THE BRICKS OF WRIGLEY FIELD
The Chicago Cubs, the Writing on the Wall, and the things we pass on when we go
I was at a bar when it happened.
Michael Martinez hit a ground ball to Kris Bryant, who charged at it and fired it to first base to settle things once and for all. The Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years.
Instantly everyone at the bar was now best friends. The guy next to me who knew little about baseball and kept peppering me with questions the entire game. The girls next to me with an irrational loathing of Jason Kipnis. All of us. We bonded.
It wasn’t just us.
It was one of the most widely viewed sporting events in ages. And understandably so. It took over a century for the significance of this World Series win to hit its tipping point. And even while Game Seven was underway, it still seemed like it just might never end.
Rajai Davis’ home run that ultimately sent the game into extra innings.
The rain delay at the start of the tenth.
And the volumes of tension and drama that accompanied every single pitch once the game went into overtime.
And it was one of the best games I had ever seen in a sport I’d been watching and playing for my entire life. It reminded me so much of why baseball has always been my favorite, even while most of my contemporaries dismiss it as too slow or too complicated. Of course, it helps that I was pleased with the outcome of that night’s game.
I’m not a Cubs fan. I was born in Illinois, but the City of Philadelphia and its Phillies swooped in on me and my fandom by the age of three. Still, like nearly everyone else in the country outside of Ohio, I wanted the Cubs to win. I wanted to see it happen in my lifetime, and I can exhale knowing that it did.
Across the bar, everyone was unified by excitement, and that was something we so badly needed after a year full of growing division and unsettlement between people. Old guys who remembered the Ernie Banks days of the Cubs were cheering alongside young girls crushing on Anthony Rizzo.
I caught sight of one of the oldest guys at the bar. Earlier in the game he predicted David Ross’ home run mere seconds before it happened. He gave a little wave.
Not to be outdone, I mentioned, “don’t you think it’s about time the cameras turn to Bill Murray?”
I couldn’t have executed it any better. No sooner than I had said those words did the actor and Cubs-Fan-in-Chief appear on the screen.
I suppose that’s the perfect note to end on, I thought to myself as I left the bar.
In Chicago, a parade happened today. A parade that took 108 years to come together. Numbers of generations had lived and died without the Cubs winning a championship, and now they finally did, erasing the most legendary curse in American culture.
Baseball will feel strange moving forward. It’ll be the first time in a long while that the sport hasn’t had its legendary losers. The Cubs managed to turn their era-spanning drought into a classic American punchline, a warning sign of the apocalypse, and a reason to believe that goat curses are a real thing.
Thinking of it, 108 years is a really long time. Within it, you could fit the lifespan of my grandma who lived to be 98. Many people have pointed out that the last time the Cubs won a World Series, black baseball players weren’t allowed to play in the same league. The same players pointed out the poetic justice of the Cubs’ leadoff hitter being a black man and the first to take a World Series at-bat.
It’s been a long enough time for new technologies to become old techonolgies and become replaced with computers. It’s been long enough for the world to break out into a war, for Germany to split up, and to get back together. It’s been long enough so that only a handful of people in the world are old enough to remember anything at all from 1908… much less who won the World Series back then.
To most people, even more significant than the historical events that took place over the past century are the families that have come and gone and carried forward. The oldest cohort of Cubs fans have me the most intrigued.
I've loved reading the stories of extremely elderly Cubs fans feeling everything right now. There's the grandpa who chugged a 32 year old beer after the last out. (Not a well aged cask ale, mind you, an authentically grandpa-suited Coors Light. Must've been horrendous.)
When most people think of baseball, they also think of the people they played with. The people they watched with. For the oldest echelon of Cubs fans, many of those people have been long departed, but they are still seriously missed.
I’m reminded of the man whose photo floated around the internet. He told his dad that when the Cubs finally won that they would be listening to it happen together. For him it meant driving a few hundred miles from North Carolina to Indiana on a Wednesday night and pulling up a transistor radio by his father’s gravesite.
At Wrigley Field right now there is writing all over the brick walls. The deep red of the bricks are now decorated with the neon etchings of chalk.
For all the Cubs fans that didn’t get a ‘next year.’
Bob K. watching from Heaven.
RIP Kevin. 2016.
Miss you Steve.
And on and on.
When a loved one dies, one thing that gets left with us is a seared imprint in our minds of all that person’s quirks and passions and mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. When something happens that you know a departed loved one would have strongly reacted to, your brain has enough familiarity to fill in the gaps of what that would have been like.
In watching the culmination of a dramatic baseball game, I wonder how many neurons were fired to remind people of the dearly departed. To allow a grown man to look at the recliner next to him and imagine the way his grandpa would have spilled some beer on the carpet in response to David Ross’ home run. To imagine all the frustration that an old roommate lost too soon in an accident would have to levy at Aroldis Chapman for giving up a home run.
Usually the divide between those who have gone and those who are living appears opaque and mysterious. Other times, it gives way to transparency, and we can imagine just what they’d be doing, in a given instance, in response to a wild pitch.
I’ve been scanning the writing on the walls of Wrigley Field. It's bittersweet and sobering. I've been reading thoughts like "Tim would've lost his mind!" Even after loved ones go, we pretty much know what their expressions of bliss, panic, and rage look like.
Many other cultures have these extensive rituals to keep people grounded with where they’ve come from. Shrines are built. Tributes are paid. Extra meals are prepared and days are set aside to dedicate to remembering.
Sometimes I wonder what we miss out on in our culture by not having as many practices to connect us to the past. To remind us of where we’ve come from. To remind us of where we’re going. To remind us that when we accomplish feats like ending a 108 year old drought, or even when we’re putting up with the day to day tasks of providing for the rest of our family, we’re doing so as a single point in a timeline that stretches far behind us and ahead of us.
The thing I love most about the way a dad can remember how his dad sat in his chair during a game, how his brother loved to add his own commentary, how his wife managed to feign some interest during the game is that it reminds us that our smallness is significant.
Our mannerisms and physical quirks that go off without us even thinking about them, those become embedded in the brains of the ones we love.
Our irrational emotional investments in things might not have made much sense to those around us, but one day it’ll be one other thing that keeps us connected.
When most of us think of our legacies (which we probably don’t do often enough), we probably think of our moments in the sun that we’ll be remembered by. We often expect to be remembered by those who love us by major feats and significant accomplishments and things to brag about for generations to come.
And yet, our eulogies and our resumes look nothing like each other. One describes accomplishments measured by statistics. The other talks about moments, spent inefficiently, unfolding without being planned, that define how we’ll be remembered.
Some of the best things we pass on to the next generation aren't nuggets of wisdom, family secrets, or fantastic virtues. They're odd cultural interests, irrational behaviors, and idiosyncrasies. They’re the strong opinion that the designated hitter was a mistake to begin with. They’re the stubborn insistence that we salt our water before cooking up pasta noodles. They’re the odd superstitions that emerge when we step out of the house and hope for a good day. These are the things that ground us as humans, after all.
Our legacies can be simple and beautiful at the same time. There’s room for our smallness to be preserved and I love that.
108 years is a long time. It’s just long enough so that the ghosts from our pasts can be exorcised, while the love from our past can be cherished.