In some parallel universe, the Chicago Cubs are headed to the World Series today. Unfortunately, this isn't that universe. Last night was tough for me, seeing the good ol' Cubbies blow their shot at a World Series after 58 years of waiting. However, it was certainly a much harder shock for hard-core Cubs fans that were at the game, watching another chance at the Series slip away. I could see that by the faces of Cubs fans on TV, shocked, wondering what happened, crying.
Me, I'm a nominal fan, and I'll hapilly admit I've jumped on the bandwagon when the Cubs made it into the playoffs. Still, I at least can claim to be an original Cubs fan, having spent many sunny summer afternoons at Wrigley field, as a kid from the North side of town.
Those days at Wrigley, years ago are some of the best memories of my childhood. The gang of guys from our neighborhood would oil up our "mitts" and don our Cubs hats in the morning and start our pilgrimage to Wrigley by bus and EL train. We didn't have alot of money, but that was okay, bleacher seats were pretty cheap, and for a kid whos greatest goal was to catch a home run ball, they were the greatest seats in the house.
I still remember ol' Wrigley vividly, with it's ivy covered brick outfield walls, the aroma of hot dogs, beer, fresh grass and the aging ballpark itself filling my nose. Wrigley had a sound to it as well, a kind of hum genrated by fans talking, cheering, broken only by the occasional vender yelling a sales pitch in the aisles. There's something very special about that field as is the case with old ballparks like it; those old parks have soul, character and a certain feeling that new parks just can't replicate. Its a feeling of ease and comfort that is incredbly relaxing.
Our neighborhood crew would of course get to the park early enough for battting practice, and try to convince fielders to toss us a ball, because while a home run ball was a treasure, a batting practice ball was not too shabby. It never really worked but we kept trying. I even recall one game that we made a sign to encourage the big home run hitter of the time to send some balls our way to catch. We got a few homers, but none that we managed to catch.
Of course we'd buy a hot dog and pop, and before the game we'd sometimes wander around the park, checking out the baseball gear stands, arguing which hat looked coolest and predicting what might happen in the game that day.
Once the game began, we were like extra players, ready to help the Cubbies to a win using our mental powers. Sometimes we'd get a win, but more often than not, the Cubs lost. But that didn't matter to us... we just loved the experience. Then there was the trip home, proudly wearing our Cubs hats even after a loss, wearing our well-oiled by baseball-less mitts back to the neighborhood, working out teams for the game we'd play when we got back.
Ah, those were great days. And it's when I put myself into that frame of mind I feel most for the now die hard fans of the Cubs. Me, I'm bummed, but not like they probably are. I, as a nominal fan can move on pretty quickly, but I am sure that current Cubs fans can't let this pass so easily. I know that feeling, which must be on par with the Green Bay Packers losing the Superbowl in 1998 to the Denver Broncos. On paper they ought to have won, but they blew it, and it was a shocking, devastating loss for me and many other Packer fans.
Anyway, as to the loss itself, if you don't know already, there are some Cub fans who want to blame a fan who tried to catch a foul ball in game 6, for the Cub loss. In a nutshell, the Cubs, with just 5 outs from a World Series bid, saw a Cubs fan triy to grab a foul ball flying just over the left field wall. The ball was being pursued by Cubs left fielder Moises Alou, whom the fan says he didn't see. The fan's attempt to catch the foul prevented Alou from catching the ball for an out. In a weird twist of fate, the Marlins rallied after this (with lots of help from bad pitching and infield errors) to score 8 unanswered runs the top of the 8th inning.
This fan was shouted at, threatened, had beer and objects thrown at him and was finally escorted from the field by a group of security guards, given a new jacket at sent out a different exit so he could escape a beating. The next day, an incredibly irresponsible Chicago Sun-Times newspaper actually printed the fan's name, making him a marked man in Chicagoland. With the Cubs being eliminated, this guy will have a very hard time living a normal life in his own town, because he made a mistake and is being wrongly scapegoated as the cause of the Cubs' demise. I feel really terrible for him.
Now, I want to be clear that while I think that this fan's action was pretty dumb, it was the reaction most fans in that situation would have made. In fact, there were several other fans surrounding this poor guy, who were also reaching for the same foul ball. So he screwed up -- did that cost the Cubs the game? No!
While he certainly didn't help the Cubs with his action, he had a very little to do with the Cub meltdown in my opinion. Why? Well, that same batter who fouled the ball away was walked by the Cubs pitcher Prior who honestly looked like he was pooped out. On the very next play the Cubs shortstop, Alex Gonzalez, bobbled an easy double play that in reality began the the meltdown. Cubs manager Dusty Baker refused to take his gassed out pitcher Prior out of the game, blowing the lead the Cubs had held for 8 innings. Once behind, the Cubs just folded.
Yep, the Cubs are the team that pitched poorly and made fielding errors that let the Marlins sneak in and win game 6. That fan wasn't on the field for the Cubs, pitching badly, making poor plays or cracking hit after hit for the Marlins. He was on his way home feeling terrible about his action.
No, the Cubs blew this series. They had three chances to seal the deal and blew all of them -- two of which were on their own home turf of Wrigley field! It was just the compunding of errors and mistakes that cost the Cubs so dearly, not some clueless fan who screwed up. It's easy to blame some fan, but not right to do so, when the Cubs had every opportunity to beat their opponent. Cubs fielder Moises Alou, who was denied the foul ball by the fan says it best:
"Please leave him alone. It's not his fault."
It's really sad that the Cubbies are out, but the Marlins deserve their title as National League champions. I can't deny them that. They played a better series, coming from far behind and against the odds to win, while the Cubs just choked in the end.
I would have loved a Cubs vs. Red Sox World Series, but it seems that it just wasn't to be, at least in this universe anyway. Too bad for that. But hey, life goes on. I'll still be optimistic and root for the Cubs. Maybe next year they can manage another run at the World Series. Meantime, I'll pull for the Boston Red Sox to beat the Yankees and get into the Series and maybe even win it... we'll see.