Letter to the Boys: Why This Cubs’ Season is a Big Fucking Deal

Jack, Reid and Cal,

You’re really young. There are a LOT of things you don’t understand. Why school matters. Why you can’t have your own YouTube channel. Why Donald Trump is a Presidential candidate.

As your dad, I try to explain these things to you, as best I can. I don’t always do a super-hot job. But I try. And I’m going to try and explain this year’s Cubs.

So, I’ll put them in terms I think you’ll understand.

You’ve seen A Christmas Story. You know how Ralphie only wanted one thing in the entire world for Christmas. A Red Ryder Carbine Action Two-Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle.

At the end of the movie, he goes to sleep with a stomach full of duck and his new gun on his pillow, a gift from his crusty but crafty Old Man.

Imagine a different ending.

Imagine that Ralphie goes over to that last, hidden box. He opens it. And his mother freaks the hell out. She starts screaming at The Old Man, that Ralphie is going to shoot his eye out with that thing and that she THOUGHT they’d talked about this, but the Old Man ignored her anyway and what, exactly, was THAT about? She takes the gun, drives off in a fury and drops it off at a garbage dump.

This doesn’t make Ralphie want the gun any less. Or suddenly hate Christmas. Or convert to Judaism. He just wants what he wants even more.

So we watch him, in a series of quick cuts, showing up hopeful every. Single. Christmas. One year, there’s an oblong box, but it’s a baseball bat. One year, he shakes a small package that rattles. It’s not BBs. Only marbles.

Ralphie gets older. Gains some weight. Loses some hair. Needs bifocals to read the tags on the presents. But he keeps showing up. Hoping. Wishing. Thinking that this year, this is the year he gets his Red Ryder BB Gun.

He does this for, let’s say, seventy-one years.

Because his Christmas hope has become something that isn’t even about getting the Red Ryder BB Gun anymore. It’s about the memories with his Mom and Dad, long dead, around the tree. It’s about hope. And faith. And feeling like, maybe, just maybe, you deserve to get the very thing you want most from life.

In the movie’s final scene, Ralphie, now in a retirement home, wheels over to a rather sad and thin little tree. A nurse hands him a box of promising shape. His fingers tremble as he opens the box because his fingers tremble all the time now. And there it is, a gift from his great-grandchildren.

A Red Ryder Carbine Action Two-Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle.

Ralphie, of course, dies immediately from cardiac arrest. His heart, at his age, can’t take this much joy. The last shot of this movie is Ralph, now an Old Man himself, clutching the box to his chest, a smile on his wrinkled, pale face.

Take that ending and multiply it by millions of people. That’s what being a Cubs’ fan is like this year.

I once stood in line for an hour to get an autograph from Willie Hernandez, one of many unremarkable pitchers I’ve watched take the mound in my life. Cheered every Dave Kingman home run, even though the only other thing he could do at the plate was strike out. Laughed when manager Lee Elia lost his shit at the fans because it made me realize what a thankless job he had. Lost my own shit when Ryne Sandberg his two home runs off Bruce Sutter during a mid-season game in 1984 because I KNEW they were going to the playoffs with the kind of certainty that is rare in this world. Screamed myself horse when Leon Durham missed that ground ball. Wore a “Fuck New York” t-shirt to class one Opening Day during college, which got an eyebrow and a smart remark from my writing teacher. Somehow convinced myself that maybe it was good we lost in the 1989 playoffs because they could have been hurt in an earthquake. Made audacious pre-season bets with my father on the Cubs making the playoffs. Ditched work and worn a parka to Opening Day at Wrigley Field, which is better suited for football than baseball in April. Wrote for The Heckler for two seasons. Was at the Bartman game and showed up to Wrigley the next night, despite the loud and persistent advice of my heart, which called me an idiot.

I have believed that next year will be the year and I have believe this for decades.

Some people would say this is beyond illogical. It’s masochistic. If I were still single and the Cubs’ were a girlfriend, I should have broken up with her a long time ago, deleted her number from my phone and blocked her from texting me. Maybe I’d still follow her on Facebook, just to torture myself some late nights, a beer in hand, just to see how she was doing.

But there has been an exquisite joy and pain in watching them. The Cubs have never just played against the hated Mets or the goddamned Cardinals or, in more recent years, the White Sox, to whom I remain indifferent.

They’ve been playing against history. Against low expectations. Against a Universe that seems to want them to lose.

This team teaches lessons worth learning, boys. That the past doesn’t matter. That miracles happen if you put in the work. That believing in yourself is the most important thing you can do but that, in order to believe in yourself, you have to give yourself a reason.

The Cubs teach you how to love unconditionally.

You are going to have a completely different relationship with the Cubs than I have had. You’ve watched them in the playoffs two seasons in a row. You may grow up to think of them as winners. That will be your normal.

You’re lucky. But you’re losing some things, too. Like this song by Steve Goodman, which will never ever make sense to you.

You’re getting the better deal, but still. I’m wrapping my head around all this. I still don’t know what to make of it.  My emotions are going to be a little all over the place.

When the Cubs turned that double play the other night to make it into the Series, I cried. It was only the second time in in my life I’ve cried because of baseball, and the other time was when I was ten and got tapped to pitch in the final inning – which I’d never done before – and walked in the winning run.

But I do know this: if the Cubs can be in the World Series, then anything is possible. Let’s score some runs, boys, and keep the faith, no matter what.

All my love,

Dad

  2 comments for “Letter to the Boys: Why This Cubs’ Season is a Big Fucking Deal

  1. October 25, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    That was a nice post and a good walk through childhood baseball. Nicely done.
    Jack Steiner recently posted..Can I Root For The Cubs?

    • October 26, 2016 at 6:14 am

      Thanks, Jack. Always good to see you here.

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