A World Series trophy is a wonderful thing to behold. -Willie Stargell
They say the first World Series is the one you remember most. No, no, no. I guarantee you don't remember that one because the fantasy world you always dreamed about is suddenly real. -Sparky Anderson
The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
I can barely believe it’s real. The Chicago Cubs…my beloved Chicago Cubs…have ended their historic drought. The team I’ve been relentlessly and fiercely devoted to, the team I’ve spent countless hours, seasons, and years of my life on…has reached the pinnacle. I have literally dreamed of this my entire life. It has taken weeks of processing to even get to this point of writing. I bought tons of championship gear and watched several documentaries just to somehow make this whole thing feel tangible and real. No matter how many times I watch the replay of Kris Bryant throw to Anthony Rizzo for that final out, I still find myself in goosebumpy, numb disbelief. This is actually real.
But let me be clear from the outset: this is far, far bigger than David Perry’s fandom. I’m 30 years old. The Cubs went 108 years without a championship. That’s nearly four times longer than my time on this good earth. Fans like my parents have waited sixty years, some have waited up to ninety or one hundred years. Some…never witnessed a Cubs championship in their lifetime at all. And that’s what makes this so special. This is bigger than me, bigger than the Cubs, and even bigger than baseball. There are obviously so many rich narratives attached to the Cubs winning the World Series, but I believe the metanarrative is this: the seemingly impossible became reality. It was a story of hope and joy that truly resonated with all people, even with non-baseball fans. It was a story that made grown men cry. It was a story that made one man watch the World Series at his father’s graveside. It was a story that inspired hundreds of Cubs fans to write messages in chalk to deceased loves ones on the walls of Wrigley Field. It was a story that inspired me to drive seven hours round trip, just to be with my parents for the special moment, and then embrace them in pure elation after the final out. Years and generations of angst and disappointment ended on the night of Nov. 2, a night I’ll never, ever, ever forget. What once seemed like only a distant dream, what once seemed impossible, became reality.
But how did it happen exactly? That’s something I’m still wrapping my mind around. The month of October (and the first few days of November) were a huge “glass case of emotion,” to quote Anthony Rizzo, quoting the legendary Ron Burgundy. I honestly didn’t get much sleep for the entire month, because not only did the games go late, but it also took me an hour or two after every game to just calm down. Obviously, the World Series games were the high point of the postseason, but I believe no games epitomized the Cubs’ October run more than NLDS game 3 and 4 in San Francisco. The Cubs lost game 3 in 13 innings, in excruciating fashion. I stayed up to about 3 am, only to watch everything unravel. I went to bed completely drained and dejected. When the next night rolled around, I just wasn’t emotionally ready. Could the Cubs really choke, and get upset in the first round? For most of game 4, it appeared that way; the offense appeared completely anemic. And then…something absolutely magical happened. The Cubs scored four runs in the top of the 9th, capping off the largest 9th-inning comeback in postseason history. How do you explain that? That NLDS-clinching game was truly the first moment of the entire 2016 season in which I let my guard down. My calloused, guarded, Cubs-obsessed heart grew three sizes that day. For the first time since 2003, I imagined what was possible.
So yes, I was an emotional wreck after only the first round of the playoffs. But unbeknownst to me, there was plenty of more adrenaline inducing, heart-pumping action ahead. Next up: the Dodgers in the NLCS. I never thought of the Dodgers as being a great team this year, but I spent the whole series in perpetual fear of Clayton Kershaw. Everyone knew he was capable of being the difference-maker in the series. And after he and Rich Hill shut down the Cubs in games 2 and 3, once again, things looked rather bleak. But the Cubs offense awoke from its slumber…and this time, it all started with an innocent Zoby bunt. Oh, Zoby...that man truly cemented his legacy into Cubs lore this postseason. The Cubs went on to win three games in a row, clinching their first National League championship since 1945. And I have to tell you: there was a profound sense of arrival and satisfaction just in that. The Cubs in the World Series…for the first time in a generation! If the Cubs had lost the World Series, I would have been extremely disappointed, but I admittedly would have been somewhat satisfied with a World Series appearance. Fortunately, the team itself clearly wasn’t just satisfied with a National League pennant. No, they knew what their ultimate goal was.
By the time game 1 of the World Series rolled around, the Cubs had become a mainstream, national story. I don’t know why I was so surprised by this, but it felt…different. As a fan who had stuck with the Cubs through some very, VERY low moments the last few decades, I had to adjust to the hoards of bandwagon fans jumping aboard. When you watch a team for 162 games in a season, you feel like you belong in a little subculture. So my first reaction to the bandwagon fans was to feel a little territorial. But as the World Series progressed, I began to realize that this was a transcendent story that actually brought unity and joy to so many people. What else in our society can actually do that? It saddens me to say that even religion often fails at this. So by the end of the Series, much of my territorial cynicism had melted away. Who wouldn’t want to share this kind of joy with others?
But before we Cubs fans could experience that ultimate joy, we had to go through seven games of highly-intensified anxiety. People have often asked me if I enjoyed the Cubs playoff run. And in a way, the answer is: of course. I love baseball, and I love the Cubs. But on another level: it wasn’t enjoyable, it was completely nerve-wracking. The Cubs faced several great teams in the playoffs, but the Cleveland Indians were clearly the toughest test, though they were underestimated by myself and many others throughout the whole season. I was on the edge of my seat from game 1 all the way to the last out in game 7. This series was unreal.
After Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller shut down the Cubs in game 1, I was still optimistic. Cleveland’s rotation was riddled by injuries, and I knew that the Cubs could certainly make up ground against the other starters. And sure enough, the Cubs took game 2 in Cleveland thanks to Jake Arrietta and Kyle Schwarber. That’s right…Kyle Schwarber. Speaking of disbelief and shock, this is one aspect of the Cubs championship run that still seems surreal. All season long, I subconsciously applied a caveat to the Cubs success: yes, the Cubs were awesome, but how much better would they be if Schwarber hadn’t been injured in the third game of the year? I certainly never expected that question to be answered. But it was. Schwarber pulled off one of the most improbable World Series performances baseball has ever seen. After months of no baseball activity, he effectively jumped into baseball’s biggest stage, and proved to be a key contributor. Not only did he provide an offensive boost with his hits and walks, but he certainly also boosted the team’s morale. He gave the team excitement and swagger…heck, he gave the fans excitement and swagger. So it was certainly a bummer that he had to go to the bench when the Series moved to Wrigley.
The excitement and buzz around Wrigleyville for game 3 was apparent even through television. Oh if I only could have been there…but I just couldn’t pull it off. And maybe it was ok that I missed the games at Wrigley, because games 3 and 4 were painful. After the Cubs were shutout in game 3, and scored only twice in game 4, Cleveland led the Series three games to one. I’m ashamed to admit that I mostly gave up hope by that point. I was just so emotionally distraught…how could this team lose two in a row at home? Why did the offense disappear again? Did the pressure of winning in Chicago become too much for this team? But then game 5: the Aroldis Chapman game. This is why we traded away so much to get Chapman…for him to pitch nearly 3 innings in a World Series game, saving the Cubs from elimination. That performance was huge, and absolutely worth the trade. I’m not a Chapman fan, but I’m grateful for his contributions to this team.
After the Cubs won game 6 in Cleveland, it became clear: the Cubs had a legitimate shot at being the first team to come from behind 3 games to 1 since none other than your 1985 Royals. The Cubs were one win away from the Promised Land. On the day of Game 7, I posted this on Facebook:
A melodramatic reflection on Game 7 of the World Series:
I've been dreaming about this day my entire life. Literally...I've had dreams about the Cubs winning the World Series ever since I was a little boy living in Chicago. And tonight, that dream might finally come true. I don't know how I'll react if the Cubs win tonight, but no doubt about it...it would be a surreal, magical, transcendent experience.
Go Cubs Go. For the little kids in all of us...make our dreams come true!
This summed up my feelings perfectly. So after cancelling my church choir rehearsal that night, I drove straight from work to my parents’ house in Indiana. This was a night I needed to be with family.
The buildup and the hype leading up to the game was incredible. It really seemed like the whole country was focused on what was happening in Cleveland that night. And the game certainly started in a way that delivered on the hype…Dexter Fowler led-off with a home run, and us Cubs fans went into a frenzy. Was a beginning like that some sort of omen? By the 5th inning, the Cubs had opened up a 5-1 lead, but then Joe Maddon inexplicably pulled starter Kyle Hendricks in the bottom of that inning, for Jon Lester. I disagreed with the move at the time, because Hendricks seemed to be cruising. Unfortunately, Lester did give up some runs, but then Grandpa Rossy (just into the game to catch Lester) hit a home run in the top of the 6th…in what ended up being his final major league at-bat. I can’t say enough about Grandpa, and what he meant to this team and to the city of Chicago. I’m not sure if this would have been a championship team without his leadership and play.
Going into the 8th, my parents and I were counting the outs left. We felt the anticipation building, and it was almost too much to bear. Again, Maddon made a questionable move: he brought in Aroldis Chapman (who had just unnecessarily pitched the night before, with a big lead) to relieve Lester, who had really settled in. Chapman looked completely gassed. And then came the low point of the game, and possibly the low point of the entire postseason: Rajai Davis hit a two-run shot off of Chapman to tie the game. I was speechless. My mom said she was going to throw up and decapitate my stuffed animal billy goat. In that moment, whether we admitted or not, EVERY Cubs fan wondered whether The Curse was indeed real. JUST when it seemed the end of the World Series drought was within reach, a weak contact hitter hit a game-tying home run off our dominant closer. It just didn’t seem right. Unbelievable.
And then God had to intervene. That’s right, it took divine intervention to turn this game around…the skies opened, and a short rain delayed ensued. To the Cubs fan, this was a dark moment: the rains symbolized our depressed, accursed state. But little did we know that this moment was a turning point in Chicago Cubs history. While Cubs fans were pacing back and forth, waiting to get back to the stress of extra innings, Jason Heyward was delivering what was apparently an incredibly inspirational speech. The delay gave the team the space and emotional break it needed to come back out and fight hard. Who knows…maybe it gave us fans the break we needed too.
The rest of the game is history, and it will forever go into Cubs lore. My goodness, I’m getting goosebumpy again. In the top of the 10th, the Cubs put together an impressive rally, capped off by the one and only Zoby, World Series MVP (Although let’s not forget Miguel Montero also knocked in a very important run!) I cannot even begin to describe to you what I felt when I saw those runs cross the plate. Relief beyond comparison, redemption, unbridled joy, and hope. Going into the bottom of the 10th inning, it was all hitting me at once: the Cubs were three outs away from winning the World Series. With Chapman out of the game, the Cubs relied on Carl’s Jr and Mike Montgomery, of all pitchers, to close the game. I did not expect these two guys to be closing out a Cubs’ championship, but their names will also forever go into Cubs lore. After recording two outs, the Cubs allowed one run to score, and the Indians were threatening to tie the game.
And now it’s time to return to that moment. That moment I referred to at the beginning of my writing: Kris Bryant throwing to Anthony Rizzo for that final out. How do I put this moment into words? It happened so quickly, but also so slowly. I was fearful, anxious, and relieved all within the span of a second. And in that second, everything changed. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I had essentially been holding my breath for the last month, and I could finally, finally exhale. The moment that I had dreamt about as a kid, was actually reality…The Curse had finally been broken.
I had always wondered how I’d react in that moment. I even wondered if I should video record our reaction, to forever hold on to that moment. But I decided to be in the moment as much as possible, and not plan or script my reaction and emotion. Truthfully, I don’t remember much about those first few minutes after the final out. I remember screaming, jumping, and hugging my parents…all three of us, hugging in a big group hug. I was hoarse within seconds. It was absolutely, positively surreal. The only reason I didn’t cry, was because of how surreal it truly was…it was just too much to humanly process in a moment.
I barely slept that night, and I didn’t want to. The next day at work, my co-workers completely decorated my office in Cubs championship stuff, and I just couldn’t stop beaming. I’ve been jokingly made fun of my whole life for being a Cubs fan, but now…being a Cubs fan is cool. My dedication has paid off. This is a new reality, a new era of Cubs fandom. This is what it feels like to be a loveable winner, and not a “loveable loser.” Apparently, the rest of Chicago felt the same way…because 5 million people came to the championship parade and rally, making it the largest North American gathering in recorded history, and the sixth largest in world recorded history. No doubt about it, everyone wanted in on this experience, on this incredible feeling.
Which brings me back to my proposed metanarrative: the seemingly impossible became reality. This is a story that anyone, in any walk of life can resonate with. It is always worth holding on to hope. The Cubs demonstrated that the fulfillment of hope is one of the sweetest, most redemptive feelings a community can experience. No matter what happens in the future, no matter what happens with the Cubs in 2017 and beyond, nothing can change the fact that that the impossible truly occurred. There is no more wait until next year. The Cubs are World Series champions.
With unabated enthusiasm (more than ever),
My Dear Dave,
The Cubs have done it. They won the 2016 World Series, giving you a precious gift that fans who have lived their entire adult lives before you were even born never had the pleasure of seeing. Cubs faithful have witnessed two World Wars, the discovery of Penicillin, the Great Depression, the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Princess Diana’s tragic death, the rise and fall of the Backstreet Boys, and two airplanes crash into the World Trade Center…all while their team’s championship aspirations proved futile year after year. Their futility, along with the cute bear cub mascot lent them the nickname “The Lovable Losers”. Not so any longer. This Cubs team, characterized by brilliant play and unshakable team chemistry has earned them the title “Champions”.
As the World Series matchup locked into place with the two greatest droughts in Major League Baseball: the 108-year Cubs (the longest drought in professional sports history) and the 68-year Indians (psht! …what do they know of agony?!), we knew that no matter what, the conclusion of the Series was sure to fulfill an epic headline. But how in the world could the game play within the Series actually come close to matching the epic quality of said headline? Well, it just may have in a World Series that many will regard as the greatest of all time.
Let’s skip Games 1-4, because it’s really just an overture to what set up the real movements: Games 5, 6, and 7.
Game 5: Adagio
With the Cubs down three games to one and their backs against the wall, Jon Lester would go on to pitch six innings of two-run ball, passing it to closer Aroldis Chapman with a one-run lead for a two and two-thirds inning save to finally secure the dire win at Wrigley. Performances such as that are why Chapman was acquired, however, note the taxing workload. For morale’s sake, the significance of this win cannot be overstated. It turned a three-game behemoth of a deficit into an all-of-a-sudden two-game, “if we just win Game 6 then it goes to Game 7” scenario. Like an adagio, the game was slower, but none the less captivating, beautiful, or essential. It had an oddly calm feeling due to the implications, but it portended to the drama that was to come. The closer the Cubs got to pulling off the comeback, the nearer they also drew to the heartbreak of coming up just short.
Game 6: Scherzo
Scherzo means “I joke, jest, or play” in Italian, and in Game 6, the Cubs played with the Indians in a 9-3 blowout win. Usually written in 3/4 time, the Cubs scherzo’d the Indians early on by scoring three runs in the first and then four in the third with an emphatic Addison Russell grand slam. After the Indians scored a run in the fourth and fifth innings and Chicago reliever Mike Montgomery allowed two baserunners in the bottom of the seventh with two outs, Joe Maddon inexplicably called on Aroldis Chapman once again, for what appeared to be another 2+ innings performance, but this time with a five-run lead. Certainly Maddon was jesting! I remember texting you something along the lines of “WTF”, and you responding something to the likes of, “idk…”. Though Chapman would go on to pitch only 1 and 1/3 innings, it felt like an ominous ending to this comedy of a game when considering how an unnecessarily inordinate workload might affect this pitcher who would also surely be asked to close out a crucial Game 7 for the Cubs.
Game 7: Allegro
Game 7 certainly began “fast and lively”, as Dexter Fowler led off with a homerun for the Cubs. After scoring two runs in both the fourth and fifth innings to go up 5-1, I recall stating to my die-hard Cubs fan roommate, “They’re going to do it.” So of course it would take a bizarre play like a Jon Lester wild pitch that allows not one, but two runs to score in the bottom of the fifth to allow the Indians a glimmer of hope. David Ross’s homerun in the top of the sixth gave the Cubs some breathing room again, and the completion of this epic comeback seemed all but imminent as Jon Lester continued to cruise through the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings. But things would get interesting when Maddon would in fact call upon his overworked closer Chapman with two outs in the bottom of the eighth after Lester had given up a single to Jose Ramirez.
I’m a rational person, Dave. As such, I don’t believe in curses. I don’t believe in any mystical powers that are pulling the proverbial strings in circumstances as trivial as a professional sports game. But Dave, I will readily admit that after Brandon Guyer hit a double off Chapman, scoring Ramirez from first, and Rajai Davis, of all hitters, who chokes up on the bat for crying out loud, went on to flick his wrists on an inside pitch of Chapman’s to send it over the wall for a two-run homerun, I started to legitimately question. Few moments have the power to demolish your reasoned mental paradigm in an instant, and that was perhaps one of them.
But there was nothing supernatural about what had occurred. Chapman had thrown forty two pitches in Game 5 and was used again in Game 6. He was gassed, and consequently, couldn’t throw his fabled gas (Chapman has been clocked at the highest velocity of a pitch ever thrown, at 105.1 mph). Chapman is an imposing and formidable figure. He stands 6’4”, 200 pounds of pure muscle. He looks like a Clydesdale. It would be easy to believe that he is perhaps more than a man. But alas, he is indeed merely man. Cut him, and he bleeds. Use him too much, and his arm gets tired. Hit a game-tying homerun off him in Game 7 of the World Series, and he cries.
No, the real Paul Bunyon moment of this game came from the most unlikely person, in the most unlikely way. Following a scoreless ninth, the rains came in Cleveland that halted play for about a half hour. That’s when Jason Heyward, the seemingly underserving beneficiary of one of the largest offseason contracts in 2016, decided to make a major impact, arguably for the first time that season, albeit not on the field. Leaders come in many shapes and sizes, and leadership can be delivered in many manifestations. Most athletes lead in the only way they know how: via performance; after all, sports are performance-based and results-oriented. Throughout the entirety of the 2016 season, Jason Heyward had struggled immensely in that department. But as the rain continued to fall and the players congregated in their respective dugouts, Heyward seized the opportunity to make a contribution with his voice, rather than his bat. Legend has it that he rallied the somewhat-dejected team together and charismatically reminded them of who they were - the best team in baseball, and as long as they stuck together and played like they were capable, they were going to win that game. Ironic, coming from someone who hadn’t played to his potential all season. But Heyward wasn’t referring to singular efforts. He knew that the Chicago Cubs team was collectively better than the one in the other dugout; he knew that they were better than any other team in the world, and if they stuck to their process as a team, the night would prove true.
What came after the rain delay was the stuff of storybook. Kyle Schwarber led off the tenth inning for the Cubbies. Schwarber was in a collision with Dexter Fowler in early April that resulted in a torn ACL and LCL. Following the incident, the organization declared him out for the season. But Schwarber healed and rehabbed faster than expected - so much so that he was healthy enough to swing the bat and run by the World Series. So a man who no one thought would be in a position to play in the postseason came up to bat to lead off the top of the tenth inning of Game 7 of the World Series and proceeded to hit a single. After his pinch-runner Albert Almora adeptly tagged up on a deep fly ball to center by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo was intentionally walked, Ben Zobrist…Ben “I’m an effing awesome baseball player and quite possibly an even better man” Zobrist delivered his MVP moment by hitting an opposite-field double down the third base line. Miguel Montero would go on to hit in an insurance run with a single. And though the Indians would score once in the bottom of the tenth, it never truly felt like they were back in it. And when Mike Montgomery got Michael Martinez to ground softly to Kris Bryant, who fittingly threw to his friend and fellow MVP-caliber teammate Anthony Rizzo for the final out, 108 years of Cubs futility was extinguished, a curse was officially broken, and the great Midwest city collectively exhaled and then rejoiced like no other fan base ever has.
The Offseason: Coda
In our first correspondence, I wrote to you from the perspective of a fan who had basked in the afterglow of a championship, and I compared it to sipping on limoncello, as one reflects upon an exquisite meal. You have now been sipping limoncello, my friend, and I hope that you have enjoyed it as much as I did. I hope you have watched the highlights, I hope you have read copious amounts of articles, I hope you have daydreamed of Zobrist’s double and Rizzo catching that last out often, and I hope you continue to do so. The coda is a recapitulation of the main theme, and it helps us to look back and take in the story. The Cubs are reigning champions for the first time in over a century. If that doesn’t deserve a good coda, then I don’t know what does.
We obviously didn’t know when we set out in writing these correspondences together that this was going to happen. We didn’t know while writing them that our letters to one another essentially represented me as a fan passing the torch on to you. But that’s indeed what happened, and I’d say it was rather fortuitous…even beautiful. As I said before, I cannot think of a better person or collective fan base to graciously bestow championship honors to. You deserve it, my friend. You all deserve it.
I’ll go even further with that statement as I wrap up here. A lot of 2016 and into 2017 has been hard. It’s been hard for our nation in many respects, and it’s been hard personally for many I know. At the risk of abandoning my prose, it just seems like a lot of shit has happened, and it’s sucked. But this Cubs team and this World Series story…it was a bright spot to many - Cubs fans and non Cubs fans alike. It was compelling, it was dramatic, and it was beautiful. In the midst of everything, it was the storybook ending we needed, and it was also the one we deserved.