After 108 Years of Unfulfilled Yearning, Cubs Fans Are Taking Nothing for Granted


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Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, right, with fans at Wrigley Field on Saturday night after his team beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-0, to advance to its first World Series since 1945.

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Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

CHICAGO — The sun once again rose over Lake Michigan early Sunday, but even on a crisp, clear October day, the wind in the Windy City ceased — the “W” flag atop the Tribune Tower along the river was limp — as if it, too, needed a moment.

“You kind of wake up today and wonder if it’s a dream,” said Mark Peloquin, one of the long-suffering and newly rejoicing Cubs fans who might have some psychological unpacking to do after the Cubs advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1945 with a 5-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night.

“I think it comes from being raised always hoping and hoping and hoping,” Peloquin said. “And then, it’s finally delivered. When you’ve been waiting for this forever, and now it’s here, you think about the people in the past who didn’t get to see it — our fathers and grandfathers.”

Peloquin was speaking on Sunday afternoon, which, for many Cubs fans, felt like the start of a new epoch. Some fans started their day earlier than others. When Wrigley Field finally began to empty, nearly an hour after the game, the crowds spilled into neighborhood bars. As police stood sentry on horseback along Clark Street, the revelry lasted into the wee hours of the morning, with at least one nearby bar running out of beer.

As Joan Schmitz walked west with her husband, John, along Addison Avenue, nearly two miles toward their home, car horns blared, people waved their “W” flags and families came outside banging pots and pans.

“People were heading back into Wrigley, saying, ‘You’re going the wrong way,’” said Schmitz, 64, a child psychology therapist. “Of course, they’re 20 years old.”

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The celebration spread far beyond the stadium’s walls.

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Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times, via Associated Press

How fans reacted to Saturday night’s victory — and its implications — was, in many cases, along a generational divide. For those whose interest in the Cubs spans the past 20 years, it has not been an altogether sorry existence. The Cubs have reached the playoffs six times since 1998. Those of an older vintage remember a 39-year drought between the last World Series and the 1984 playoffs. But both have known heartbreak — whether it dates to the Game 7 loss to Detroit in the 1945 World Series, or the collapses in 1984 to San Diego and 2003 to Florida.

Jim Etter, 82, is old enough to remember the last Cubs team that reached the World Series. He went down a roll call of the starting lineup: Peanuts Lowrey, Swish Nicholson, Stan Hack, Andy Pafko and on and on. Etter was sitting Saturday night with his son and grandson before Game 6 against the Dodgers.

A chaplain at a hospital in Crown Point, Ind., Etter liked the Cubs’ chances.

“Kershaw doesn’t walk on water,” he observed, referring to the Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, the losing pitcher Saturday night.

Such optimism, though, is as ephemeral at Wrigley Field as the first pitch.

It is why fans, even with a 5-0 lead, booed in the eighth inning when Manager Joe Maddon strode to the mound to remove starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who allowed two hits — one on his first pitch and the other on his 88th and final one.

There was barely a soul who did not recognize that Maddon’s move came at precisely the same point — with five outs remaining in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series — at which the Marlins’ Luis Castillo lifted a fly ball down the left-field line that the Cubs fan Steve Bartman tried to catch.

“When he took Hendricks out, everyone was like, ‘Oh, my God, what are you doing?’” Peloquin said. “Don’t mess with fate.”

So when Carlos Ruiz lofted a fly ball down the left-field line in the ninth inning, landing near where Bartman had sat, and then drew a one-out walk, it did not go unnoticed.

“That’s the scared Cubs fan,” Schmitz said. “We’re shutting them out, we’re up five runs. It should be a foregone conclusion. You can watch other playoff games, and you see everybody’s all ready to party, but I don’t think anybody was thinking like that. I love that no one took it for granted.”

As the Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, whose family purchased the team seven years ago, stood on the field amid a celebration with the players, coaches, staff and their families, he said one of the moments that would stick with him was his 10-year-old daughter’s tears of joy when it was over.

Ricketts, whose father founded the stock brokerage house TD Ameritrade, became enamored with the Cubs when he moved to Chicago in the late 1980s and immersed himself in the bleachers. As he usually does, Ricketts walked through the stands talking with fans on Saturday night, and perhaps being swept up in the moment, he pledged to get a “W” tattoo if the Cubs won the World Series.

“There was an era when this ballpark was the most beautiful ballpark in baseball; there was an era when we went to the World Series every couple of years; there was an era where the Cubs were one of the dominant teams, not what they became over so many decades later,” said Ricketts, referring to the time when the Cubs reached the World Series 10 times in 40 years, winning twice. “I think we want to get back to that consistency and restore the glory.”

For some fans, that may be a little unsettling.

Raymond Fuller, 38, and his three siblings chipped in to buy their mother, Kristine, a recently retired nurse, tickets for Saturday night. Two tickets cost $1,000. As the game ended, they watched the celebration on the field, not saying much to one another. Fuller noticed tears running down his mother’s face.

“I’m scared,” he said. “My entire life, the Cubs have never been able to do this. If the Cubs end up winning the World Series, what it means to be a Cubs fan is going to change, and, I confess, I’m not certain it is something to be valued. The moniker ‘lovable loser’ — I hate it, but it means something. It’s shared hope and disappointment. It means accepting loss and trying your best and not coming out on top.”

He paused.

“I’m a little nervous,” Fuller said. “There’s a part of me that doesn’t want it to go away.”

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