Lessons learned from 108 years of losing.
A remarkable thing happened this past Wednesday, during Game 2 of the World Series.
Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber, who has been not unfairly compared to Babe Ruth, hit a miraculous RBI single in the third inning. It was miraculous because Schwarber blew out his left knee in April, and didn’t play another Major League Baseball game until, well, Tuesday.
The remarkable thing is, I witnessed Schwarber’s hit in person, while sitting in the crowd at Cleveland’s Progressive Field, and I didn’t burst into tears like a wheezing man-baby.
This was not typical behavior for me. I’d been crying, or at least welling up, after even the most routine plays by the Cubs this postseason. If they so much as drew a walk, it was like drunk-watching Field of Dreams at 2 a.m.
I haven’t been weepy because I love baseball that much. I’ve cried because my dad died decades ago and he never saw his beloved team win a World Series.
I’m far from alone.
If you’ve watched a Cubs games lately with other men in Chicagoland, you’ve probably witnessed a tsunami of male tears. I’ve watched several postseason games, with guys ranging in age from 18 to 65, and it’s abundantly apparent that most men living within a 100-mile radius of Wrigley Field have very complicated relationships with their dads and baseball.
But when Schwarber hit that ball, the tears didn’t come. Something had changed.
It was probably because I was too focused on Charlie, my 5-year-old son, who had jumped onto his seat and started howling with maniacal glee the moment he heard the crack of wood hitting cowhide.
“Cubs win! Cubs win!” he shouted.
Okay, so he doesn’t quite understand the details of the game yet. But he loved what he was watching, particularly because the Cubs, our team, were winning.
The first time I went to a Cubs game was in the spring of 1977.
I was just 8 years old. My father drove my younger brother and I from northern Michigan—where we lived in a town of just a few hundred people—to the frightening, crime-infested metropolis of Chicago, to see a game at Wrigley Field.
It was a six-hour drive, in our family’s turd-brown Chevy Caprice station wagon that stalled whenever you came to a complete stop. It was our first road trip without mom—she opted to stay home—and it felt like a male rite of passage, an all-guy pilgrimage to the Promised Land.
Our excitement ended, however, when we witnessed the Cubs lose—and lose hard—to the Cardinals. The final score was 21-3.
The Cubs lost that one game by more runs than both teams in this year’s World Series have scored combined so far. It was an amazing game in that the Cubs were amazingly bad. On a scale of formidable competitors, they were somewhere between the Washington Generals and Paris in 1940.
After the carnage, as we wandered out of Wrigley and back to our car, my brother and I grumbled about the baseball steamrolling we’d just witnessed. But my dad was beaming. “Well, maybe they’ll do better tomorrow,” he said.
A few years later, we moved to the suburbs of Chicago, and the Cubs became my dad’s favorite team. We went to Wrigley Field so often, the hot dog vendors knew him by first name.
He knew where the secret (free) street parking was. By the time I was 15, I’d watched the Cubs play, and usually lose, from every possible vantage at Wrigley.
But my dad always seemed peacefully oblivious to the losing.
He was a man who didn’t have the best reputation for dealing with stress, but whenever he was sitting in Wrigley, nursing a beer and watching his beloved Cubs get spanked into submission yet again, he had the expression of somebody sitting in a hot tub and getting a foot massage.
“Maybe tomorrow,” he’d say with a shrug, and head home.
My brother and I rebelled.
Rooting for the Cubs in Chicago during the ‘80s and ‘90s didn’t make much sense, especially when we had teams like the Bulls and the Bears giving us geographical self-esteem. Going to a Cubs game was only a good idea if you wanted to get day drunk.
I started to come around in my 30s. I realized what my dad saw in the Cubs.
If you’ve been a fan of this team for long enough, you reach a certain Zen understanding about failure. You stop clinging to false hope and start living with the bliss of low expectations. You become okay with just sitting in the bleachers on a warm summer day, drinking $10 beer and enjoying the slow-paced, predictable rhythms of a baseball game.
I used to mock my dad when he said things like, “Maybe tomorrow.”
But then I became an adult, and I went to Wrigley Field every weekend in the summer and repeated those same words, which were as comforting as the Lord’s Prayer. “Maybe tomorrow.” Probably not, but maybe!
And here we are at tomorrow. The Cubs are in the World Series, for the first time since 1945.
I wasn’t expecting to actually go to the World Series. But then the kind people at Chevrolet offered me tickets—right behind first base!—and all I had to do was drive a Chevy Cruze Hatchback from Chicago to the game in Cleveland.
Honestly, they could have asked me to arrive at the game in a G-string, my body spray-painted Cubs blue, wearing a goat mask and an “I Heart Steve Bartman” cap, and I would’ve said yes.
I liked the symbolism of it. I went to my first Cubs game in a Chevy with my dad, and now here I was as a father, taking my son on another six-hour journey, but this time in a Chevy with a few more tech perks. While my brother and I were tormented by lumpy seats and AC that felt more like the hot breath of a St. Bernard, my son’s biggest complaint was that the car’s WiFi stopped working for five minutes in rural Indiana.
Charlie had seen the Cubs play before, but he was too young to care. Now he’s 5. His first real memory of baseball will be watching the Cubs at the World Series.
The gravity is not lost on me. My son will only ever know the Chicago Cubs as a team that is good enough to be in the World Series. Even if they don’t go all the way, they’re good enough to get here.
“Suck it!” my son shrieked, as a batter for the opposing team struck out.
“Excuse me?” I asked, glaring at him.
“Relax, Daddy,” he said with a shrug. “It’s a game.”
It was impossible not to notice that the adults standing around us—most of whom were Cleveland fans—were smiling or muffling laughter.
That’s another great thing about being in a World Series opposite a team that loses almost as much as you do—the Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948. It makes the mood more like an AA meeting than a fierce rivalry.
We were surrounded by Indians fans. But every single one of them told us that Charlie—who was dressed entirely in blue, with a Cubs hat and a homemade “Cubs Destroy You” banner—was adorable.
Their wives and girlfriends flirted with him, and the men gave him instructions on how to trash-talk the competition.
“Always say ‘That’s bullshit’ if your batter strikes out,” a guy in full Indians regalia told my son.
“That’s bullshit!” My son replied giddily, enjoying how this word made his parents’ shoulders tighten.
Somewhere around the top of the sixth inning, it was looking grim for the Indians. They were down 5-0, and the home team fans weren’t as delighted anymore by my son’s antics.
But Charlie was oblivious to the growing tension, and he climbed back onto his seat to hurl taunts at the field.
“You’re my butt!” he shouted to nobody in particular.
A few rows behind us, one of the more drunken Cleveland fans started throwing Cracker Jacks at Charlie, ostensibly because his view was being blocked. “Sit down, little Cub,” he slurringly shouted.
Charlie was momentarily stunned. Among his many “firsts” that night, it was his first assault by a disgruntled rival. Charlie didn’t say anything. I don’t think he knew how to respond.
I absolutely did, and I wanted to unleash a blitzkrieg of expletives on the intoxicated sore loser.
But I bit my lip. I let Charlie experience this tense showdown, and waited to see how he would respond.
He turned and looked at the sea of sour faces. Nobody smiled back at him this time. They were scowling, their hands deep in jacket pockets, waiting for this nightmare to be over.
Charlie reached for his box of Swedish Fish, pulled out a handful, and offered one to the guy in the Indians hat sitting directly behind us.
“Here,” he said, waving the red candy in front of the man’s face until he noticed it. “Take it. It’s yummy.”
The man tried to wave him away, but Charlie was persistent. “Thanks, little guy,” he said, taking the mangled gummy and shoving it into his mouth.
Charlie patted him on the arm and said—I swear this actually happened—“It’s okay. Maybe they’ll be better tomorrow.”
That’s when I started crying.
You want to make me weep inconsolably over a baseball game? Forget Schwarber. Show me a kid who has never known a Cubs losing streak, echoing a grandfather who never stopped believing in the losingest team in baseball, remind a frustrated fan for the other team what it means to be hopeful.
Come to think of it, two remarkable things happened that night.
I think my dad would be proud. Confused, too. Very, very confused. “The Cubs are doing what now?” But proud nonetheless.
[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on the Men’s Health website.]