Reader essay They were both five tantalizing outs away from going to the big game for the first time in decades.
Both had endured the taunts from fans of other teams who just didn’t understand the majesty of rooting for a "cursed" team. Who cares if the last time the teams with the two oldest ballparks had won a World Series pre-dated LPs, space travel, women’s suffrage and television? Who cares if other young baseball fans who hitched rides on winning teams’ bandwagons seemed happier?
Our kids are learning something, we argued. They’re learning about character, loyalty, love and faith. Just like their parents. Their parents before them. And their parents before them. Damn it.
In 2003, the most storied teams in baseball were on the cusp of going to the World Series, on the edge of blasting away decades of curses, of epic rip-your-beating-heart-out-of-your-chest losses that put many of their fans in the cardiac unit. Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox fans—who’ve always had a common bond in misery—are of the same ilk. And in that year, 2003, the hearts of everyone in Red Sox Nation and in Wrigleyville were crushed. Again.
That year, after the Red Sox lost to their archrivals, the New York Yankees, I wrote a column in a Boston paper apologizing to my three kids for committing emotional abuse against them by raising them as Red Sox fans. Cloaked in phrases like "character building," I tried to justify why I’d do such a thing to my kids, seemingly condemning them to a lifetime of heartbreak.
The tables turn
Then 2004 happened. That year may not mean much to Cubs fans, but it should. That year prompted me to write a follow-up column. But this one was about Faith (now with a capital "F"), about how jaded, adult Red Sox fans were convinced that their team—despite raising expectations of possibly getting to the World Series—would just disappoint, as always.
But my gradeschool-age kids wouldn’t give up. They just said, matter-of-factly: "They’re gonna win. They’re gonna win the World Series."
To me, this was as realistic as saying that I’m going to be elected president in 2008 and that pigs would soon take flight over Boston Harbor.
"Sure honey," I’d say patronizingly, patting my kids on the head. "That’s great that you think that. But they’re not gonna win, ya know."
"But they are," my then 6-year-old son said.
My children taught me a lesson last fall, when the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series against the dreaded Yankees and not only won four games in a row to get to the Series, but then won the whole thing in a sweep. The kids said they just knew the Red Sox would do it. They had Faith. The adults, who didn’t, were in shock.
Why am I tormenting you Cubs fans with all of this? Because this can and will be you. You should know that you’re giving your kids a very special gift when you anoint them with the tales and tears of generations of Cubs fans. You’re bringing them into the special fellowship. Following a team with a mystical curse—whether from Babe Ruth, a goat, black cats or a guy named Bartman—is unlike being a fan of any other garden variety team.
Do you think Yankees fans really embrace, deep in their hearts, World Series wins like members of Red Sox Nation did last fall? To the Yankees, another World Series win is just one more win. The 27th. Another statue. Yawn. To Red Sox fans—to people who tearfully placed copies of newspapers proclaiming the Sox the World Series champions on their fathers’ and grandfathers’ graves—it was so much more.
It may be hard for young Cubs fans to appreciate the love of a team that transforms their parents and adults around them into lunatics, that forces grown-ups to chug pink antacid by the gallon as fistfuls of hair lie on the living room floor. It may seem more fun to follow a "winning" team, sans the angst. But just keep reminding your children that all of this Faith is worth it.
When the Red Sox and the Cubs met for an inter-league series earlier this year—the first meeting since 1918—Cubs fan and actor Jim Belushi told The New York Times: "Watching the Red Sox win was a very weird experience. It was like having a neighbor win the lottery. At first you’re really happy for them because it couldn’t happen to a better guy. And then you realize that he’ll move into a bigger house in another neighborhood and you never had anything in common with him in the first place and he was really a big jerk."
We Red Sox fans haven’t moved to a bigger house. We’re still with our Cubs brethren, the fellow cursed. Your time will come. And it will be sweeter than you can imagine. Keep the Faith ... but don’t boot any goats you may see wandering around Wrigley, just in case.
Meredith O’Brien is a freelance writer from the Boston area and mother of three. She can be reached at: [email protected]
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