Next year is this year, long-suffering Cubs fans proclaim
CHICAGO — The Cubs have lost 7,240 baseball games since Georgia Ryndak’s birth, including that heartbreaker she witnessed in 1945, the last time the team reached the World Series.
Now, despite nearly 90 years of life experience to the contrary, Ryndak makes a startling World Series prediction for a Cubs fan: “We’re going to win.”
These are heady days at Wrigley Field, where hubris seems to be as bountiful as Vienna Beef hot dogs, Giordano’s deep dish pizza, and bleacher bums. And why not? The Cubs are surging into the playoffs with baseball’s best record, notching more than 100 wins.
Talk of an era of baseball dominance wafts out of the Cubby Bear bar and from the rooftop seats rising above Waveland and Sheffield avenues.
This dynamic, youthful roster emerged as the North Side’s salvation, a breakthrough team akin to the 2004 Red Sox, transcending curses and botched ground balls and a century of disappointment. But it’s more than just dominant pitching and a high-powered offense. Fans describe a seismic shift at 1060 West Addison St. destined to reverberate beyond this season, transforming the franchise long maligned as “lovable losers” into a baseball juggernaut.
“Expectations are super high coming into October,” said Joseph Urban, a 25-year-old who clapped this week at the Cubs’ last regular season home game as ex-Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester breezed through a one-two-three inning. “We’re going to be a team that’s going to be a threat in the National League for a long time.”
The unmistakable swagger represents a complete rebranding of a proud but long-suffering tribe united by failure and self-doubt. The online Urban Dictionary defines a “Cubs fan” as “someone to be pitied. A lost soul perpetually waiting for the arrival of a once in a millennium alignment of good management, coaching, and injury/error free players . . . a person duped by a wonderful ballpark . . . a drain on Chicago’s economy because they waste so much time, energy, and money going to day games.”
With 108 years since their last championship, the Cubs have endured the longest drought in major professional sports. The ball club has not played in a World Series since 1945, when Ryndak watched them lose to the Detroit Tigers.
But this Cubs team has offered a “psychic lift” for a city beset by horrendous gun violence, tax increases, and talk of a teachers’ strike, according to a Chicago Sun-Times editorial.
“We fully expect them to be in the World Series,” the newspaper opined. “And to win it.”
The exuberance has swept up Bobby Jackson, whose season ticket seat is near first base. Jackson has watched epic Cubs collapses and weathered a 101-loss season. But now, Cubs victory flags fly even on Chicago’s South Side, deep in White Sox territory. Cancer patients wear Cubs T-shirts to chemotherapy.
“There’s something special about this year,” said Jackson, whose bona fides include Cubs underwear and Cubs royal blue shoes. “You can feel it in your heart.”
Go-Cubs-Go fever has also infected David Prather, a 42-year-old nursing assistant who boasted of the team’s limitless future as he wore a T-shirt promising a “Chicago Empire.” Asked if he had too much confidence as a Cubs fan, Prather pondered what the team had taught him.
“I’m used to losing,” he said. “It’s conditioned me in life not to expect to win.”
Prather’s honesty hinted at the psychological complexity of the 2016 Cubs fan. The outward bravado — even arrogance — can mask a deep-seated anxiety that lingers from ill-fated playoff runs.
There was 2015 (Cubs swept by Mets), and 2007 and 2008 (defeated in back-to-back first round sweeps). The pain of 2003 (fan Steve Bartman deflected a ball from an outfielder’s glove), the indignity of 1984 (a grounder rolled through Leon Durham’s legs), and the nightmare of 1969 (blowing a nine-game lead and missing the playoffs despite a team bursting with future Hall of Famers including Ernie Banks and Ron Santo).
With gentle prodding, some Cubs fans will talk about it.
“It’s really hard to let it go, to let myself be really happy,” said Bob Berg, who wore a Cubs “Made for October” T-shirt. “I’m afraid if I go all in, it’s just going to be another heartbreak. But I am all in.”
But if the Cubs win, will fans lose a seminal part of their identity, that eternal pessimism that makes them distinct? After all, other Chicago institutions have faded: department store Marshall Field’s was swallowed by Macy’s; the skyline’s defining Sears Tower was renamed Willis Tower; and wrecking balls long ago flattened Chicago Stadium and Comiskey Park.
“They wouldn’t be the Cubs if they didn’t break your heart,” said Tom Boyle, an 85-year-old fan who for some four decades has run a collectibles shop named Yesterday a half-block from Wrigley Field.
Patrick Wozny contemplated these metaphysical questions as he sat with his feet propped on an empty seat near the right field foul pole, sipping beer from a plastic cup, a cool breeze fluttering off Lake Michigan. The 36-year-old works at a nature museum, but to afford his baseball habit, he also works a part-time job at Wrigley.
On his night off, Wozny bought a ticket to savor the culmination of a decade of change under new ownership. After last year’s surprise playoff run, Wozny was bullish enough in April to place a bet in Las Vegas that the team would finally win it all. But like a true Cubs fan, he could muster the confidence for only a $30 wager — less than the price of a standing-room ticket.
Even now, Wozny cannot bring himself to utter the words “World Series.”
“My brother and I call it ‘The Ahem,’ ” Wozny said. “Are we going to win ‘The Ahem’? Absolutely. Most likely. Probably. Maybe I’m too Irish, maybe I was raised too Catholic, but there’s something superstitious still lurking in the back of my brain.”
He has vowed not to say “World Series” until he can scream it at a Cubs victory parade on Michigan Avenue.
“But I believe I’ll be at that parade,” Wozny said. “I’m a hopeful dreamer. I’m a Cubs fan.”
Andrew Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.