Face-down and full of whiskey on the front lawn of my childhood home was where I hit rock-bottom. Hammered and heartbroken, I rested my face in the cold suburban dirt for thirty or forty minutes, lifting my head only to take another drink, or send a cryptic text-message—desperately seeking solace and support from the dungeon of my personal dystopia.
It was October of 2008—almost 100 years to the day since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series. Earlier that night, the Cubs had been swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers, abruptly ending their winningest season in my lifetime. It was a stunning ending to a fantastic summer of baseball, and one I wasn’t prepared for.
On the verge of a quarter-life crisis—my 30th birthday just weeks away—I was drunk, broke, and living in a basement that occasionally flooded. And while I have fond memories of the summer of ’08, I felt as though everything was broken that night. Smashed to pieces, and there was nothing I could do to fix it. Baseball season was over, winter was coming, and I was tired of being disappointed by the Cubs. I felt betrayed, and I was angry at everyone who’d gently nudged me into this dysfunctional baseball relationship. I shook my fists at the sky, taking aim at my dead grandmother—WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO YOUR BELOVED GRANDSON???
They say you can’t truly love another until you love yourself. I decided during the spring of 2009 that I needed some space, so for the next couple of years I kept my distance from the Cubs. I wrote a rather cathartic letter and tried focusing on other things—Chicago is beautiful in the summer—I spent afternoons on the lakefront that would otherwise have been spent in front of the TV. I got a new job, and started dabbling in other sports. While I knew I’d never be able to leave completely, it was important to take that step back for the purpose of personal development. If I was ever going to break the cycle of this dysfunctional relationship, I needed to accept disappointment without completely losing my shit. Not to mention, you know, it’s really hard to watch bad baseball—and from 2009-2014 there was a lot of bad baseball played at Wrigley Field.
Eternal, hope springs—and while I’m watching tiny snowflakes drift outside the window as I write this—spring is here again. Cub fans have been anticipating opening day 2016 with a type of fervor I can only recall sensing once before, twelve years ago.
In 2004, the Cubs were coming off a season in which they were six outs from the World Series—perhaps you’ve heard a thing or two about that. During the offseason they’d added a soon-to-be MVP caliber first baseman named Derek Lee to an already potent offense, as well as veteran relief pitcher (and future pariah) LaTroy Hawkins to stabilize their bullpen. Sports Illustrated slapped Cub’s pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior on the cover of their annual baseball preview issue with the headline, Hell Freezes Over, proclaiming the Cubs would win the World Series. 2004 would prove to be a particularly aggravating season of Cubs baseball—There’s a terrific book called Cubs Nation, by Gene Wojciechowski detailing the entire season—and the team itself ended up being pretty unlikeable. In spite of their 89 wins, the 2004 Cubs missed the playoffs after an epic collapse during the final ten days of the schedule.
However, our hope this spring has a different timbre than it did twelve years ago—if the spring of ’04 was white-knuckled anxiety and towel drills, April ’16 is clear eyes, full hearts and Anthony Rizzo playing piano.
One of the many oddities of Cubs culture over the years has been the almost metaphysical way in which the team has reacted to, or performed on the field, in a manner reflective of exactly how their fans felt—whether it was Moises Alou’s rabid reaction during that infamous eighth inning of game six, every member of the infield needing a serious dose of Xanax during game two of the 2008 NLDS, or Michael Barrett punching A.J. Pierzynski in the face. In the current climate, we can expect exactly none of this behavior to be exhibited by THESE Chicago Cubs. Rooting for this team is always fun, sometimes straight-up goofy, and makes us better people.
It is entirely possible, even likely, that the Cubs will disappoint me once again, and I am prepared for that possibility. But I know that 2016 is going to be an enjoyable voyage down the aisle of the church of baseball. I know the pressure will not exceed the pleasure. Clear eyes, Full hearts… you know the rest, right?
Happy opening day, ya’ll. Embrace the target. Let’s go. All that.