The thought came to me on Tuesday night, as I was sitting bolt upright against the arm of the couch, nervously biting my fingernails, my mind rapidly alternating between hope and resignation, alternately yelling at the television set and shouting with joy: there is a certain Zen to being a Cubs fan.
I know – I’ve been one since 1973 when my family moved to Illinois outside of Chicago. I spent many summer days at Wrigley Field, sitting in the bleachers, eating hot dogs and peanuts and enjoying the camaraderie that comes from a Don Quixote-like optimism that this game is one of many they’ll win because this is the year.
On Tuesday night, it was the bottom of the 9th, and the Cubs were down by one. As I waited for the next batter, I realized that in all the years I grew up going to games at Wrigley, there were things I learned – “those little life lessons” – that weren’t taught so much as absorbed.
For instance, during the seventh inning stretch, Harry Carey always sang “take me out to the ballgame.” Now, Harry Carey is most definitely not Whitney Houston. But even now, more than 20 years later, I can hear Harry’s off-key, raspy, beer soaked rendition in my mind.
Harry didn’t care that he was off-key. He wanted to sing the song and he did.
Harry Carey was a man who enjoyed the game of baseball and loved the Cubs. Harry’s singing with heart rather than talent showed us that sometimes it’s more important to do something you want to do than to worry about what others will think, to do something you enjoy even if you aren’t the best.
Bottom of the 9th, one out, still behind by one.
As my husband gave up and went to bed (like he was going to be able to sleep through my groans and yelps), I remained glued to the game, ever hopeful that the Cubbies can pull this one out.
Never give up hope – Cubs fans learn this before they learn to walk. How else do you think we can say “there’s always next year” with sincerity and a straight face?
Didn’t make the Little League team? There’s always next year.
Didn’t win the hot dog eating contest? There’s always next year.
Didn’t get that once in a lifetime job with the seven-digit salary and the awesome benefits? There’s always next year.
It’s hope – blind, loyal, naive hope that keeps us going.
Bottom of the 9th, two out, still behind by one. Sammy Sosa comes to the plate.
I suddenly remember something my father used to say – on any given day, any team can beat any other team. My father (alas, a Texas Rangers fan) would use this as part of his pep talk to the girl’s basketball team I played on in middle school.
He did this to help us keep our spirits high before games with formidable opponents and to keep our abilities in perspective before games with less talented opponents. It’s this perspective that keeps the Wrigley bleachers filled – will our last place boys beat the first place team today? Can the boys come from behind for a win? There’s always a chance, always hope.
Sammy hits a homer!
Sometimes life’s greatest emotions can be summed up in two words: Holy Cow. Even if you were only half paying attention, those words woke you up immediately. To say more only detracts from the emotion of the moment (something sportscasters would do well to learn).
Top of the 11th, the Marlins hit a homer.
Bottom of the 11th, the Cubbies fail to score.
This is when perspective must kick in and I have to remember – it’s only a game. And at the end of the day, this is perhaps the most important lesson of all. It is only a game.
I will sit anxiously each and every game until the Cubs win it all (there’s that darned hope). But their winning the World Series won’t change the fact that there are a lot of people here who can’t watch the game because they don’t have a home to put a TV in or extra money to pay for cable.
Winning the World Series won’t bring our soldiers home from overseas. Winning the World Series won’t stop crime or violence or hate.
Winning the World Series will take me back to a time when sitting in the bleachers, watching my Cubbies, was the greatest thing in the world.
And that puts everything else into place.
Denise Oppenhagen lives in Lake Ridge, which is only 722 miles from Wrigley Field.