My husband is not a very good Cubs fan. He wants to be, but as a Yankees fan, he just doesn't understand what it's like to wait. And wait. And hope. And believe -- and then to be let down. Way down, usually. I am a third generation Cub fan, and so I'm more than accustomed to having my hopes dashed, or as has more often been the case, for there to not have been hopes to begin with. For the last ninety-nine years, the Cubbies have only rarely been in a pennant race, let alone in the playoffs.
Last night, the Cubs won a nail-biter in the ninth, as Bob Howry struck out two to give the team a 3-2 victory over the Reds. I enjoyed every pitch of that last inning like it was the World Series. In a way, it was the World Series for me. How many times in my thirty-seven year life have pitches meant so much? As the battle for the NL central continues, every game counts -- the Brewers sharing the same goal as the Cubs -- the penant and a spot in the 2007 post-season race. In a way, the Brewers are just as unlikely as the Cubs, since both teams are barely above .500, but the Brew Crew started the season hot, hot, hot. It is thanks to their slide, in part, that Lou Piniella and the Cubs are even in the conversation.
It's possible that my friends who are Red Sox fans can understand what this is like. Watching the Cubs is a thrill and torture all at the same time. It is a game-by-game, inning by inning journey, taking nothing for granted. Think about it: in recent history we've had two of the greatest pitchers to accomplish nothing (Prior and Wood), the unsung pitching hero who finally gets his due (Zambrano) and a closer who, well -- has trouble closing (Dumpster -- oh, I mean Dempster). We had -- dare I even mention him -- Bartman. Don't get me started about Rothschild or Hendry. I'll just get too mad. So the Cubs finally spent some money on players in the off-season, and now we're blessed with Lilly, Soriano, and DeRosa, to name a few. But did this get us an easy ride through lame NL Central? Nope. That would defy the ninety-nine year story line and the Billy Goat himself. Who are we to hope?
My dad thinks that maybe this year the Gods have ordained it. He grew up in the shadows of Wrigley Field and often attended games with my grandmother. He's waited seventy-one of the ninety-nine year drought. Last year we bought him a paver to commemorate all that waiting and hoping. So maybe he's right? What else could have kept the Cubbies in the race?But here's the thing -- even if the Cubs do win the division -- it's that or nothing as the wild card is way out of reach -- think of all the great teams they'd have to beat to win it all. The Diamondbacks. The Mets (if they don't blow it). What ever slugging team the AL puts forth. Oy. In April, it seemed like the Brewers had been chosen, but now I'm not so sure. The Cubs have had some great comebacks this year -- is momentum building? Maybe Harry Caray is up there working some kind of voodoo. I don't know. I just know that I cringe every morning when I check the standings. It's crazy, but I am still, dare I say it? Hopeful.