A Billy Goat, A Black Cat, A Bartman, and Flirting With Destiny

Watch this. Trust me, it’s time, just watch it:

Now this:

That bookends my Cubs fandom. As the youngest of 3 growing up in Upstate New York in a split Yankees/Mets household I naturally had to rebel and chose 2003 to take my stand (great timing I know).

I immediately fell in love with the three-headed monster that was Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano. It was the most excited I’d been about sports in my entire life, my first moments of being truly dedicated to magic that is baseball.

The hype surrounding the end of a then 95 year curse was intoxicating even though I was nearly 800 miles away from the action.

…But then cue Bartman and an Alex Gonzalez error and the dream abruptly collapsed into a nightmare.

The story of the next 13 years are filled with deep valleys and relatively low peaks, but now we’re in the process of climbing a mountain that’s 108 years in the making.

I remember being at one of my first high school parties as Manny Ramirez and the Dodgers swept the Cubs in ’08 and being absolutely crushed, just another year as a Cubs fan with the disappointment postponed a week later than usual.

But, I also remember Theo Epstein being hired in 2011, the trade for Anthony Rizzo, drafting Kris Bryant and sloppily checking my phone at a 4th of July pregame to find out that Jeff Samardzija was going to the A’s in exchange for shortstop prospect, Addison Russell.

Slowly, but surely the Lovable Losers began generating whispers around the league about their potential and a quiet and very tentative excitement began stirring amongst fans.

Those whispers quickly became shouts as the rumblings about this group putting the curse to bed became impossible to ignore.

The fan base, myself included, could no longer block out the attention.

Enter the 2015 season. Opening Night when the Cubs squared off against the Cardinals I was abroad studying in London and you better believe I was glued to the TV at 1 a.m. for first pitch.

But, we all know how that year ended. The runs dried up, our Cy Young Award winner wore down and the Mets (this was particularly painful for me) marched on… to the World Series, our destiny.

As 2016 loomed near and Vegas odds showed the Cubs as huge favorites and ’27 Yankees comparisons were made only half jokingly, Cubs fans everywhere knew the potential for glory and heartbreak come October.

Fast forward to October 22nd, five years to the day that Theo Epstein was hired, the Chicago Cubs won the pennant and ended a 71 year World Series drought. The billy goat, the black cat, and Steve Bartman may finally be put behind us. For good.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little emotional when Javy jacked that go-ahead homer off of Johnny Cueto or after Miggy’s pinch hit grand slam against the Dodgers, but last Saturday all bets were off. There were no man cards to be pulled, no ridicule, the Cubs made it to the World Series and I could’ve watched the post game coverage forever.

Seeing Javier Baez go up to accept co-NLCS MVP honors with Jon Lester after being written off as a strike-out ridden former top tier prospect after only a year in the Majors was tremendous.

The dam that had trapped these emotions for a decade-plus for me, even longer for many others and a century for a city had finally broken.

Watching Baez go up for his post game interview and become speechless as 50,000 strong at Wrigley chanted “Javy! Javy!” and the same happen to Kris Bryant as “MVP! MVP!” echoed were two of my favorite moments as a sports fan.

But then steps up Dave Ross, backup catcher, 39 years young, and someone who has already reached baseball’s apex in 2013 with Red Sox. The reception he received and how he took it all in, exchanging a mutual appreciation for the city and the fans inspired tears.

It is impossible to put into words what it means to a Cubs fan in the first place, but it’s that much harder to do so right now.

It’s a mix of a child-like enthusiasm and hopefulness with a cloud of heartbreak and despair lurking in the background. Even with the high risk/high reward stakes the next few days possess there is one very important thing to remember:

Curses are not real.

Despite what FiveThirtyEight might suggest the data over the last 100+ years would lead us to believe. But I think New Girl star, Evanston native, and American treasure, Jake Johnson said it best in his piece for Grantland (RIP) from back in 2015:

“I am not afraid of the dark. I am not afraid of a bogeyman living under my bed. I no longer believe in Santa Claus. I have also accepted the fact that I will never play professional sports, and I’ll never be as good as an actor as Robert De Niro was in The Deer Hunter. It was fun to believe in all of these fantasies, but I have simply outgrown them.”

We have outgrown fear of farm animals, felines and fans sitting down the left field line, we have outgrown curses.

Last night the Cubs evened the World Series at a game apiece, their first World Series win since 1945, thanks in part to Kyle Schwarber and the ever-growing folklore that will follow him for the rest of time.

And yes I will be overflowing with confidence every second of this series in which a game isn’t actually being played until I either ascend to Heaven or have my heart forcibly ripped out by the Indians and their outdated mascot.

But, until then, relive the journey of how we got here and soak up every minute of World Series baseball the Cubs will bless Wrigley Field with this weekend: