I think that if I had to pick my first love it would be baseball. As a child, my walls were covered with pictures of ball players before they were covered with pictures of actors and musicians. I quickly found a love for Ryne Sandberg and the National League in my American League home state and from that point on became a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.
I’ve lived through the legends of a Billy goat, NL East Championships and NLCS losses in the1980s, Maddux to the Braves, Ryno’s two retirements, Harry Caray’s death, Kerry Wood’s Rookie of the Year, Sosa chasing McGwire, the return of NL Central Championships in the early 2000s, Bartman, and a slew of managers, owners, and players (but none as beloved for me as Ryne Sandberg). This list could go on, but one thing is certain, I will always love baseball and much of that has to do with The Cubs.
There has been a great deal of talk about this being the year. The Cubs have the best record in baseball. And, for me Saturday night was magical. It was like watching my dream come true. Every year I defend the Cubs, cheer for the Cubs, cry with the Cubs, and just love baseball. But as I counted down outs, watched Kyle Hendricks throw a near perfect game, and felt the magic at Wrigley coming through my television, I knew that this was different. I cheered and cried and for the first time in life I get to see my baseball team take the field when I watch the Fall Classic.
But, no matter what happens, I want to say thank you to the Cubs. I know there are so many people who talk about how they’ve been taught perseverance and patience and how to deal with disappointment by being a Cubs fan, but today all I want to say is thank you to the Cubs organization for loving the game.
We have a young team this year. They don’t remember curses or Bartman or any other madness. They just love baseball and playing and being Cubs. And, everything I’ve heard about them shows they’re really good people.
For example, Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo are cancer survivors. Before Rizzo was a three-time All-Star. Before Rizzo and Lester were Cubs, when Lester played for the Boston Red Sox and Rizzo was a minor leaguer he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. When he went to visit the Sox, he was introduced to Lester who had been also been diagnosed with cancer at a young age. Lester met with Rizzo and helped him navigate what it meant to be a ball player and have cancer. When Rizzo was a nobody, Lester helped him out. And, years later when they both ended up on the Cubs, the bond they’d formed remained.
Then there’s Matt Szczur. He might joke about how during Game 5 of the NLCS his bat helped Rizzo and his underwear helped Addison Russell get the offense going, but he is also a bone marrow donor and took time off from playing baseball in college to donate his bone marrow to a little girl who was his match. His donation helped save her life and he still stays in touch with her and her family.
Even with all the wonderful things they do off the field, on the field these kids know how to have fun. They love the game and love being ball players. They joke around and like to rib each other. Javier Baez would take over the whole field if he could. Addison Russell can make it to fly balls that no one else can. 2015 National League Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant can play wherever he’s needed, but if you mention to him that he may be named 2016 Most Valuable Player, his answer seems to be that he just does whatever the team needs him to do.
I’ve never seen a group of players who are so versatile. Ben Zobrist can play almost anywhere and Dexter Fowler, and Jason Heyward seem to be the only regular starters who play additional positions. Joe Maddon has the ability to move players around in ways that normally aren’t possible and doing so makes them all fun to watch.
The deep pitching line-up of Lester, Hendricks, Arrieta, Lackey, Montgomery, and Hammel allows this team to have pitchers who were able to rest and throw. With a closer like Chapman who is throwing 100 miles per hour, you hand the ball over with confidence and believe.
David Ross is playing in his final season, a leader on this team, helping the young men around him turn into seasoned players. He is a rock in the clubhouse and next year his calm and wisdom will be missed.
Then there’s Joe Maddon who is quirky and doesn’t take things too seriously. He’s a players’ manager and doesn’t care about superstitions and curses. Instead, he tells players to “try not to suck.”
I know there are more players and coaches I could mention, but for now I just want to say "Thank You" to all for you for being a team that is fun to watch. A team that wants to play. A team that loves each other and your fans as much as you love the game. Thank you for creating an atmosphere where people want to be at a game, where players are having fun, and where it seems there are real friendships and relationships on and off the field. Thank you to Joe Maddon for allowing players to be who they want to be and for caring about players on and off the field. Thank you for this season.
This commentary will air during the World Series. I will be watching each game, smiling and hoping. But, no matter what happens in these final games. In the immortal words of Joe Maddon after the first Cubs Pennant win in 71 years, this year “We didn’t suck.”
Rebekah Buchanan is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.