I’ve never had more fun watching a sports team than the Chicago Cubs this year.
When my favorite player and second cousin Jon Lester joined the previously moribund Cubs, the first thing anybody, myself included, thought about was World Series. Lester, a part of the Red Sox organization when they broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 and a starter on the 2007 and 2011 championship teams, said that the challenge of breaking the Curse of the Billy Goat and ending the Cubs 100+ year championship drought factored into his decision. The Curse extended far beyond the baseball world and the thought of the Cubs winning the World Series seemed the stuff of legend.
Two years later, the Cubs’ fantasy has become reality.
It sure wasn’t easy for the North Siders. After breezing through the regular season with 103 wins and knocking down two quality opponents in the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs, Chicago was on the brink of elimination after dropping three of the first four games of the World Series to the Cleveland Indians.
Even though they faced a deficit that only three other World Series teams had overcome, the Cubs kept fighting. In Game 5, closer Aroldis Chapman pitched for nearly three innings and saved a 3-2 lead to keep the Cubs hope alive. In Game 6, a three-run first inning and third inning grand slam tied up the score and forced a decisive winner-take-all seventh game. And in Game 7, Chicago blew a 6-3 lead in the eighth inning but took the lead for good on Ben Zobrist’s go-ahead RBI double in the tenth.
From the start of the year, the Cubs showed they are no ordinary sports team. Manager Joe Maddon created a relaxed, player-friendly culture, opening the party room in the clubhouse to celebrate after every win. Maddon even encouraged players to dress up for Halloween during their off-day between their Game 5 and Game 6 wins. Shortstop Addison Russell, dressed as a Ninja Turtle on Halloween, assumed the role of World Series hero a day later with his grand slam.
Coming into the year, the Cubs also had to deal with unprecedented and extraordinary hype. Chicago was expected to be one of the best teams in baseball history, setting the bar so high that disappointment seemed inevitable. Anything short of a World Series victory would be a failure. Instead, the Cubs validated the expectations and showed they belong in the conversation as one of the best of the best.
For a while, it seemed that one of the Cubs’ greatest strengths, their offense, would be their downfall. The Cleveland Indians racked up more shutouts in the playoffs than any other team in history and held Chicago scoreless in Games 1 and 3. First baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Kris Bryant, the two MVP candidates in the Cubs lineup, saw their bats go cold, while second baseman Javier Baez couldn’t summon the playmaking ability that earned him NLCS co-MVP honors.
After mustering three runs in Game 5, the Cubs’ bats came alive in Game 6. The momentum carried into Game 7, when Chicago smashed three home runs and scored five runs in the first five innings against Cleveland aces Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller. Even catcher David Ross, in the last game of his career, took one yard during the sixth. Most importantly, Zobrist, the World Series MVP, became a baseball legend by smacking the go-ahead double in extras.
To pinpoint one reason for the Cubs’ success is nearly impossible. The Cubs have the best manager in baseball in their dugout and a legendary, curse-breaking personnel man in Theo Epstein as their architect. They have three Cy Young-caliber starters and the fastest-throwing closer in history in their pitching staff and the entire NL All-Star infield. Chicago also has the most passionate fanbase in the majors, one that grew exponentially throughout the season. Clearly, this Cubs team is the stuff of legend.
Nothing can compare to when the Cubs finally got that final out. After Bryant threw Michael Martinez’ grounder to Rizzo, ending the game, Rizzo threw his arms in the air and the Cubs’ players and coaches rushed the field. The reaction on the field was beyond ecstasy- it was disbelief. Because after 108 years, the Chicago Cubs were champions of the baseball world, something that seems incomprehensible.
We’ll never see another team, or season, like the Cubs’. From the moment I woke up to find that Jon Lester signed with the Cubs two Novembers ago, to this warm November morning, I couldn’t be happier to have been along for the ride.