Cubs fans deal with familiar feelings
Supporters leave Wrigley heartbroken, looking toward 2008
CHICAGO -- Hearts break.
Spring fixes them.
As a Cubs fan, you are just used to it. Some of you headed straight for the Cubby Bear across the street. Some of you were throwing things at your TV set at home. Some of you walked out of Wrigley Field like you wanted a piece of someone, and some of you just chalked it up to living this life of a Cubs fan.
Some of you hung around with your summertime friends in the box seats behind the Cubs' dugout, and you shouted "Thank You, Lou!" at your manager as he walked from an on-field interview back into your dugout for the final time in 2007.
"Thank you for your support," Lou Piniella said back to you at 9:38 p.m. ET on Saturday. One of you said, "Get 'em next year," and he waved at you and nodded his head and said, "Yeah. We'll do better." And then he left for the winter.
You began thinking about 2008 and the 100th anniversary that nobody wanted. Your last World Series championship was in 1908, and it just became official that a full century will have passed before the next one could be clinched. You saw the Arizona fan in your house holding the sign "Wait Till Next Century," and you shrugged in amusement because, for one, you were one of just eight teams who got this far. And for another, you know that the fall will be followed by the winter by the spring.
You had barely settled into your seat when Arizona rookie Chris Young homered off Rich Hill in Game 3. You barely blinked an eye and your beloved Cubbies were gone in a-one, a-two, a-three at the 2007 National League Division Series. You could look back through history and say that statistically it was the worst postseason showing in franchise history -- worse even than the four games against Babe Ruth and the Yanks in 1932, worse even than the 1998 NLDS sweep against Atlanta (which featured an extra-inning Game 2). But you are a Cubs fan, and you live on.
"We've had a great year," said Randy Bourdages, 46, of Dekalb, Ill., leaving the 215 section for the main exit and analyzing his own completed scorecard on the way out. "These guys have played hard. Next year, we're gonna have a great ball club. You can't take anything away from the D-backs. It's all you can do, just plan for next year. This organization, they have put together a great club. I've been to over 40 games this year, and I can say that they're just not there yet where they need to be."
Roughly half of you who were offered an "exit interview" by MLB.com declined to comment, on the grounds that you might say something in the heat of the moment that you'd probably like to take back. But you obviously wanted more.
"I took a leave from the Navy just for this," said Brandon Breitburg, an E5 petty officer second class now stationed at Pax River, Md. "I bought standing-room only for me and my sis. My lieutenant told me, 'You deserve to go.' He did a good job. Just being in the Friendly Confines -- I love it here. It's like my second home.
"But it breaks my heart to hear, 'Wait till next year' again."
Spring fixes them.
Ben Koleno was folding up a banner that included the words "Help Us, Harry." He couldn't help you, but the legend of Harry Caray stays with you and you know that a tradition will go on, and that you may pass it on to your next generation.
"Right now, I'm hot," Koleno said. "I'm a diehard."
You knew what he meant.
You might feel a little like 16-year-old Jeremy Katz.
"When the bases were loaded with one out in the fifth, that was the loudest I've heard it at Wrigley -- ever," he said. "When [Mark] DeRosa grounded into the double play, that was a crusher. How do you lose to the Diamondbacks? I've already started looking at the free agent list."
You might feel more like 27-year-old Robyn Kane.
"It's always hard to say how you should feel in this situation," she said. "It was harder in 2003, when we had a chance. We never had a chance this time. First pitch, home run. We hope every year that we'll come here and it will be different. We'll keep doing it, too."
When you go back to work, or back to the Navy, or back to school, you are going to talk about how unbelievable it was that Aramis Ramirez went 0-for-12 and grounded into that double play with two on to end the third. You are going to talk about the Sunday ticket that you never got to use. But you are going to talk about how you were there at the park, or how you watched it on TV, or how you listened to it on the radio or with MLB.com Gameday Audio. They were in the playoffs and you got to hope again.
That, after all, is what it means to be a Cubs fan. Or a baseball fan, really. You get to hope.
"Baseball's like that," said Cornelius Clifford Floyd, 34, who was born in Chicago and grew up following the Cubs. He walked twice, but never scored as the Cubs' cleanup hitter in Game 3. "They beat us. Every facet of the game."
"You can't hang your head," said Ryan Theriot, who scored 80 runs this season, but not a one for your Cubs in the NLDS. "You've got to take a positive out of it. You just have to regroup and come back strong."
Outside of the Cubs' clubhouse, as many of you continued to pour through a gloomy main concourse into the bleak winter, you tried. "Oh my god, next year," one of you said to your buddy, giggling at the mere fact that you are actually saying it.
You'll come back strong to HoHoKam in Mesa, Ariz., when the pitchers and catchers report in February. You'll come back to another Cubs Convention with thousands of your peers. You'll lament what just happened, but maybe when you order that new Cubs jersey or Cubs linen set while doing your upcoming online holiday shopping, you will already have washed away the sting. You'll come back, because you are a Cubs fan.
It's what you do. It's what you were taught to do.
One of you left behind a familiar "IT'S GONNA HAPPEN" placard that was seen all around Chase Field in Arizona and then here for this quick Friday night. Some day, it's gonna happen, all right. It just has to.
"We had one strikeout the whole game," Bourdages said, still poring over his scoresheet as masses filed past. Outside, someone with a megaphone was shouting about beer specials. "And look, we struck out 12 of them! Realistically, the score should be flip-flopped. But it's not. It's over this year."
Spring fixes them.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.