“Hey, Dad, why did that guy just run toward the Cubs’ pitcher?”
“Because the pitcher threw the ball inside and it almost hit the batter and made him mad.”
“What’s that pitcher’s name? He’s got a pretty good arm for punching.”
“That is Kyle Farnsworth, honey.”
Kyle Farnsworth – The name that forever changed my life. Thanks to Kyle, ever since June 19, 2003 the Cubs have been a vice in my life, and I just can’t get enough of the roller coaster each season brings.
Maybe it was the excitement of the 2003 season. Maybe it was the one-two punch of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, Matt Clement’s facial hair, or the power hitting combo of Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa.
It could have been the rivalry between the Cubs and the Cardinals and getting in arguments with that annoying kid in the 8th grade class about why the Cardinals were the worst team ever. It could have been the discussions that my cousins and I had about how awesome Sammy was, and how Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were never going to hit a home run further than he could. Whatever it was, 24 hours was not nearly enough time to talk about the team.
By the time August and September of 2003 rolled around, I was hooked. Every morning before school I would wake up to watch the highlights of yesterday’s game. On the way to school, Dad and I would talk about the pitching, batting, and what the heck RBI meant.
The NLDS came, and the Braves fan base proved to be the most obnoxious people in the world, pretending their arms were tomahawks while trying to “o0o” on key. Robert Fick became public enemy No. 1 after trying to knock the ball out of Eric Karros’ glove at first base. Thank goodness the Cubs won it in 5 games.
Then the NLCS happened.
Dad had a work meeting during game 6 of the NLCS and came home to find his children sobbing and his wife livid – “Look what you’ve done! You made us all Cub fans!” I didn’t think my little heart could break into any more pieces. How could they do this to me?
But the cruelty of the 2003 NLCS couldn’t keep me away. I just couldn’t get enough of this team.
In 2005, I watched Neifi Perez hit a grand slam to beat St. Louis in 10 innings at Old Busch Stadium. In 2006, the pieces of my innocent heart attached themselves to two unlikely heroes: Michael Barrett and Ryan Theriot. They both hit over .300 that year. I even wrote a 5 page paper about the Cubs that year for a writing class, talking about the best players and the things great things that Dusty could bring this team to do. But once the rosy colored glasses came off, it was no longer “In Dusty We Trusty”, but rather, “This guy stinks. Let’s get somebody else at the helm of this team.”
Enter The Big Blue Blob – aka “Sweet” Lou Piniella. Sweet Lou had the fire. He had the drive. He had that blue pullover jacket that made him look like the Blob. It all worked together and he took us to the top of the division in 2007. It was an exciting year. We cheered for players like Jacque Jones; he couldn’t hit, couldn’t throw, and couldn’t catch, but other than that, he was a pretty good ballplayer! We were excited about the signing of Alfonso Soriano, the player who would take us to new heights and bring the pennant back to Chicago after 99 years. We won the division, but amounted to nothing after that. It was OK, though, because going from last place to first place in one year is quite the feat.
And I couldn’t get enough.
2008 took us to the top of the division once again. Theriot, Johnson, and Fontenot all batted over .300 that season. Our pitching staff was incredible: no matter who took the mound, we were in the game. Enemies became beloved teammates: Jim Edmonds brought his trademark hustle and clutch hitting to the Northside and stirred up the ire of Cardinals fans across the nation.
My family was caught up in Cubs’ mania: we went to as many games as we could, even if it meant leaving church early. To many people, leaving church early is not a big deal. Most people would probably just skip church to get to the game. However, when your father is the pastor of your church, leaving early is risky business: “You left church early to go to a baseball game and sit with people who are drunk on $6.50 beer?” Yes, yes we did. While the congregation was singing the final verse of “How Great Thou Art” the preacher’s family was speeding down I-90, along with the chairman of the church board, trying to make it to Wrigley by 1:20 PM Central Time. “Go ye, therefore, into all the world…”
It turned out to be quite the religious experience, as my mother and I were baptized with beer thanks to the Indians fans behind us. Dad almost lost his religion that day. Even those circumstances couldn’t keep us away.
When September rolled around, Chicago fans across the nation were abuzz with excitement. Ron Santo assured us that “THIS. IS. THE. YEAR!” Then we got swept in the first round by Manny Ramirez and the Los Angeles Dodgers. That’s OK, though, because there was always next year.
2009 brought much grief into my heart as our 2008 team was slowly ripped apart at the seams. Players like Michael Barrett and Rich Hill were shipped away to “greener pastures.” DeRosa got booted out the door for the likes of Aaron Miles. Hendry chalked up another great signing by bringing in Milton Bradley to complement the Soriano and Fukudome duo in the outfield.
Everything went downhill from there. The glory days were over. The days of Mike Quade and Blake DeWitt loomed on the horizon.
Derek Lee was beginning his decline into mediocrity, Theriot and Lilly were traded just hours before the deadline. 2010 was the dagger in the heart of Cubs fans everywhere. The end of the Hendry’s 3-year experiment was here, and it was not pretty. We were left to try and pick up the pieces of a rag-tag team with a rogue manager, but the damage was done. The team was stuck with Soriano for five more years. My favorite players – Rich Harden, Ryan Theriot, and Mike Fontenot – were gone forever. My broken heart was attached to the team, though, and there was no turning back, even if I wanted to – which I didn’t want to. What kind of Cubs fan would want to turn away from the team?
Now Theo & Co. has us on the edges of our seats. Even though our team is on the verge of being historically terrible, there is a silver lining. Maybe it’s the thrill of watching a team be built from the bottom up. Maybe it’s the anticipation of Theo slipping up and making a boneheaded trade. Maybe it’s Anthony Rizzo’s bat, or planning my wedding to Tony Campana.
Maybe I was born this way. I just can’t get enough.