There is no more next year…

There looked to be maybe 10,000 fans there that day.  I remember the day as being gray and dreary.   The year was 1975.

I don’t know how many of them were there for their first time, but I know at least one of them was.  Some snot-nosed almost seven year old kid was at Wrigley Field for his first ever Chicago Cubs baseball game.  Mom packed me and my sister on to the Addison bus and we headed east.  It was a Ladies Day.  So Mom and my sister were free.  3 for 1.  Can’t beat that.  Mom had a book with her.  And she sat and read it from first pitch to last.  Not me and Theresa.  We were enthralled.  I only assume it was also my sister’s first game, but you’d have to ask her to know for sure.

I was hooked.  I was in awe at these larger than life men running around playing baseball.  I remember Manny Trillo, who was in his rookie season.  I remember Braves’ pitcher Buzz Capra.  I don’t think Capra pitched, but I remember seeing him.  That was the first game.

Oh yeah, I am about 90% the Braves won that day.  That was pretty much a given…

And that is how this sordid love affair began.  Everything was about the Chicago Cubs for me.  I could rattle off statistics.  I analyzed the acquisition of Bobby Murcer.  I lamented the departure of Bill Madlock.  I was in awe of the ivy on the outfield wall.

I would spend many a birthday at Wrigley.  It seemed the Cubs were almost always hosting the Padres on my birthday.  One of the quirks of the unbalanced schedule back in the day.  The West Coast teams always came to Chicago in August for a long time.  Mom would let me bring 3-4 friends and buy us tickets.

As I got older, I was able to just hop on that #152 Addison bus and go on my own.  And I did.  Often.

In 1982  (aged 13), I started a tradition.  On April 9, I saw Cubs legend Fergie Jenkins triumphantly return as he pitched the Cubs to 5-0 victory over the New York Mets.  For 32 of the next 34 Aprils, I did the same exact thing.  The only 2 home openers I missed were 2000 (a girl, of course) and 2015 (Easter Sunday night!).

Over the years I saw so much which made me fall deeper in love with the Chicago Cubs.

I saw Dave Kingman smash some really long home runs.  I saw Glenallen Hill be not so impressed with that.  And I saw Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes turn his nose up that…

I saw some good baseball, and whole lot of bad baseball.

I remember rushing home from school to catch as much of the game as I could on Channel 9.

I remember being pissed that Ivan DeJesus was traded for the all glove, no bat Larry Bowa and some kid named Sandberg.

While on a tour of Europe with my High School classmates, I routinely checked the “International Herald Tribune” for updates on how the Cubs were doing.  When I checked the June 14, 1984 Cubs news, I saw that they traded one of my favorite players (Mel Hall) and our top prospect to Cleveland, of all places, for former Rookie of the Year Rick Sutcliffe and two others.  And to think that I was more excited at the time about Ron Hassey…

My heart sank heavily that Sunday in October of that year when the San Diego Padres crushed our hopes.

I watched in horror as the promise of 1985 faded as one pitcher after another dropped to the sidelines.

I eagerly waited out the rebuild which led to another playoff appearance just 5 years later, only to have Will Clark pretty much single-handedly defeat us.

I was giddy when I was hired in 1991 to work Crowd Control at my Xanadu.  Employee #1131, thank you very much.  I was one of those blue shirted dudes who sat on the outfield wall in the bleachers.  The one and only job I ever had where I would have paid them for the privilege…

I agonized through pitching staffs headed by guys like Anthony Young, Jaime Navarro, Jose Guzman and the like constantly failed us.

I watched Chico Walker become a fan favorite.

I saw failed prospect after failed prospect.  Drew Hall.  Lance Dickson.  Earl Cunningham.  Felix Pié. *sigh* Gary Scott.

I’ve endured 42 years of going to Wrigley.

I’ve lived through Herman Franks, Jim Essian, Preston Gomez, et al

I’ve paid good money to watch Bob Scanlan, Chico Walker, Miguel Dilone, Tom Veryzer and the rest.

I have been to almost every home opener since 1982

My father had to pull me away kicking and screaming in the 4th inning on 8/8/88 because I was CERTAIN the light drizzle would soon end

I woke up in the middle of the night to watch them suck in Tokyo.

I giggled like a schoolgirl to be sitting 2 rows behind Governor Thompson at the one and only win in the 1989 playoffs.

I saw some bum rookie catcher named Biggio blast 2 HR in an empty stadium

I remember rushing home from school to watch games on channel 9

I proudly worked Crowd Control during the forgettable 1991 season. Employee#1131.

…and would have done it for free.

I endured the politicking of the Commissioner’s office which took our home field away in 1984.

I was glowingly optimistic when Danny Jackson, Candy Maldonado, and Dave Smith all came aboard and then loudly helped boo them out of town.

I saw much more heartache and failure than any type of success.  My favorite team was a laughingstock.  Ownership, first under the Wrigley family and later by the Tribune corporation, were interested more in milking the profits garnered from the mystique of Wrigley Field than in putting forth a successful product.

I saw, with the exception of the Dallas Green years, management which was no more than a pawn of the owners.  Only Green dared to actually try to compete.  The farm system began to bloom under him and the team actually had a bright future as guys named Dunston, Walton, and Maddux were groomed and developed.

As much as I always hoped my team would win, I never really felt that was a realistic expectation until that bittersweet 2003 season.  That team came out of nowhere to win the division and advance to the NLCS, where they famously blew a 3 games to 1 lead and bowed to the eventual World Series Champion Marlins.  The 2004 team actually won one more game than the ’03 edition, but the magic wore off.

The 2007 team, under the leadership of Lou Piniella, won the division and got swept by the Diamondbacks in the NLDS.  The 2008 team had the best record in the NL and got swept by the Dodgers.  But that was not a team built to last.  It was a team that averaged more than 20 years of age.  The club was soon broken up when the most significant move happened.

Shortly after the conclusion of the 2009 season, on October 27, MLB announced and approved the transfer of 95% ownership of the Chicago Cubs franchise to the Ricketts family, headed by Tom, former executive at TD Ameritrade.  No longer was the team in the hands of a faceless corporate conglomerate.  A real fan was at the controls.  And he soon put his stamp on this team.

On October 12, 2011, Ricketts pried Theo Epstein away from the Boston Red Sox to run the baseball operations.  Epstein quickly brought in his own people, including former Padres GM Jed Hoyer.  The results were dramatic and immediate.  Scouting was better than ever before and top draft choice after top draft choice was a hit.  Albert Almora, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, and some dude named Bryant.

Young player after young player was brought in, and they all grew together.  Two miserable seasons filled with growing pains (2012-13) were followed by the first glimmers of hope (2014).  Not only did this team seem finally on the brink of contention, it also showed signs of long-term health with a wealth of young talent.

This is a team unlike any previous “good” Cubs teams.

1984 and 1989  teams assembled on the fly to win now.

1998 was the product of some divine intervention and an absolute stud rookie pitcher.

2003 was, well, special.

2007-8 were also not built to last.

2016 is the first time in my lifetime of being a Cubs fan when the expectation was there to win from the get go.  They played all season with a huge target on their backs and responded to the “pressure” by storming out to a 25-6 start en route to a MLB best 103-58 mark.

Saturday night, some say that the Cubs will be playing in their biggest game since that ill-fated 2003 season.  I disagree.  This is their biggest game since Wednesday October 10, 1945.  I don’t think anyone needs me to tell them what happened THAT day…

When the dust settles, not even Clayton Kershaw will stand in the way of dispelling the goats of seasons past.  The Chicago National League ball club will once again stand atop the baseball world and advance to the World Series.

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