My Favorite Memory of the Decade: In My Lifetime!

Despite a 7-2 loss, this was an incredible experience for a lifelong Cubs fan. (via Joe Distelheim)

Last of a series

Oct. 29, 2016. Wrigley Field, Chicago. World Series Game Four. Indians 7, Cubs 2.

My team lost. I paid more for our tickets than I ever have (or ever will) for a sporting event. The seats were literally the worst in the park, assuming you measure “worst” by distance in two dimensions from home plate. It was 60 degrees at game time and into the 50s before it was over, with a 10 mph wind from the northeast; i.e., directly at us, off Lake Michigan, as we perched high above everything but the Wrigley roof.

What a great evening!


I have been a Cubs fan since approximately the Phanerozoic era. I’ve been to World Series games before. Thus, it perhaps needs some explanation when I say that my favorite baseball memory of the just-ending decade centers on a game the Cubs lost.

I’m having a hard time coming up with a sports parallel to the sense of fatalism I and other devoted Cubs fans have felt all our lives. We hated that “lovable losers” nonsense. We’d much rather be regarded as unlovable winners, like a certain New York team I could name. We hated the nonsense about curses – billy goats and black cats and all that.

But – curses! – we always knew something would go wrong. We lived through the Brock-Broglio trade, the “College of Coaches,” and wave after wave of spring training phenoms who wilted in the summer sun of daytime baseball. (Does anyone else remember Bob Speake?) Since their war-year pennant (and subsequent World Series loss) of 1945, the Cubs had finished last in 14 seasons, next to last 18 more times. Every school child knew Columbus discovered America in 1492 and the Cubs won the World Series in 1908. Columbus repeated his accomplishment. The Cubs didn’t.

Still, every once in while, apparently for their amusement, the gods would assemble a fine group of ballplayers, crown them with blue hats, and deposit them in Wrigley Field. In 1969, it was Santo, Williams, Banks, Jenkins, all future Hall of Famers. And the Mets happened. In 1984, it was Sandberg, Sutcliffe and a bunch of still-in-their prime veterans whom GM Dallas Green found here and there and in Philadelphia. Then the Padres happened.

The Sammy Sosa years were kind of fun, but they produced no National League championships, no World Series appearances. In 2003, Steve Bartman (and much that wasn’t his fault) happened. In 2007 and 2008, first-place Cubs teams went down in National League Division Series without winning a game. Hundred-year weather phenomena occurred; Cubs pennants didn’t.


Speaking of weather:

The 2016 Cubs, who had the best record in baseball, were good. Yeah, so had been the every-couple-of-decades teams op. cit., so my expectations were tempered. But I wasn’t going to miss the ride. I would be in front of the TV every inning of the postseason.


I live in South Carolina, on the Atlantic Coast. The Cubs’ first foray into the playoffs, against the San Francisco Giants, would begin on October 7. Forecasters had Hurricane Matthew visiting our neighborhood on Oct. 8. Leave, the authorities advised. Evacuate. There might be wind damage, they said. Eh, we live in a pretty sound structure. There might be flooding, they said. We’re on the third floor. The town likely would be without electricity, they said.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Outta here. I watched the Cubs take San Francisco in four from the couch in an in-law’s inland living room. We came back home to a scene of devastating damage in our community. Our own place was luckily unscathed amid fallen trees and blue-tarped roofs and flooded houses. But there was electricity – and cable TV.

I hadn’t really contemplated going to a Cubs World Series game. I hadn’t really expected there would be one. Fool me once, fool me several dozen times…They still had to beat the Dodgers in the League Championship Series. They couldn’t beat the Padres in ‘84, and the Padres didn’t have Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation. But, behold, these 2016 Cubs did win the NLCS. My wife (“I don’t like baseball, but I like Joe”) jokingly said she’d be willing to sell everything we have to get Series tickets. Seeing the online prices for seats – some in five figures – that didn’t seem like it would be enough. And we live a long way from Chicago, as the plane flies.

And then the phone rang. A first cousin once removed, whom I’d been nice to earlier in his life, happened to have two tickets for Game Four at list price – a bargain $175 per. Here’s a secret: Each major league team has access to an allotment of tickets for the Series. Sometimes, teams whose officials or clientele aren’t interested in traveling to a far-off game that doesn’t involve the home crew have some extras. My cousin knew a guy…


Two hours before the game, we rode the El from Evanston, where a friend had offered us his downstairs sofa bed, to Wrigley. The train was packed with people wearing Cubs gear. Most, it became clear from the lively conversation, didn’t have tickets, but they were “going to the game.” The phenomenon became clear when we got to Wrigleyville.

Thousands of people filled the streets and sidewalks, with apparently no plan to do anything but be there. They couldn’t get into the game, and the neighborhood’s many bars with TVs were jammed, even after installing a cover price of $100 or more. It was squeezing room only in the many t-shirt/memorabilia shops, some of which must have quickly displaced other businesses days before. I resisted buying a tee that said, in blue and red, “Yes! In my lifetime.” I nevertheless have a drawer full of shirts from that occasion.

My cousin had warned that our seats would be “not the best.” This was true. We climbed and climbed to the uppermost deck in right field, climbed some more to the uppermost row, then took a left to the last two seats. Ours. Not the best, indeed, but we could easily see the electronic scoreboard that boasted in huge white letters WORLD SERIES. That moment did not seem possible in the days of my youth, when a guy went to a Cubs game when he wanted to be alone.

There were a couple of advantages. I could stand the entire game; no fans complained I was blocking their view, since there was no one behind us. In fact, I didn’t so much stand as lean; the railing next to my seat, separating the ballpark from air, kept me from falling onto Sheffield Avenue many stories below. Had I toppled, I probably would have landed on a cushion of humanity. People packing the street were almost as good a show as – and closer than – the pregame stuff on the field.

But then they played ball. The previous night, we’d watched on our friend’s TV as the Indians won a well-played game, 1-0, putting them up two games to one in the Series. After that shutout, this one started more promisingly. We and 41,704 of our new friends yelled as loudly as we could in response to Dexter Fowler’s leadoff double in the bottom of the first, louder still when Anthony Rizzo knocked him home.

And then, pffft. Who knew that would be the high point? The Cubs didn’t score again until the eighth, when they were six runs down and we were very cold. The final was 7-2 Indians, putting them one win away from shoving the Cubs back into 1945-land, giving their fans one more verse in our ode to futility.

The Cubs won the next night at Wrigley, won Game Six in Cleveland. The finale was a classic; it was and always will be one of the best Game Sevens ever. Back home, I watched it comfortably, nervously, agonizingly, and, in the end, joyfully.

I still have those Game Four tickets, right here.

Joe Distelheim is a retired newspaper editor whose career included stints as sports editor of The Charlotte Observer and Detroit Free Press. He co-authored Cubs: From Tinker to Banks to Sandberg to Today.

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