The Ramblings of a Joyful Cubs Fan

How do you start writing the blog post you always daydreamed about writing? The same way you live through that one experience you always daydreamed about experiencing. You just do it.

There’s no preparing for long-awaited moments of profound joy. The long wait actually seems to make you less likely to be prepared for them. It gives you more time to rehearse the moment in your mind and think about how you might react—or how you think you should react. But no regimen of mental gymnastics will ever prepare you for the actual experience of that moment’s arrival.

I should know. I’ve experienced two moments of profound joy in the last three months. Actually, within /exactly/ the last three months. On August 2, my daughter Madeline was born into this world after a nine-month wait. On November 2, the Chicago Cubs became the World Series champions after a 108-year wait.

I’m not equating the birth of my daughter to something as trivial as a sports title, I’m simply suggesting that maybe this Cubs championship isn’t as trivial as other athletic feats tend to be. There’s no denying the pool of profound joy into which the Second City has been willfully and unapologetically drowning itself since Bryzzo recorded the final out last night. We are witnesses to history—banishing our disbelief and blinking back tears.

But about those tears.

I knew I was going to cry when my daughter was born. As I age, my tear ducts have evidently weakened to such a point that I will weep openly at the dumbest, overly sentimental things. Throughout the pregnancy, I would become overwhelmed just thinking about the moment of her birth and the waterworks would begin. That was me tearing up in the back of the pregnancy class when they showed the birth videos.

Similarly, I assumed that my years of suffering at the hands of the Boys in Blue—and the thought of being alive to see them win it all when so many Cubs fans had lived and died empty-handed—would result in some sentiment pouring out of my eyes.

But in both cases, I was wrong. The excitement of these moments made any emotions beyond unbridled joy and relief almost impossible to express. When my daughter was born, I was just marveling at her as my wife held her to her chest. I didn’t even think to take photos…and I never forget to take photos. In the waning moments of last night’s Cubs game, I turned my phone’s video camera on before history unfolded so that it could be preserved and relived by the next branches of my Cubs fan family tree.

But again there were no tears. The rollercoaster of Game 7—heck, the entire series—had destroyed my mental image of how this moment would look and feel. When the game was horrifically tied up again, visions of Bartman and aborted countdowns to glory were running through my mind. So this is how it ends. The Cubs always find a way.

Maybe it’s because it was All Soul’s Day or maybe it was just a near death experience, but the great Cubs fans of the past were suddenly very present to me in my growing dread. Among others, my deceased maternal grandfather, a diehard fan who often referred to the team as the Flubs when things went south, scoffed angrily at the TV with me. My deceased neighbor, another diehard who frequently had choice words for any Cubs player who stood in the way of flying the W, was sitting next to me shaking his head in disgust. On the radio, the sound of Ron Coomer gave way to the only Ron I ever want to hear calling a Cubs game—and he let out a wail that rivaled the infamous Brant Brown affair.

The rain delay—God’s tears?—came in the nick of time and turned the Cubs fortunes around again. The poor souls in the room were free to go and enjoy the rest of the game elsewhere as the all-too-harrowing bottom of the tenth inning gave way to that monumental moment of surreality. Pat Hughes’ booming voice filled my ears as my eyes beheld a TV graphic previously reserved for jokes and movies. We are the champions.

With tears streaming down his face in a euphoric postgame interview before the champagne had even started flowing, Anthony Rizzo said a line that has been reverberating in my head ever since: “We are world champions for the rest of our lives.”

My tears didn’t arrive at the exact moment of childbirth or World Series berth. But they came eventually—when the excitement died down and the new reality set in. A change had been made. A page had been turned. And there is no going back.

I am a father. The Cubs are the champs.

I tear up now when my daughter smiles and coos and stares into the depths of my soul with her unconscionably big blue eyes. I tear up when I see something that reminds me that she won’t always be—and already isn’t—the tiny newborn who shocked me into non-photographing submission three months ago. I tear up when I think of the woman she could become and the things she could do and the lives she could touch.

Today the social media frenzy of Cubs tributes, remembrances and videos completely preoccupied my work day—an IV drip co-mingling with my Cubbie blue blood to finally let the tears rush forth.

The first thing to open the flood gates? A Budweiser-produced video of Harry Caray magically calling the 2016 Cubs World Series win. I watched it at least three times today, and there have been more tears every time.

Next came the Cubs-produced video of fans reacting to the tune of Eddie Vedder’s “Someday We’ll Go All the Way.”

And then there was this article about dying Cubs fans who gave out mere days before having their last request come to fruition. It’s honestly heart-wrenching to read.

These are the things that make this Cubs victory worthy of tears. It’s about so much more than just a sports team being the best and winning a title. It’s about childhood memories, families and generations. It’s about tradition and love. It’s about hope and regret.

Far better writers than me have waxed poetic on this subject lately, but so much of the experience of being a Cubs fan is a metaphor for the struggle of life. True determination doesn’t always lead to success, no matter how badly you want it, but faith can make that OK. And sometimes success will sneak up on you and make you wonder how it could possibly look so easy.

Unlike the 108 preceding years, this Cubs season was an uncharacteristic cake walk to the playoffs. For a fan who has seen his share of abysmal baseball at Wrigley, the struggle of the playoffs was a refreshing return to form. The Cubs are not a team that should simply waltz into the history books. They have to fake a heart attack and ride in on a gurney—taking a final bow to prove that everything is alright and that you shouldn’t have been so scared in the first place.

Just as fatherhood is forcing me to redefine essential parts of myself, so too will this new, winning identity demand an examination of the Cubs fan psyche. We are losers no more. The cool kids wear Cubs clothes now. The newest members of the fold—like my daughter—will have their baseball consciousness awaken right around the end of what could be a Cubs dynasty. They’ll watch replays of what we all just lived through last night and marvel at how Cubs veterans Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant look so youthful and boyish. They’ll be astounded to realize that Cubs manager David Ross hit his last home run as a player in Game 7 in 2016.

Beyond the box scores, what will it mean to be a fan of a consistently winning Cubs team when you haven’t experienced any of the heartache and frustration? That’s a moral dilemma I’m thankfully in no position to answer. My Cubs will always be the Little Engine That Couldn’t Until They Finally Could and the World Turned Upside Down.

The next few days will continue to be an emotional time for all Cubs fans, especially as tomorrow I will see my team take over Grant Park—a special honor that any Chicago kid who grew up in the 90s thought was reserved exclusively for Jordan and company.

But we’re here now. It finally happened. And we can let the tears out, because the Cubs are world champions for the rest of our lives.

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Going, Going, Gone Viral with “The Team at Clark & Addison”

I’ve previously blogged about my penchant for “fart-ups”—seemingly good ideas that I will think about for a while or maybe even spend a little time working on—before abandoning them to my personal black hole of unfinished projects and long forgotten to-do lists.

Sometimes, however, these fart-ups will hold my attention long enough to actually come to fruition and maybe even flourish for a while. The most recent fart-up that I have nurtured to success is my Chicago Cubs Memes account on Instagram. As a lapsed Cubs blogger with lofty ambitions of writing heart-felt reactions to every Cubs game and plot twist in the team’s annual quest to defy history, I realized two things. 1) No one on the vast Internets seemed to be devoting themselves single-mindedly to creating Cubs-related memes. 2) It was a lot faster to consistently share my thoughts about the Cubs by posting a meme than by crafting a 1,000-word blog post.

Thus, @CubMemes was born near the beginning of the 2015 Cubs season. As it turned out, a decent number of Instagramming Cubs fans were actually interested in the hot-and-hopefully-humorous takes that I had to offer. The account’s following grew tremendously over the past two years with basically no promotional effort on my part. It now sits authoritatively among other popular Cubs Instagram accounts with more than 7,000 followers and lots of interaction on my posts.

Not too shabby, right?

Well, the success of this fart-up made me hungry for more. I had been listening to the soundtrack of Hamilton regularly for nearly a year, and on one of my listens, I had the thought of rewriting the title song as a parody about the Cubs. I even had a phrase that could work: Replace “Alexander Hamilton” with “The Team at Clark and Addison.”

I floated this idea to my incredibly creative brothers, thinking that there was no way that we would ever actually find the time and energy to make it happen.

As the success of the 2016 Cubs leaned inevitably toward another playoff appearance, it occurred to me that this song was basically a musical form of a Cubs meme—and I had a devoted audience of Cubs meme fans at my disposal. I raised the idea with my brothers again, and we started a Google Document to remotely collaborate on lyrics. We wrote down phrases and people/events that we wanted to include from Cubs lore and tried to think of rhymes that matched Lin Manuel Miranda’s complex rhyme schemes in the original.

A couple weeks later (while I had put the project on the back burner), my brothers Chris and Ben messaged me that they had completed the first draft of the lyrics. This was actually happening!

Turns out the first draft was almost perfect. They recorded a demo version with a Hamilton karaoke track, and I got to work editing Cubs highlights and other appropriate Cubbie clips that fit contextually with the lyrics.

Last Friday evening, we all got together at my parents’ house to record the final version. We tweaked a few lyrics and then spent a couple hours recording the song verse-by-verse. The whole thing was a ton of fun, and a chance to hang out with my brothers in a way that just doesn’t happen that often anymore. Fortunately, my brother Ben can legitimately carry a tune and the rest of us managed to sound not terrible picking up the pieces around him. Considering we’re a bunch of nerds, I think we even handily pulled off the rap verses.

I spent the next morning finishing up my edit and laying in the final audio tracks. With my sister-in-law and niece in town for the weekend, I quickly uploaded it and posted it on my Cub Memes and personal social media accounts before we headed off to check out Open House Chicago. (which you should definitely check out next year!)

While we galavanted around downtown Chicago checking out the Aon Center, going on the stage at Millennium Park and strolling the deck of the Chicago Yacht Club’s anchored boat, the Internet worked its magic to make our Hamilton homage begin its viral rise to the top.

By the time we got home in the evening, it had more than 2,000 views. By the time the Cubs game was over, it had 3,600 views. By Sunday morning, we’d topped 10,000 views. The video continued to be shared by individuals on Twitter, and friends were telling me that /their/ friends—who didn’t know me—were also sharing it on Facebook with abandon.

My wife and I have talked about how there is a void to be filled in social media that could be called “Inside Joke Twitter.” When you sign up for an account, you would put in all of your potential interests, favorite movies, books, music, sports teams, etc. You could then choose different concentric circles of these interests and make posts about them. In this case, our video would fit perfectly into the Cubs/Hamilton crossover. While memes function this way to some extent, there are lots of memes that I only understand as a meme and not because I’ve seen the meme’s source material. This would be for deeper humorous dives among passionate fans of two seemingly disparate topics. Anyway, that’s another fart-up for another time.

Needless to say, many people who find themselves within the concentric circle of Hamilton and Cubs fandom discovered our video and were sharing it with each other. Twitter searches and Facebook posts frequently involved the poster alerting other friends to the video’s existence so they could enjoy it as well. That’s pretty much the definition of viral.

I don’t want to toot our horn, but in an age when comments sections are the bane of a digital content creator’s existence and ego, our video didn’t get any negative comments until a random “That was horrible” YouTube comment two days after it was posted—and it’s really only received one or two negative comments since then. My faith in humanity is being restored for the time being.

On Sunday evening, I received a tweet from a reporter at WGN Morning News who dabbles in quirky online stories saying that he would like to show some of it on Monday’s broadcast. I agreed, and the segment aired at 4:45, 5:45 and 7:15. It was pretty cool having our video appear on a news telecast that we had all watched growing up (and which still features the same newscasters for the most part). Unfortunately, by the time my Mom tuned in later in the morning, the main newscasters were incredibly disparaging of the video (which is kind of their schtick—to be cynical about everything), so I guess it wasn’t universally revered after all.

On Monday morning, I received an email from Chicagoist—a local Chicago news website—asking to do an interview with me. I called back the reporter and the blog post appeared in the afternoon. I figured this would breathe fresh life into the video’s circulation and I was right. The Chicagoist story led to several other news and sports website stories, many of which borrowed heavily from the interview I did with the Chicagoist reporter. It’s interesting to see how many news sites get their content from other news sites and just provide a quick attribution at the end. Takes a lot of legwork out of reporting…

By Monday evening, the video had received 20,000 views—officially viral in my book—and then NBC Chicago did a post on their website. This provided yet another boost, and the video has increased by more than 10,000 views each day, currently sitting above 50,000.

Last night, Sports Illustrated ran a story on their website, so I think we’ve pretty much peaked in terms of media coverage. Here’s a list of links to all the media mentions for posterity:

Sports Illustrated

Chicagoist

NBC Chicago

WGN Radio

Timeout Chicago

The Postgame

104.3 KHITS

As I said in the Chicagoist interview, I was hoping that this would eventually attract the attention of Hamilton composer Lin Manuel Miranda on Twitter, but that has yet to happen. Tonight is both the official opening night of Hamilton in Chicago and Game 3 of the NLCS.Also, it turns out that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s father tweeted the video! There’s no time like the present for Lin to tweet it out himself.

Beyond achieving online virality, getting decent media coverage and engaging in a quest for a famous Twitter mention, this project was mostly just fun to do because I never expected us to actually do it and because I got to do it with my brothers. We’ve talked off and on for years about how we should try to get our creative juices flowing in unison and use our talents to produce something fun like this. While none of us are quitting our day jobs to become YouTube celebrities just yet, it is pretty awesome to realize that we made more than 50,000 people smile through this seemingly frivolous endeavor. We live in an amazing time when something like this can be created, shared and enjoyed by so many people so easily.

And don’t get me started on the joy of watching the Cubs move ever closer on their journey to the World Series. To steal a line from Hamilton—how lucky we are to be alive right now.

Go, Cubs, Go! (and thanks to everyone who watched and shared our video)

One Year of Remissioning

It was one year ago today that I got the news I had been waiting six months to hear. My cancer was in remission. While I won’t be considered by the medical community to be “cured” until August 2020, hearing that there was “no evidence of disease” still meant to me that I had conquered the most grueling personal challenge I had ever faced. It meant an end to weekly doctor’s appointments and blood tests. It meant a return to work and exercise and ramping back up to full strength. It meant getting my eyebrows back and at least a little more hair on my head. It meant that I was meant to face down cancer and live, when so many others were not so blessed.

It’s only one year later, but the world looks so much different to me today. The experience of fighting cancer changed me irrevocably and tremendously, but I didn’t expect my life to change all over again in my first year of remission.

Remission.

Now I’m no linguistic scholar, but I don’t think the parts of that word sound like they have anything to do with overcoming an illness. Nevertheless, it’s a rather apt word for how I’ve spent much of the past year.

I’ve been re-missioning.

In fact, I’m on a completely new and wonderful mission now–a life change that was almost as unexpected as my initial cancer diagnosis, but a billion times more joyful.

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As I type this post, my daughter Madeline is lying next to me in her rock ‘n play sleeper, baby-grunting and beginning to stir as she prepares to wake up for her eighth meal of the day. She turned three weeks old yesterday, and she’s the most perfect creation I’ve ever seen.

I can’t help but consider her to be a miracle–and I know that all children are miracles–but Maddie counts doubly so. Before I embarked on my treatment journey, three different doctors told me that chemotherapy had rendered greater men than me sterile, so I should probably make plans for my future fertility (and defy Catholic teaching on the subject). Theresa and I forged ahead in faith–trusting God’s plan for our family, even if that meant that Lumpy would make us a permanent party of two. When I received my remission news last year, the oncologist told us that even if we could get pregnant, we most likely wouldn’t be able to do so for a year and shouldn’t really even try until then. I guess that would be right now.

But just as God surprised us by making 2015 the Year of the Lump, he surprised us again by making 2016 the Year of the Bump. With that positive pregnancy test last December, we were instantly re-missioned.

I won’t pretend that Lumpy didn’t make a few cameo appearances in the past year. He came back like clockwork every three months when it was time for another scan and randomly haunted my psyche with worst-case scenarios: What if the cancer came back? What if I got sick after the baby came? What if the baby was sick? Is that another lump in my neck?

Fortunately none of these dramas ever played out in reality. My latest scan last week appears to be my cleanest yet. I’ve found a new oncologist who actually seems to care a lot about my health and who understands the importance of bedside manner when you’re dealing with cancer. Theresa gave birth to Maddie with no complications (read the epic tale!) and Maddie is as healthy as can be.

This entire pregnancy and year of remission has been filled with “What did I do to deserve this?” moments of gratitude–spawned from an experience that normally poses that question in the other direction. I know that I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been there, so I can’t help but look back at the marvelous timing of all these staggering life events with wonder and gratitude.

Perhaps it’s fitting that this is my 100th post on this blog–a blog that I started simply to chronicle the experience of my 30s and all the big moments I presumed would be heading my way in that decade. If I could send these 100 posts to my 29-year-old self, I wonder what he would make of it. Would he be afraid? Proud? Shocked? Perhaps he’d be most surprised that I actually kept it up.

As I turn 34 in three months, it would be tempting to hope that the latter half of my 30s is more predictable than the former. But these years have taught me the value of change, the importance of faith and the rewards of following a path that sometimes isn’t clear until you’re looking back at where you came from–and suddenly you’re happier than you’ve ever been before.

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News Worth Sharing

Being busy with a pregnancy and finishing up another quarter of teaching and taking a vacation and concentrating most of my efforts on Dad Has A Blog, I have been a bit remiss in updating this one.

Incidentally, if you aren’t already subscribed to or otherwise following that blog, you should probably click here and fill out the subscription form to rectify that!

If you haven’t been following that blog or any of the other places where I shared the announcement, you might have missed the news that we found out our baby is going to be a girl! You can read more of my thoughts on that in this post, but also watch the video below to see how we revealed the gender to my family and some of Theresa’s family who were in town this past weekend.

Theresa and I also just returned from our babymoon to Arizona (full post on the subject coming soon to a dad blog near you!), where we had a delightful time taking in a Cubs spring training game, seeing the Grand Canyon, eating at a non-Illinois Portillo’s, hiking some scenic trails in Sedona, and just generally devouring the 75-degree weather and the ability to walk around in a t-shirt and eat meals outside. It was a fantastic way to relax and enjoy each other’s company, while also being able to talk a lot about the new person who will be joining our lives in less than five months. We even spent some time by the pool reading our respective father-and-mother-to-be books.

While in Arizona, I also had a weird health-related issue, as a lymph node in my neck swelled up right before we left for our trip. It was the same lymph node that always used to swell up whenever I got sick with a cold in my pre-Lumpy days, so I didn’t think much of it. A few days into our vacation however, a giant sore formed on my right cheek–which looked a lot like a really bad acne pimple without any kind of head–and the right side of my face swelled up to an alarming degree. I didn’t have a fever or any other symptoms, and I was just two weeks away from a completely clean CT scan, so I did my best to presume it was just something wacky and unrelated to Lumpy. The swelling started to go down after a few days and the sore scabbed over, so it just looked like a really ugly flesh wound. Very attractive.

I went to see my oncologist when we returned to Chicago on Friday, and he recommended I get yet another CT scan and put me on antibiotics. Last night I got the scan (only two attempts needed to insert the IV this time…they’re getting better!) and had a restless night of contemplating my mortality while I tried to sleep. I have to believe that some of this anxiety is caused by the presence of the baby resting comfortably in utero next to me. If I’m being honest, the specter of Lumpy is still much closer in the rearview mirror than I would like it to be, given this wonderful new development. I need to trust in God’s plan for my life and know that He won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I think I was just a little discouraged by having such a random and strange issue develop on my neck/face so soon after a supposedly clear scan. What gives?

Today I went to my oncologist to find out if anything was giving, and I am happy to report that nothing is. Yesterday’s scan was as clear as the previous scan, so the doc said this must have just been some freak infection that will continue to heal itself with the antibiotics, and said that the big reaction is probably just a sign that my immune system is still a bit compromised from the chemo–even though I’ve been done with chemo since last July.

I can’t express the relief I felt from this lack of a diagnosis, and I hope it will be enough to finally put my mind at ease for a while. I have two other people’s health to concentrate on for the next…well, forever…and I want to start fully focusing my energy on that and stop looking over my shoulder for cancer shadows. It would also be nice if random freak health-related occurrences didn’t pop up for a while…

All in all, I feel so blessed to have the clean bill of health that I do, and to be having this miracle baby with a wife I love with my whole heart. To quote the wise sage Keith Urban, “There ain’t no doubt that God’s been good to me.”

Did you follow my Dad blog yet?

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And Then There Were Three

Dear readers,

I’ve been lying to you.

I recently wrote a post about the joys and sorrows, challenges and opportunities that came my way in 2015. But I left out the best part of the story–2015’s parting shot:

My wife is pregnant!

There was no angel in sight when we got the positive pregnancy test, but we still found ourselves asking “How can this be?” We discovered this joyous news almost one year after my oncologist had told us in no uncertain terms that there was a high likelihood that chemotherapy would render me sterile.

While we trusted in God’s plan for my cancer treatment and His guidance of the broader narrative of our lives, this was one of the more difficult cancer side effects to cope with. Theresa and I both felt called to be parents and had been excited about growing our family with a child (or two…or more) in the future. My oncologist (at a Catholic hospital no less!) told us that sperm banking would make it easier for our childbearing scenario to still occur after chemo, but we prayed about it and decided to follow the Church’s teachings and accept whatever outcome God had in store for us.

Now it appears that the outcome is a positive pregnancy test when we weren’t even trying! What a miracle!

After I finished chemo, we were instructed not to get pregnant for at least a year. As it turns out, that had more to do with the thought that we wouldn’t be able to get pregnant for at least a year and nothing to do with there being any sort of increased risk to our baby. Another miracle!

We’d like to thank Saint Peregrine, God and everyone who prayed for us over the last year. God clearly has more adventures in store for us, or maybe he just really likes reading my blog posts. Either way, you can follow my newly established Daddy blog–Dad Has A Blog–to read about what’s been happening since that fateful test. Here are a few pertinent details to whet your appetite: We are 11 weeks along and our baby is due August 5, we’ve already heard the heartbeat, Theresa has had terrible morning sickness (that is thankfully starting to get better), and it’s difficult to come up with a name that sounds good with my last name.

Since my 30s continue to be a wacky and wonderful decade, I will continue to post to this blog with updates related to Lumpy, random posts of my thoughts and musings, and anything else going on in my life, but the baby-related updates will all be at the new blog.

Please continue to pray for my wife and our baby! We are blessed beyond measure and excited out of our minds! All of the sudden, we are setting the stage for a new era of our lives. It’s crazy what can happen when your wife pees on a plastic stick.

mated