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CHRIS ERSKINE / The Guy Chronicles

For Cub Fans, the Season's Never Over

October 07, 1998|CHRIS ERSKINE

So here we are in Wrigley Field, not physically but spiritually, which is the best way to travel these days, what with air fares what they are and airport parking such a hassle.

It's about 50 degrees in Chicago, an early October front dipping down from Canada like a French Canadian kiss, chilly enough to keep the beer cold and the crowd lively.

And it must be good, this beer, because the fans appear to be consuming it in generous quantities.

Less hearty baseball fans switch to coffee in weather like this. But not Cub fans. They just skim the ice off their beers and toast this great night, hailing Harry Caray, Sammy Sosa and October baseball with a small sip that lasts a little over three hours.

"Catch the ball!" I yell at the TV.

"Catch the ball!" yells the boy.

On TV, a Cub outfielder is circling under the ball. It's a high fly ball, a routine play in most stadiums, but not on this wind-swept night, not for a Cub.

The outfielder takes five steps forward, then five steps back, then three steps across, then three steps back.

It's pretty clear, after a few seconds, that this outfielder isn't just trying to catch the ball.

It's pretty clear he's making the sign of the cross, like a marching band--up and back, up and back--praying with his feet in the lush Wrigley Field turf.

"Amen," I say softly when the ball finally settles in his glove.

"That wasn't an easy play," I tell the boy sitting next to me.

"With the Cubs, they're never easy," my wife says from the next room.

My wife is not a Cub fan, but she's married to one, suffering vicariously through me.

When the Cubs win, she wins. When the Cubs lose, she loses. It's really no way to live.

But, in a way, she is lucky. She wasn't with me in 1969, the saddest year of all, when the Cubs blew their division lead to that team from New York, a team called the Mets or the Pets, I can't remember which, a team that went on to win it all then fade from sight forever, and rightly so.

Because the gloom from that collapse hung over my hometown of Chicago for months, even years.

At first, the city thought it had a severe smog problem. Turned out it was merely gloom--a thick, gray cloud that killed all the elm trees and forced motorists on the Dan Ryan Expressway to turn on their headlights in the middle of the day.

For years after, Chicago was like an Appalachian mining town. Only gloomier. The gloom you get when somebody you love lets you down.

"But we learned from that," I explained to my wife when we first met.

"What did you learn?"

"We learned to enjoy the gloom," I tell her.

It is the Cubbie philosophy. Enjoy the gloom. There will be great moments. Then there will be gloom. Like in life.

And a true Cub fan sticks with it anyway, the quest for this mythical world championship they have only heard about but never experienced.

Because the sweetest joy Chicago could ever know would be a Cubbie victory in a World Series game in Wrigley Field, with snow blowing in off the lake and fans knocking the ice from their beers, the October cold coming up through the concrete and into their shoes and up into their legs, a bone-chilling cold they would hardly notice.

Against all the evidence, Cub fans believe it will happen. More than any other fans, they believe in miracles and underdogs and the quiet guy getting the girl. When a spoon slips into the garbage disposal, a true Cub fan roots for the spoon.

"Are our kids going to be Cub fans?" my wife once asked me, 15 years ago when she was still trying to decide her life.

"Of course," I told her.

"But we live in Florida," she said.

"Doesn't matter," I told her. "For Cub fans, it doesn't matter where you live. You still believe. You still dream."

And she sighed and married me anyway--a miracle in itself--then produced three little Cub fans of her own, perpetuating the misery. Perpetuating the hope.

"Catch the ball!" I yell at the TV again.

"Catch the ball!" the boy yells.

On TV, the Cubs are about to be destroyed by that team from Atlanta, a team run by a millionaire with an evil little mustache and a beautiful wife, the kind of guy Cub fans just love to beat.

But not tonight. One of the Braves has just hit a grand slam, putting the Cubs down by six in the eighth. In one more inning, the Cubs' glorious season will be done.

"I think it's over, Dad," says the boy.

"For a Cub fan, it's never over," I tell the boy.

"Yeah, just wait till next year," the boy says confidently.

Amen.

*

* Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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