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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Witnessing History at Wrigley Field

wrigleynlds

When you’ve been a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan for your entire life, there are certain questions you’ve been asked over and over again. And I mean questions beyond “Why?”

People always ask me if I think the Cubs will win the World Series, nay, even play in the World Series in my lifetime. My answer: Yes. People always ask me how I would react if the Cubs made it to the World Series. My answer: I would be incredibly happy. People always ask me if I would try to get playoff tickets. My answer: Of course I would try, but I probably wouldn’t be able to.

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Meet My Wife, The Cubs Fan

During the early stages of dating my wife, we were engaging in the traditional getting-to-know-you dance that involves sharing all of your interests and passions with each other. At that time, I warned her that I am in fact a rabid, die-hard Cubs fan, but that my passion was taking a bit of a hibernation as the team worked through a long and costly rebuilding process. I assured her that one day the passion would reignite, and the Cubs would once again take up a not insignificant portion of my free time—watching games, reading Cubs news and generally obsessing over the fortunes of the team.

But the springtime of my renewed affinity came much earlier than I expected. I had heard good things about this year’s team, and when the season was starting, I realized that my chemo home imprisonment meant that I could actually watch a 1:20 afternoon ballgame while I worked from home. I decided to go all-in and actually give the Cubs my full attention again—something I confess that I hadn’t done regularly in about four years. I would never renounce my love for the Cubs, but it just didn’t seem worth investing too much energy in them when the team’s own front office readily admitted that they were nowhere near playoff contention yet.

The only wildcard in this equation (until this past Wednesday’s Wildcard, that is) was Theresa. How would a non-baseball fan raised by wolves Cardinals fans adapt to this C-change in my life? In my defense, I had warned her. It was acknowledged in our pre-nup.

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The Flat Francis Effect

Matt & Flat FrancisIn April, I launched the Flat Francis campaign for Catholic Extension as a way to build excitement for Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States and to spread awareness about our organization. On paper, the idea seemed easy enough to execute: create a cartoon cutout version of the pope that could be easily shared online, spread the word via social media asking people to take a photo with the cutout and post it on social media with the hashtag #FlatFrancis, create a website to automatically display the submissions, sit back and hopefully (Popefully?) watch the campaign take off.

What happened in reality exceeded my wildest dreams of success, and developments in the past couple weeks have been particularly exciting.

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The Problem of Too Many Oldies

Dave Clark Five

When I was growing up, listening to the radio in Chicago was a remarkably regimented experience. Turn to any station on the FM dial, and you knew exactly what you were getting. For example, there was a station for current top 40 and dance music. There were a couple stations for “light” adult contemporary hits. There was a station for alternative rock.

And there was a station for oldies.

For the majority of my childhood, my family’s radios alternated almost exclusively between “light” rock and oldies. To this day, I can authoritatively sing along to almost any rock or pop song from the late 1950s or 1960s, while many 1980s soft rock hits send me flashing back to my toddling days in a car seat in the back of my parents’ Buick.

The point is, the stations’ formats were straightforward, especially where the concept of “oldies” was concerned. “Oldies” meant longtime Chicago deejays like Dick Biondi spinning the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the best of the British Invasion, Dion, Chubby Checker and all points in between.

But in a chilling wake-up call over the past couple years, I’ve noticed that it’s increasingly difficult to find these oldies anywhere on traditional radio. In fact, some of the songs of my 1980s childhood days are starting to qualify as oldies. Even hits of the ’90s are starting to be peddled as a unique throwback for a weekend of radio programming. What is going on? And when did I get so old?

Tonight I heard John “Records” Landecker queuing up the “80s at 8” on 94.7, a channel that until very recently was a watered down last bastion of true “oldies” on the Chicago airwaves. As John Mellencamp (from his Cougar era) filled my eardrums, I came to a startling conclusion:

There are now simply too many oldies.

Maybe that’s always been the case. Maybe that’s why I didn’t really hear any 1970s music until a “timeless rock” station came on the air in Chicago in 2001. Maybe that’s why I didn’t really hear any pop standards from the 1930s-1950s until I stumbled upon an old Frank Sinatra cassette in high school and sought out more at the library.

The scary reality, however, is that the songs that were “oldies” to my generation are now no longer on the air, the same way Sinatra’s ilk were long since radio-silenced by the time I first tuned in.

If you were new to American music, the current state of Chicago radio stations would lead you to believe that nothing of musical note (puns!) came out of the 1960s beyond the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Some might try to argue that point academically, but the fact remains that my childhood would have been far more deficient of joy if I hadn’t been able to sing along to “Runaround Sue” and “It’s My Party.”

In the new world order of Pandora and Spotify and iTunes, building a personal, on-the-go music library has almost replaced the institution of being at the mercy of songs delivered via radio. But if I hadn’t had the static (more puns!) formula of radio stations to inform and form my musical tastes, any personal music collection I attempted to curate would be neither wide nor deep. If I hadn’t grown up hearing the Zombies or the Lovin’ Spoonful, chances are pretty good I wouldn’t be adding them to any Pandora stations or tuning in to the British Beats channel on a satellite radio. I cringe whenever I’m with someone young and musically uninformed who hears a hit by the Four Seasons and calls it “that song from ‘Jersey Boys.'”

Don’t get me wrong — I welcome a world in which the Chicago airwaves devote a single station or an entire weekend of music or even just an hour of airtime to the hits of the ’80s and ’90s. You can even call them oldies, if it’s already time to do that. But let’s not forget the musical building blocks that paved the way for everything we enjoy today. Besides, there were some dang catchy songs back in the day. It would be an awful shame if the radio continues to neglect entire eras of music and future generations of listeners are deprived of being into something good.