Monday, October 14, 2013

My Springsteenesque Saga of Hope and Heartbreak, Cubs Style

(In my opinion Bruce Springsteen is still the best concert performer around. But unlike "back in the day," he no longer tells long-winded stories introducing--or even amidst--his songs. The story that comes at about the 4:50 mark of this video is a prime example of which I'm referring.

Although I'll come far short of the Boss' offhand eloquence, I thought I'd try to tell this 10th anniversary recollection of a night that will live in misery as though I was leading into a song on stage. 

So I'm imagining a bed of Roy Bittan piano music as I recite this into my iPhone. (Reading it back, I realize I really don't nearly match Bruce's cadence, but go with me.))

When I was young, way before I knew any better, I became a Cubs fan. A diehard Cubs fan.

One might think this resigns you to a life of perennial pessimism, but you can't really be a Cubs fan unless you're an optimist somewhere deep, really deep, underneath.

So I can't deny that, 10 years ago, on the night of October 14, 2003, I entered Wrigley Field with hope. Hope that I might be present to witness something I never had seen, nor had most others in the ballpark that night. Or on TV around the city, country and world.

At that point it had been 58 years since the Cubs had last won the pennant and played in a World Series, which they hadn't actually won for 95 years. (It's 105 now, but who's counting.)

But, for the first time since 1908, they had just won a playoff series, the National League Divisional Series against the Braves. And I'd been there, not just for Game 3 at home, but for the Game 5 clincher in Atlanta. That was pretty damn cool.

And with the Cubs having taken a 3 games to 1 lead against the Florida Marlins in the National League Championship Series, I was ready for something even more historic.

And yes, unbelievable.

Not that I had a ticket mind you, but I went down to Wrigleyville anyway and found a scalper with a single ticket in the upper part of the upper deck--the last seat along the left-field line--for "just $300."

The Cubs jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, and when they added runs in the sixth and seventh I must admit I began to think the unthinkable. To imagine the unimaginable. To dream the impossible dream.

Although, like any real Cubs fan, I was still more acutely skeptical until proven otherwise. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but begin to get a bit giddy with anticipation. "Could this really be happening?"


In the notorious 8th inning, of course, everything went to hell.

Pitcher Mark Prior, who had been dominant up to that point, started getting wild (here's my brief video of him getting pulled). Shortstop Alex Gonzales made a costly error. And, of course, there was the Steve Bartman incident.

I've never been one to blame Bartman for the loss nor to demonize him. I admire how he's kept a low profile all these years; not once seeking or accepting publicity or profit. And from my vantage point at the time, I couldn't actually see the play.

But in watching it again--through the power of YouTube--I was reminded that he really shouldn't have been reaching for the ball. 

So yes, he made a mistake--though he wasn't the only one with arms outstretched and at risk of interfering with the play--but the truth is that the Cubs made many worse. You can't hold one guy responsible for a century of futility, and Mr. Bartman deserves to be left alone, as he always has.

As history sadly recalls, the Marlins wound up scoring 8 runs in that 8th inning on route to a 8-3 victory--"Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse?" to quote Springsteen's "The River"--and I still remember feeling like something invaluable had just been snatched away from me. 

Never mind that the Cubs still had Game 7 left to attempt to win the pennant--I didn't even think about going, much--and would, in fact, have an early yet fruitless lead in that one, too.

Without meaning to over overstate it in terms of life & death importance, I--and presumably most of the 39,576 others at Wrigley and millions more Cubs fans elsewhere--was rather shattered by the brutal turn of events.

From a sports fandom standpoint, Game 6 was--and still is--the most devastating loss I have ever experienced, especially in person.

But my night didn't quite end there. As I got on the L train to head north from Addison, I happened to noticed that sitting across from me was a girl I knew.

A girl I hadn't seen for nearly a year, but had worked with just prior, and who I didn't even know was back in the U.S. after having done a teaching stint abroad.

A girl who I had, for awhile, closely befriended and for whom I had developed deeper feelings I thought (or at least hoped) were mutual.

A girl who, if it didn't sound so silly in retrospect, I fell in love with (or at least thought I did).

A girl who had rejected me when I actually asked her out.

Which I haven't really done often. In the romance department, I've been as perennial a loser as the Cubs. But every so often there's a woman of whom I dare to imagine, 'It might be, it could isn't.'

So at the time, she was the one person I least would've wanted to see at that particular moment--she hadn't even
been at the game, but at a bar watching it--or at least the one most symbolically synonymous with the same feelings of disappointment and dejection the game itself had manifested.

Impossible as it was to pretend I didn't see her, we talked a bit and I don't recall it being unbearably uncomfortable; I think even at the time I could appreciate the wry irony of the encounter.

But it wasn't like out of the depths of despair rose love and marriage.

Rather it was as though fate didn't think kicking me in the nutsack once that evening was sufficient.

So you see, October 14, 2003 wasn't just a heartbreaking night for Cubs fans. For me, it was a night on which dual heartbreaks--both exacerbated by a giddy sense of anticipation soon proven foolish--callously collided. 

But by the time I got home, October 14 had turned into October 15 and I had turned 35.

And here we are 10 years down the road. The Cubs still haven't won the World Series--nor another playoff game.

And I still haven't found true love.

But yet, for the most part, happiness abounds...and hope remains.


Or perhaps infernal.

But with a thought that the looming possibility of euphoria might actually be better than the realization of it--and heck, as a Sox fan, too, I celebrated in 2005--in the words of the almighty Boss, "let the broken hearts stand as the price you've gotta pay..."

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