“You’re from Chicago? Are you a Cubs or a Sox fan?”
“I come from a mixed family, so I root for both.”
This sort of exchange often happens when I reveal my roots to new acquaintances here in Los Angeles, and they typically respond with something like, “Oh, that’s awesome! I love Chicago,” as only someone without a stake in a generations-long cross-town rival can. However, among my fellow Chicagoans (both here and at home), I am a rare breed, facing taunts of “you suck!” from both sides. But I don’t care; for me, it’s just about cheering for my city.
I’ve been in Los Angeles since 2001 but continue to call Chicago home. I root for the Bears, the Blackhawks, the Bulls, the Cubs, and the White Sox equally. I guess I’m not what many would call a true fan: I don’t know stats, and I barely know starting lineups until later in the season. I don’t plan my days around game times and no longer own even a single piece of Chicago sports gear.
But when I can, I watch. And I cheer. And I feel my hometown pride well up inside. For me, watching and pulling for Chicago teams is about family, tradition, and roots. I can’t remember a time growing up when the dials weren’t tuned to WGN or WBBM. On weekend trips in the family minivan, I suffered through long games while my dad swore at the Ditka-era Bears. But I remember the triumphs, too. Watching the Super Bowl Shuffle and actually performing it with my second-grade class on stage the day after the Bears won it all. Experiencing the frenzy of the ’90s Bulls dynasty, my family screaming in our living room as John Paxson sank his buzzer-beating three-pointer to win the final in ’93.
My family and friends are still scattered throughout Chicagoland, so watching and cheering for our teams connects me to them no matter where I am.
I guess I’m not exactly a sports fan’s sports fan. Am I non-fan? Worse, am I a bandwagoner? I fret about this occasionally, but I am what I am: a forever fan of Chicago—sports teams included.
As I’ve watched the Cubs’ journey over the past couple of years, it’s been with a mix of awe, guarded hope, wistfulness for my city, and disbelief that this could be happening. Although I followed the playoffs and celebrated the eventual championship of the 2005 White Sox and the Hawks’ recent Stanley Cups, the Cubs accomplishing the preposterous is different.
Social media has played a big role in this. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are lit up with the reflections of lifelong Cubs fans, friends and family who’ve waited generations for this. This Series was a living memorial to those great Chicagoans we lost before they could see The Win. It’s been deep and meaningful and genuine. It has called for gratitude, belief in magic, and utter vulnerability.
The Series itself was pretty much storybook, wasn’t it? I got to watch all the games except Game 6 (although I was sneakily following along on Twitter during class), and it was heaven. I’d put the game on TV and pull up Facebook and Twitter on my laptop so I could follow my friends’ (and all of Chicago’s) posts in real time. I tried to stay as present as possible to soak it all in. I knew at any moment, it could—and probably would—end with a Cleveland victory. And it looked that way after Games 3 and 4. I was ready to accept defeat at that point and congratulate the team on another step in the journey, knowing we’d surely make it next year.
But you know who wasn’t ready to accept that? So many of my Chicago brethren. You know, the REAL Cubs fans. I was astounded and inspired by how faithful and unshakeable they were. They never wavered. They were sure THIS was the year it was going to happen, so—as they have become so adept at—they waited.
And then… Game 5 happened.
It was do or die at Wrigley, and the Cubs did. Seeing that kind of clutch victory and listening to everyone in the stadium sing “Go Cubs Go” was my favorite moment of the Series other than Game 7. I was instantly transported to Wrigleyville. I sang along with them. I felt the crush of Chicago humanity spill into and out of the red line at Addison, and I heard shoes pound the pavement on Sheffield, Clark, and Waveland. There was no distance between me and my fair city.
By Game 6, I think even the most reluctant or indifferent among us had come around. As I explained the history and importance of the night to some non-sports-fan classmates, I was refreshing Twitter when the solo homer, the RBIs, and then the grand slam happened, and I knew no matter the eventual outcome, it would be pure magic from here on out. That was the moment I suspended my disbelief and went all in.
And what more can be said about Game 7? I’ll always be grateful that I witnessed the turn of the new century of Chicago Cubs baseball. I’ll remember sharing every moment of that game with my Chicago family and friends near and far through the wonders of technology. We celebrated every run, we agonized over the errors, we watched one of the best games in World Series history go into extra innings, rain delay be damned.
I’ve often mused about why people are sports fans. Being a player and part of the actual team, I get. But what is it about watching someone else play a game that makes entire cities get so passionate and crazy? How can a small group of people unite a whole region and influence the way we plan our schedules, spend our money, even name our children?
I guess when it comes down to it, it’s very simple: As with that Game 7 leadoff shot by Dexter Fowler, we all just want to go home.
Sarah Sypniewski is a writer from Chicago who is currently based in Los Angeles. But you already knew that. You should follow her on Twitter.
Image credit: Nate Koehler