This isn’t the first piece to try and tackle what it’s like for the Cubs to be World Series participants, nor will it be the last. Some will no doubt be infinitely more eloquent and poignant. Others, not so much. But as I guided my car south out of the city, the emotions of Saturday night came rushing back on the strength of an analogy that I felt compelled to flesh out a little more fully.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t involve the nerd getting the girl.
Rather, this was spurred by a text exchange I had with my dad in the wake of that Game 6 win. I actually lost the exact convo when I went back and deleted a bunch of messages to free up room on my phone, but I recall it going something like this:
Thank you for making me a fan.
I think that was more your Grandpap, but you’re welcome.
This is unreal.
I never thought I’d see the Cubs play in the World Series.
That’s not fatalism you read in my dad’s words, just a resignation to the inexorable grind of natural order. Death, taxes, and the Cubs not making it past the NLCS. Yet we continue to pass the gift of fandom along because we love it in spite of the lack of ultimate fulfillment it’s brought us.
As a young boy, I was given a present that came in a big, shiny box. Because I was too small to open it myself, my Grandpap helped me with the string and wrapping paper. My dad pitched in too, both of them watching in amused fascination to see how I’d react to what was inside. And what was inside was…another box. Rather than tear into it right away, though, I had to wait until next year to open it.
A year passed and the scene was repeated. Each box had different wrapping, some had shiny bows and others were draped in old newspapers. Where others saw nothing but an empty box, I saw a world of possibility that was limited only by my imagination. My brother, two years younger, soon got a box of his own and we proceeded to play together, often at Grandpap’s house.
Year after year, we’d open a new present and would learn to appreciate the possibilities that came with it. Among those was the chance that one of them might actually have something in it other than another box. Though we dared not risk much hope on such thoughts, they lingered and grew stronger with time nonetheless. I grew particularly focused — some might say obsessed — on figuring out the secrets of the boxes, a pursuit that eventually became a passion.
I’ve even presented my own children with similar gifts and now understand at least some of what my father and grandfather must have felt. There are thousands more of these boxes all over the country, the world even, and we all got to open a new one Saturday night. When the ball nestled in Anthony Rizzo’s glove for the final out and a collective cheer broke out, we finally got to see what it was that had been lying in wait all those years. And it was…nothing. And everything.
The present is different things to different people and it’s somehow still the same for all of us. There will be more presents to come, more boxes to open, so this isn’t the end of the odyssey by a long stretch. As such, I get a little sentimental when I think of all those who’ve gone before who weren’t there to tear through one last ribbon or cast aside one more meticulously folded piece of wrapping paper and who weren’t able to watch any of us do the same. So I’m going to keep enjoying the hell out of this because that’s what Grandpap would have wanted. And I’m guessing a few of you are going to do the same.
The whole thing sounded better in my mind when emotion was running high. I think committing it to the page renders it a little clunkier than I’d have liked, but c’est la vie or something. It’s hard to put into words what this feels like. The Cubs are going to be playing in the World Series. The Cubs are going to be playing in the World Series. I had to type it twice to make it more real.
If you’re in a feelsy mood, go check out the anthology piece I put together from the stories of various people explaining why they’re Cubs fans. And maybe take a moment to tell us who gave you that gift.