Best-selling author Scott Turow once described the act of being a Chicago Cubs fan as “quasi-spiritual.”
He’s right. Generations of Cubs fans have come and gone without ever seeing their belief in the team validated. It’s been 108 years running without a title.
There’s something about that blind faith that feels holy to Chicago’s North Siders. Their fandom is purer and more absolute because they give of themselves over and over again and get nothing in return. (No World Series wins, at least.)
If you’re a Cubs fan, it’s always had to be about more than winning — until this year, that is, when the world’s most famous lovable losers have a better chance than ever to change their reputation. They were the winningest team in baseball in the regular season — and they’re now in the National League Championship Series, battling the Los Angeles Dodgers for a spot in the World Series.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes to tell his team, “Don’t let the pressure exceed the pleasure.” That’s probably easier for the guys in uniform than the fans watching.
For all the weights this Cubs team may feel vying to be the one that ends a century-plus of failure, it’s nothing compared with the angst felt by its fans. Most of the players have only been a part of the story for a few years. But fans have internalized the Cubs’ failures since birth. And a lifetime of disappointment would make anyone a cynic and could get anyone thinking that a higher power is involved.
Yes, if you believe in curses, you likely believe the Cubs have plenty of ’em. And you probably believe that this year’s team is destined to fail no matter how removed it may be from the goat in ’45, the black cat in ’69 or that tortured fan, Steve Bartman, in 2003.
But if you know that baseball is decided on the diamond and not in the stars then you know the Cubs of yore came up short not because of fate but rather slumping bats, missed plays and bad outings on the mound. You know that every team has a chance to write its own history and you know that half of this year’s Cubs squad isn’t old enough to rent a car, not to mention old enough to remember Steve Garvey and the Padres breaking hearts in ’84.
The failures of their predecessors are not theirs to own nor ours with which to burden them. There’s an old saying: God’s delays are not his denials. In the Church of the Cubs, fans are praying that this is the year their team proves it true.
Sarah Spain is a columnist for espnW, ESPN radio host, SportsCenter anchor and lifelong Chicago Cubs fan.