Thursday, November 3, 2016

Sweet Dreams

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League.

A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request, Steve Goodman (1983)

The scene in Cleveland last night was surreal, but not in the unreal sense the word is often employed to portray. It was more "dreamlike," every changing camera recording visages which said something profound about the outcome of a baseball game. Surreal.
A friend's favorite one word description of the fantastic - Epic! - was voiced in the giddy aftermath by a reporter to David Ross, a well-traveled catcher who had just played his last major league baseball game. Tears welled in Ross's eyes. Yeah, he agreed. It was epic.

When the Cubs moved out to a four-run start it seemed that the "Go, Cubs, Go" ending was only a matter of end game. Set them up, mow them down and start the celebration. Their starting pitcher, a guy who looked unruffled to the point of boredom, had things well in hand. He struck out a batter to end the fifth inning.

Or not. Plate umpire Sam Holbrook's evolving strike zone struck again. Ball four. Cubs manager Joe Maddon, an odd character even as baseball managers go, inexplicably pulled the starter. He was relieved by Jon Lester, a pitcher who comes with a personal catcher (Ross, since their days together in Boston) and who, remarkably, can pinpoint a 97 mile per hour fastball from sixty feet six inches but has a phobia about throwing to first. Lester, it must be repeated, is normally a starting pitcher. Several batters (and one Ross throwing error) later, a fifty-five foot pitch bounced up and struck Ross in the mask, careening wildly away and knocking the catcher on his ass. This allowed two runs. On one wild pitch.

Cubs baseball.

Lester rallied, Ross keeping him calm. Together, they got out of the jam and Ross hit a homer, a sort of atonement, he admitted later. They got the Cubs into the eighth. 

Of course Cleveland eventually tied it. Rajai Davis hit a pitch that rose perhaps fifteen feet above the grass as it rocketed into the left field seats. Bottom of the 8th. 6-6.

Then, disaster struck the Indians. The rains came, but instead of playing through it (as they had an inning before) the umpires sent for the tarp. The players retreated to their clubhouses. 

Cub Jason Heyward called a players only meeting. Channeling Winston Churchill, he reminded his teammates, in so many words, that they had not gotten to Game 7 of the World Series "Because we are made of sugar candy." They responded.

Years ago, working shifts that had me home during the day, daughter Beth and I watched the Cubs on WGN. She was barely two, but would remind everyone that she was a "Cub's fan, and a Bud man" in her best Harry Caray (the late Cubs announcer... But if you needed to be told that, perhaps this is the wrong blog for you). The 1984 Cubs were good, but faded in the playoffs. It was a magic summer. Last night her sister and I texted each other throughout the game, which ended just past eleven Mountain time.

The Cubs did not fade last night, playing an exceptionally good team that gave no quarter, and expected none. There was cheering and yelling. Thousands of fans poured onto the streets surrounding Wrigley Field, some not intending to do so...just drawn there. In Indiana, a man sat listening to the game at his father's grave. On an outside wall at the ballpark people wrote names with chalk - names of family and friends who had passed still dreaming of a Cub world championship, Steve Goodman being one of those.

 Asked what he had said to Lester after the game, Ross turned his back to the camera. He was crying. "I told him I loved him," he said finally.


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