Thursday, November 03, 2016

The Cubs did it

I don't like sports, but as a 23-year resident of Chicago even I felt how big it was when the Chicago Cubs baseball team won the World Series last night. Baseball is the American sport and for decades the Chicago Cubs have been the losers of the baseball world. Every national baseball team gets its turn at the title of World Series Champions, and most have won the World Series at least once in the past 30 years, but not the Cubs.

The Cubs are Chicago's north side baseball team and the White Sox are Chicago's south side team. The last time the White Sox won the World Series was in 2005. The last time the Cubs won was in 1908.

Yes, goddamn 1908! Decade after decade, loyal Cubs fans have had their hearts broken by this team. Sometimes the Cubs get close to reaching the World Series, but they don't make it and fans are left to vow, "Next year!" In the 23 years that I've lived on the north side of Chicago, even though I dislike sports and ignore baseball, I haven't been able to avoid the emotional effects of the Cubs' wins and losses. North siders are dedicated to their team and they take every loss hard. As many times as I've felt disgusted with their masochism, I have also taken pity on them for their hopeless situation.
Wrigley Field marquee in background.

So the Cubs even making it to the World Series was a freaking miracle and a piece of American sports history. After six games against the Cleveland Indians with each team winning three games, last night was full of tension. (B
y the way, can we get Cleveland to change the name of its team? I really don't find it much better than the "Redskins.")

I was in Wrigleyville, where the Cubs' home stadium is, for most of the night, and I saw some of the madness. Everyone wanted to stand right in front of the marquee (scoreboard outside of Wrigley Field) and I and my date (it was a first date for us) made the mistake of trying to join them. It got so tight I worried about getting crushed. It was a little claustrophobic.

Everyone was in great spirits through the eighth inning because the Cubs didn't yield their early lead for a long time. The crowd was mostly people under the age of 40, putting me in the top bracket of the age demographic. It was also mostly white, although there were several Black and Latino fans as well. 

My date took photos of me trying to not to look intimidated by the crowds, but sometimes it was a little scary. Groups of young white men would begin a jumping chant, young women would get on men's shoulders, people seemed content to pile almost on top of each other, breathing liquor fumes and the scent of marijuana. 
Fun but scary

Two young white women flanked a third, as if about to lift her. They counted, "One! Two!" I didn't stick around for "three," nor did I turn around to see what they were doing. I just wanted to get away because alcoholic inebriation makes me nervous and I'm a short person who it's easy to step on.

Rain drizzled on us for the first half of the game, then stopped. Police were out in full force. At the beginning of the seventh inning, I saw three officers leading three African-American boys by the arm. I had seen those kids selling candy bars earlier, but I'd also seen an old white man walking around selling artwork. I didn't see him escorted from the area, but that's what the police did with those children. 

About 30 minutes later, a young white man scaled a streetpost and reached for the parking sign. An officer trained his flashlight on the man and my date muttered, "He's going to get arrested." The young man grabbed the sign and worked it back and forth, as if trying to rip it off. The police officer reached him and made him get down. I walked over to see if they arrested him for vandalism or escorted him from the area. They did neither.
Lots of police in yellow vests.

When the Cleveland Indians tied the score at 6-6, the energy dropped. Faces sobered and the crowd quieted. As it became clear that the game was going to go into extra innings, I couldn't take it, so I ended my date and left the area. That decision turned out to be both good and bad. It was good because once the Cubs won, Wrigleyville became the destination point for hundreds of Chicagoans who flooded into the area, or tried to (the police had restricted access by that time). If I'd felt claustrophobic before, I would have felt complete fear if I'd been there then.

But it was a bad decision because it meant that as the final minutes of that tenth inning came to a boil, I was sitting on the #36 bus northbound on Broadway. Damn it! In my mind, I pleaded with that bus to hurry-hurry-hurry and get me back to Rogers Park. I was lucky that the Cubs had just gotten that final out when my bus finally pulled into my neighborhood. I jumped out and sprinted to the nearest bar, bursting in the doors as people were on their third and fourth joyous hugs. So I didn't see the winning moment, but I got to scream and carry on with a jublilant crowd just the same.

I think it worked out that my celebration happened at Bar 63 and not with my date. We had a great time and I liked him, but if he'd seen me screaming and weeping and carrying on -- after I'd sworn up and down that I was NOT a Cubs fan -- he would have decided I was even crazier than he thought. I clutched at strangers, screamed through a round of "We Are the Champions," and kept on shrieking through "Bohemian Rhapsody" and whatever else the bartender played. The tv screens glared "CUBS WIN THE WORLD SERIES" as if trying to convince everyone it had really happened, which was good because some of us were wondering, "Did that really happen?"

I was struck by how everyone, to a person, said "We did it!" not "They did it." Having minimal experience with sports and sports fans, this surprised me. I also considered the way that the ritual and spirit of baseball parallels the religious and spiritual traditions that keep others connected to their communities. I wondered if atheist fans also mutter, "Please, please please."

From Bar 63 I walked five blocks to my apartment, screaming and waving my arms every time a car passed, honking and waving the "W" (for "win) flag. Loyola University students streamed down the sidewalks, many heading to Wrigley Field, but others just out to wave flags, shout for joy and walk off their drunk (or keep it going). I warned one young woman, "I just came from Wrigleyville. If you get in, good luck getting back out," but she didn't look worried. I didn't get to bed until 2:00 a.m. even though I had a 7:45a meeting this morning.

Even if you don't care about baseball -- which I don't -- you must at least be aware of the historic and cultural importance of this moment. A mathematician friend of mine pointed out that at the start of the series, the Cubs needed 108 outs to win. That, of course, is the number of years since the Cubs last won the World Series, and it's the number of stitches in a baseball. This morning I heard someone say that number was echoed again in the way the Cubs won in inning number 10, with a final score of 8. Those are some great coincidences. 

The Cubs have fans all over the world, so when the Cubs finally scored that last point, it was a global event. The Cubs World Series Victory Parade and Rally will be tomorrow (Friday), and yeah, I guess I'll be there.
Loyola students at the train station heading for Wrigleyville at 12:30a