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If there's anything I miss from the "old country" (and there isn't much), it's baseball. I have been a Chicago Cubs baseball fan all of my life. In fact, my parents were at a Cubs game at Wrigley Field in Chicago when my mother began having labor pains prior to my birth. According to family lore, my Dad said to her, "Can you wait just a bit, we're in the ninth inning!" I was born later that day at the local hospital which was just a few blocks away from the Cubs stadium.
Chicago is a "baseball crazy" city, so growing up in Chicago one was either a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan. There was great animosity between the two groups and little socializing. Those who supported the Cubs lived on the North side of the city and were the majority. Cubs supporters also considered themselves somewhat more cultured and financially established than White Sox fans who lived on the South side of the city. In my early childhood my family lived near the Cubs stadium and I would walk past the stadium on my way to kindergarten at the local school every day. Like most Cubs fans, we loved the Cubs whether they won games or not. Usually, it was not. In fact, the last time the Cubs won a World Series was in 1908! But in the baseball-centered atmosphere of Chicago, winning wasn't the only issue. The Cubs were our team and we loved them even when they lost - which they did most of the time.
My family moved to another neighborhood when I entered first grade, but my love affair with the Cubs and baseball continued throughout elementary school and high school. I attended games with my parents and later with friends. I followed their progress in the newspaper, turning to the sports page first. My friends and I played baseball in school, during gym and after school on the playground. Every picnic or other outdoor activity included a game of baseball.
ONE OF my early dates with my husband-to-be, when I was a university student and he was in medical school, was at a Cubs game. I'm not sure that I would have been interested in a boy who wasn't a Cubs fan. The young medical student captured my heart when he caught a home-run ball that was hit into the less expensive seats of the open-air bleachers of Wrigley Field where we were sitting. I remember vividly the incident as at least six rather burly men went for the ball, almost crushing the more delicately built Jewish intellectual who was my date. However, he triumphed and held up the treasured baseball high in the air for his adoring companion. He was a bit rumpled and sore from the encounter, but what a hero!
We left Chicago after our wedding some 46 years ago and my attendance at baseball games waned. We lived in several cities that hosted major league baseball teams, including Seattle, Denver, Houston and Washington. However, since these local teams were not the Cubs, I wasn't as excited about following their progress. Moving to Israel 26 years ago further diminished my interest in baseball. However, my brother-in-law, who remained in Chicago and was (horrors!) a White Sox fan, kept us updated on the progress of the two Chicago baseball teams. Usually he called to gloat about a Cubs failure or a White Sox success. He saw to it that our children and grandchildren were gifted with White Sox paraphernalia including shirts, jackets, teddy bears, etc. He also took us with him to White Sox games when we visited Chicago.
DESPITE MY lifelong loyalty to the Cubs, however, I must confess that even I followed the amazing progress of the Chicago White Sox at the World Series. Shamefully, I must admit that my husband and I watched the fourth and last game of the World Series, which was broadcast in Israel from 2:30 until 6 a.m. Baseball has changed since my childhood, but it was still exciting to watch these excellent professional athletes as they pitched, fielded and hit the baseball into the outfield. While I would have preferred that it was the Cubs who won the World Series, it was thrilling to see the White Sox win for the first time in 88 years.
Of course, in "baseball crazy" Chicago, the fans are celebrating like they have not celebrated in almost a century. Since the White Sox were always the second team in the "Second City," they are particularly enjoying this victory. There's even talk that the Cubs as the preferred team may now be faced with a serious challenge. Will their fans now support the winning Sox? White Sox fans have always had a "chip on their shoulder" as both daily newspapers, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times were considered to be Cubs supporters. But there is no doubt that both teams have brought a lot of disappointment to their fans over the years. After all, the last time that the Cubs won a World Series was 97 years ago. The current mayor of Chicago, who was a "South side boy" growing up as the son of the famous mayor Richard Daley, was a White Sox fan of course. He recalled, in an interview, going to Sox games with his father and expressed his sadness that his father had not lived to see this great victory. He also suggested that we could all learn a lesson from the White Sox experience.
Criticized, denigrated, ridiculed and humiliated, the Sox players refused to give up. Despite their failures and the doubts about their ability to ever become champions, they continued to try. Hard work, focus and tenacity as well as skill and spirit won out. As the Chicago Tribune said in its half-page headline after the victory, "BELIEVE IT!" Yes, the unbelievable happened. Chicago has won a World Series after 88 years of failure. Maybe we can all learn something from this victory.
The writer, based in Israel, is director of the International Jewish Women's Rights Project.