History and memories made: The Cubs are in the World Series

I’m not afraid to admit it. I cried. And so did my wife.

We couldn’t help it.

Come on, it’s been a well-documented 71 years since the Chicago Cubs have made it to the World Series and 108 years since they won the whole thing.

After ending one drought, they finally have a chance to end the other. And they look like they have a pretty good shot, barring anything unforeseen.

Nervous, scared and anxious

But going into Saturday night, I was nervous and scared.

My last post detailed my feelings heading into Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, and I had good reasons to be anxious.

Among them was Clayton Kershaw, the all-world ace of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who stood between the Cubs and realizing the dreams of their faithful and long-suffering fans. Kershaw was that same future Hall-of-Famer who shut down the Cubs, 1-0, in Game 2 before the series shifted out west.

But the briefly dormant, nonexistent Cubs offense was waking up as the once-stagnant duo of first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Addison Russell had broken out of their combined 3-50 slump to start the postseason and were hitting everything in sight.

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Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo celebrate as the Cubs clinch a spot in their first World Series in 71 years.

The Cubs’ pitching and defense held solid while they waited for those bats to come around, and when they did, the Cubs were complete.

That juggernaut buzzed through an unsuspecting Kershaw and lit him up for five runs, including homers by rookie catcher Willson Contreras and Rizzo.

And then, to top it off, Kyle Hendricks, whose style bears a striking resemblance to Hall-of-Famer and former Cubs ace Greg Maddux, held down the Dodgers for 7 1/3 innings and handed it over to midseason acquisition Aroldis Chapman and his 100-plus mph fastball for the final five outs.

And he did. With little to no drama.

There were no Steve Bartmans interfering with foul balls, no Alex Gonzalezes booting routine grounders. It was just a dominant, Cy Young-type effort by Hendricks, backed up by other-worldly defense and a powerful offense.

The combination proved unbeatable. And the Cubs are heading to the World Series.

Think of that. Say it out loud. The Cubs are headed to the World Series.

Yes, it’s true.

I can’t believe it, but it’s true.

‘I wonder if she’s watching this from Heaven’

For all of my 34 years, I’ve been a Cubs fan. Literally, I’ve waited my entire life for this moment.

And I say that, knowing full well there are many others who’ve waited far longer and many who have come and gone without seeing their Cubbies in the fall classic.

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Me and my Grandma Marie Johnson pose for a photo when I was just a little guy.

My late Grandma Marie Johnson, born in 1917, wasn’t even in her 30s the last time the Cubs were playing this deep into autumn. And, sadly, this woman, who is responsible, at least in part, for my fandom, passed away before she ever saw a World Series championship team, though she came close in 2003, were it not for Bartman and Gonzalez.

But Grandma loved her Cubs, to be sure. In fact, some of my fondest memories come from many a summer afternoon or evening spent watching the Cubbies on WGN at her country farmhouse near Compton, Ill.

“I wonder if she’s watching this from Heaven,” my wife said during the game.

My emotions were already starting to surface. And that didn’t help.

Like so many Cubs fans, I was dealing with a whole lot of feelings from deep inside as I watched that game Saturday night. There were those memories of watching games at grandma’s house. Experiencing heartbreak after heartbreak in 1989, 2003 and even last year. Attending games as a child and watching my favorite players in real life.

Me and Ryno

Let me tell you, when you’re a kid, your favorites are larger than life, and, to me, none was bigger than second baseman Ryne Sandberg. One might even argue he was the best to play his position.

He was flawless with his Gold Glove-caliber defense, and he punished pitchers with home run after home run, which was impressive because second basemen typically aren’t power hitters.

As a Little Leaguer, I modeled my game after him. I even played his position and emulated his batting stance.

He was my guy. My hero. And nothing would’ve made me happier as a kid than to meet him.

And years later, I did. He visited my hometown of Burlington, Iowa, as a manager of the Peoria Chiefs, a Class A minor league affiliate of the Cubs, as his team faced my hometown Bees.

After being inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame, Sandberg was working his way through the ranks in the hopes of one day managing at the big league level, perhaps even for the Northsiders.

Though that didn’t come to fruition in the Cubs organization, he gained valuable experience in the Midwest League, and I gained an autographed baseball, a picture with my childhood hero and a dream come true.

I can remember sitting outside Community Field in the hot summer sun, ball in hand waiting for the team bus to pull up as his team looked to get ready for that night’s game.

As they arrived, my heart rate increased. I was closer than ever to finally meeting him.

They say you never want to meet your childhood heroes. They rarely measure up to how you’ve built them up in your mind, and you’ll likely end up disappointed.

me-and-ryno
I’ll never forget meeting my childhood hero, Ryne Sandberg.

But I can honestly say I wasn’t. He was more than happy to sign the ball, and the fact that I was able to get a picture with him — let’s just say I could’ve died at that moment and been a happy man.

You couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face that day and for weeks later. Even now, even as I write this, I’m smiling.

And that ball is one of my most prized possessions and remains at my parents’ house in a ball cube, protected from any kind of harm whatsoever. It’ll remain there until I can find a proper place. A safe deposit box at Fort Knox springs to mind.

But it’s that childhood love of the Cubs that I can’t wait to pass down to my own kids some day. I can’t wait to take them to Wrigley Field. Show them the sights. Tell them the stories, including the one about their dad taking their mom to her first Cubs game.

My wife’s first Cubs game

Megan, a noted book worm, wasn’t raised a sports fan. Before she met me, she couldn’t have cared less about the Cubs, let alone sit through a three-hour game.

But to her credit, she indulges me and my need to see every moment of my favorite teams’ seasons on TV. She’s even followed me to a couple of games. And I’ve noticed that as she experiences the action live, her love for the sport grows.

In fact, every Saturday in the fall, she makes sure to catch at least a few minutes of every Iowa football game, and that came after we went to the Iowa-Pittsburgh game last year when Iowa kicker Marshall Koehn hit a 57-yard field goal to win it in dramatic fashion.

At that point, she became an Iowa fan for life.

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My wife, Megan, holding a certificate commemorating her first Cubs game; Clark, the Cubs mascot; and yours truly pose at Wrigley Field.

Back in late July, Megan and I made the trip by bus to baseball’s hallowed grounds on Chicago’s north side. Like the Iowa Hawkeyes and Kinnick Stadium before, I wanted her to experience a Cubs game first hand.

It didn’t hurt that Chicago was having an historic season. And they didn’t disappoint that particular day, either, as the Cubs destroyed the Seattle Mariners, 12-1, behind an outstanding performance by Jon Lester and home runs from David “Grandpa Rossy” Ross and Jason Heyward.

But the experience was about more than the game. It was about the sights, the smells, the hourlong rain delay, getting to sing “Go Cubs Go,” as we held up our newly purchased “W” towel.

Those kinds of memories last a lifetime. And now, so will her love of the Cubbies.

‘I saw that team play’

Saturday night, I wasn’t exactly sure where Megan’s tears were coming from. At first, I thought maybe it was because she saw me sobbing.

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Megan and I pose at her first Cubs game.

But, after a while, she said, “I saw that team play.” And she started to choke up again.

Like millions before her, she’s now invested. She gets it.

And together, we’ll root on our beloved Cubs to what we hope is a World Series title.

And, should that actually happen, should they win four more games and end another drought, I know we’ll both cry.

I’m not afraid to admit it.

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