By Fred Malo
Spring training is here and I can finally get into my favorite sport. That’s right, you pigskinheads. This is one Coloradan who loves baseball and doesn’t care much for football.
What’s more, I’m a life-long, die-hard, true-blue Cub fan, 2016 was the best year of my life, and I’m so looking forward to 2017.
Being a Cub fan has been a long, hard ride with plenty of heartbreaks. The Cubs had not won the pennant since four years before I was born and the World Series since four years before my father was born.
But 1969 was different. I was 20 years old, away from home for the first time, and living in an apartment on the north side of Chicago, within walking distance of Wrigley Field. I went to 54 Cub games that year. I worked nights in an all-night restaurant so I could attend as many games as possible. I sat in the left field bleachers. I was one of the notorious Bleacher Bums.
We started out hot and, by the beginning of August, we had a ten-game lead in the National League East. Then, we went into a deep slump late in August and all of September. Meanwhile, the Mets, the expansion team that lost 120 games in 1962, got hot. The Mets didn’t just sneak by. They blew right by us and beat us by ten games.
The 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s were one dreary second division finish after another. In 1984, we won the National League East and needed to beat the Padres in a five-game series to get into the World Series. We were supposed to get home field advantage, but the league took it away from us. The network didn’t want two night games in San Diego and three day games in Chicago (Wrigley Field still had no lights). They wanted two day games in Chicago and three night games in San Diego. Ratings, you know. Guess that shows who runs baseball.
Of course, we won the first two games at Wrigley and they won the three games at San Diego and the series. I’m still bitter about the way we lost that series.
In 2003, we made it to the LCS against the Marlins. Game Six at Wrigley Field was the famous Steve Bartman game. Bartman, an avid Cub fan, reached up from his seat down the left field line and caught a foul ball depriving a Cub outfielder the opportunity to catch it. The batter went on to get a base hit and, later in the inning, the Cub shortstop made a costly error and the Marlins won the game forcing a Game Seven. They won Game Seven and another chance to go to the World Series went down the drain.
Then there was 2015. We made it to the LCS against the Mets. That’s right, the accursed Mets, the same villains that ruined our lives in 1969. The Met’s pitchers shut us down and they swept us in four straight. It was hard to take.
Enough of the Lovable Losers. How about 2016? Like 1969, we started out hot and got way out in front in the National League Central. The Cubs had a brief slump before the All-Star break, but took off and finished with 103 wins.
We took out the Giants three games to one in the Divisional Series. Then we beat the Dodgers in six games in the LCS. For the first time since 1945, the Cubs were in the World Series.
I told myself I was satisfied. If the Cubs lost the World Series, I would be disappointed at first, but then I would think about what a great season it was. By the time Game Seven against the Indians came about, I wanted it bad.
The Cubs scored six runs in the first six innings against their two best pitchers; Cory Kluber and Andrew Miller. We took a six to three lead into the bottom of the eighth with our ace reliever, Aroldis Chapman, on the mound.
Chapman was overworked and out of poop. The Indians scored a run, then Rajiv Davis hit a dramatic two-run home run to tie the score. Do I believe in curses? I’m a rational man, so in the cold light of the next day, I don’t believe in curses, but when Davis hit that home run, just like previous heartbreaks, I believed very strongly in curses.
The Cubs came back in the top of the tenth and scored two runs. The Indians scored a run in the bottom of the tenth, but it wasn’t enough. The Cubs won the World Championship of Baseball for the first time since 1908.
My prediction for 2017: The Cubs will repeat. The 1908 champions were repeaters and the 2016 Cubs were not only good, but they’re young.