked me if I wanted to go inside with him.  I very quickly uttered a meek “No-o-o-o!”  The guard then gave my Dad a very dirty look, and said, “Move on, sir!”, pointing the way to the street with his baton.  Needless to say, I had absolutely nothing to say after that, and my Dad and my brother were very quiet for at least a couple of blocks as we walked briskly away.  "Lesson Number One" for the day was “Listen to your conscience -- don't get talked into anything by your Dad and your brother!”

My brother, who had become a St. Louis Cardinals fan,  finally broke the silence by asking, “Dad, how can you possibly be a Cubs fan?  I mean – all the guys at school say the Cubs lose a lot of championship games.”   Dad started telling us about how the Cubs were more than a team to him – that they were like a surrogate family to him and that Cubs did so much to make a large city a community of neighbors.  Then Dad started singing the beginning two lines of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. 

Dad stopped singing and said, “You know – the part of the song where they say, ‘Root, root, root for the Home Team, and if they don’t win it’s a shame….’?  That’s the way that life is – sometimes you win, and sometimes you win big.  But in the process you have to lose a few games.  That’s how we learn to be good sports.  But it’s not just about sportsmanship – it’s about learning how to bounce back in life when things aren’t the greatest.  In life, you survive as best you can; if you lose out on some things, you can be proud because you finished playing the game as best you could and you were a good sport in the long-run.  That’s what counts – being a good sport, not the winning part.  If you don’t win, it isn’t the end of the world.”

So once again, I want to give a big shout-out to the old Home Team, the Chicago Cubs to whom we all owe a lot, and let the team know that in our family’s book they’ve been stellar champion players for a long time!  We love you, Cubbies!  Way to go!

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