When Rajai Davis tied the 7th game of the World Series in the bottom of the 8th inning last night, my dad sent me and my brother a text message.
“Welcome to being a Cubs fan.”
I grew up hearing about the collapses of 1969 and 1984, and, although I am old enough to remember 2003, I was not yet the devoted fan I would later become. My dad knows all this. I think he was saying; Now you finally understand. Now you finally feel a little bit of what I have felt.
But I don't know that I do. The Cubs just won the World Series, and I am only 33 years old. My dad is 60. He has been waiting since that summer of ’69 when he first fell in love with the North Siders to see something that literally millions of people have died yearning to see. I can't fully appreciate what he felt last night, as the rich patina of so many decades of frustration and sorrow found their ultimate consummation over the course of what is being hailed as one of the greatest baseball games of all time.
15 combined runs between two storied franchises. Extra innings and a rain delay. Pitching genius and pitching ignominy. Profoundly dubious managerial decisions. A passed ball that cost the Cubs two runs, and then a game-saving bomb from the same guy, the oldest player to ever go yard in a World Series Game 7. At the end of it all, grown men in tears.
Am I glad they won? Yes. Absolutely, definitively, unquestionably. But my pleasure at the victory itself pales in relation to my feelings about how the great edifice of my father’s fandom has now shifted. I spent countless summer afternoons watching Mark Grace and Ryne Sandberg turn double plays as a boy, but the magic in my memories of doing so comes not from them, or the game itself, but from knowing that these guys were Dad's team. And they always lost.
Before spring training this past February I wrote an essay about my passion for the Cubs as refracted through the lens of my relationship with my dad. I wondered whether winning it all would be bittersweet. If Dad would lose something in the paradoxical shift that would have to come from no longer being a fan of the Lovable Losers, but of the Miraculous Deliverers. I figured he'd take that tradeoff seven days a week, and if the video Mom sent me of him taking a slug out of a bottle of champagne is any indication, it seems I was right.
Still, I feel kind of wistful today. What I wanted has come to pass. But now my kids won’t grow up sharing the same history I have. They won't understand this tiny sliver, not really. They'll hear me explain the numbers, the century of frustration, but it will be numbers and names and dates to them, an abstraction of my life and their grandfather's life. They'll understand it like I understand that my grandmother grew up without a car. That's how it always is of course. Every generation must discover the world for itself. It's just strange. My children won’t be able to feel the way in which the weight of a century finally turned a lump of coal into a diamond one shining autumn night.
I guess I’ll have to tell them the story. Better yet, I’ll let their grandfather do it. He can explain it better than I can.