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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Cubs Win!

Here is a sentence I never thought I'd write:

The Chicago Cubs are going to the World Series.

In a stunning domination of Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, the Cubbies rolled to a 5-0 victory in last night's sixth game of the National League Championship Series (NLCS).

Having watched the Cubs seize defeat from the jaws of victory far too often over the years, I refused to get excited until the ninth inning. With the Cubs holding a commanding 5-0 lead and Aroldis Chapman heaving fireballs over the plate, it was just a matter of anticipation. Sure, there was a little nervousness when Chapman walked a Dodger with one out, but when the next batter (I can't even remember who it was now) rapped a sharp grounder to Addison Russell at shortstop, I instintively uttered "double play!" and sure enough it was. For a team that once had the famous trio of "Tinker to Evers to Chance," it was appropriate that Russell to Baez to Rizzo ended the game and sent the Cubs to the World Series.

I don't want to pretend that I'm a "long-suffering Cubs fan" because I'm not. However, I have liked the Cubs since the early '80s when my family had that miraculous "cable TV" installed in our house. At some point, I discovered WGN and noticed that they broadcast Cubs games....LOTS of Cubs games. In fact, I want to say that WGN showed every Cubs home game and a good number of road games. But it was the games at Wrigley Field that sold me on the Cubs.

Now, if you've been reading this blog for any length of time or know me at all, you understand that the Detroit Tigers are not only my favorite baseball team, but my favorite professional sports franchise. But I do have room for other teams, and in the early '80s I decided that the Cubs had much more appeal than the other baseball teams broadcast on cable TV (the Tigers' AL rival White Sox, also on WGN; and the bland Atlanta Braves on WTBS).

What was there NOT to like about the Cubs for a young baseball fan who already loved the history and lore of the game? Okay, they didn't win very often--there was that. But otherwise, their home games were all during the day, they played in a historic, idiosyncratic ballpark with unique ivy-covered walls, and their broadcast crew featured old legends like Jack Brickhouse and Lou Boudreau (and later, Harry Caray and Milo Hamilton).

Plus, the Cubs had direct parallels with the Tigers in my mind. Venerable Wrigley Field seemed similar to equally venerable Tiger Stadium, the local Chicagoland commercials on WGN reminded me of similar ads on WDIV's Tiger game broadcasts, and guys like Brickhouse, Boudreau, Hamilton, and Caray were contemporaries of the Tigers' crew of Harwell, Kell, Kaline, and Paul Carey.

So I was a Cubs fan throughout most of the '80s. I watched Ryne Sandberg blossom into one of the game's best second basemen, Leon Durham punish baseballs with his big bat, Lee Smith mow down batters as the Cubs' closer, and rejoiced when both the Tigers and Cubbies rolled to division titles in 1984. If only the Cubs hadn't collapsed against San Diego in the NLCS, it would have been a great World Series. (The Padres with their atrocious taco-colored uniforms and cookie cutter stadium were a boring and anticlimactic foe for Detroit).

By the '90s, I lost touch with the Cubs, but did have one of my most memorable sports moments in 1996 when I went with my friend Jami to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play the Cardinals. The Cubs were obliterated by the Cards that warm sunny weekday afternoon, but it was the most energized and celebratory atmosphere I have ever experienced in and around a professional sports venue. If you are a baseball fan, but have never been to "the Friendly Confines," by all means find a way to go just once. You won't regret it.

So I've jumped back on the Cubs bandwagon the last couple years and am thrilled with their NL pennant win. I just feel bad for all the true die-hard Cubs fans who didn't live long enough to witness this.