It was a day of dedication. It was a day of irony, and symbolism. It was the day that a Cubs icon died. It was a day that Sammy Sosa said thank you with his bat, not just his words. It was the day that seemed aligned with the cosmos. It was a day where I learned what it means to be a Cubs fan.
The game didnít mean anything, in any significant sense. The Cubs and Pirates were both eliminated from the playoff race, and Iím sure most of the players were already thinking about where they were heading that evening. It was sunny enough, but cold ñ with a brisk autumn breeze coming off of the lake and rustling the now-red ivy leaves. The stadium wasnít more than half-full, and the beer vendors were complaining that they could hardly sell anything. Except maybe in the bleachers; I expect that the tradition of drunken bleacher bums was strong enough to overcome even the sober mood that pervaded the stadium on a meaningless Sunday afternoon.
The Cubs gave us a great season. Thereís no doubt that they were in over their heads -- proven by the fact that they couldnít hold on down the home stretch. Still, if thereís one thing that a Cubs fan learns to appreciate -- as a function of its rarity ñ itís hope. All season long, Cubs fans and I traded optimisms of "maybe, just maybe, this yearÖ"
But the Cubs fell just a tiny bit short, in this game and in this season. They had the fifth best record in the National League, and had an equal record with play-off contender Atlanta. Of course we wouldnít have believed it if one had told us that the Cubs would be as good as the Braves this year coming in; yet in perfect naiveté, we forgot that as soon as the Cubs moved into first place. Of course we should have expected that the bullpen would finally break down; it was against all odds to believe that this many pitchers could play this much better than they ever had for this long.
Yet, thatís what being a Cubs fan is all about. Hoping against all odds and cynicisms is what gives our religion meaning; naiveté is the most essential element to our identity. The thing is, even in full awareness that we live in fantasy land, Cubs fans have one thing going for us: itís possible to forget the unreality of our situation on any given day, at any given moment. Sosa gave us this moment on Sunday.
In a game that meant nothing, Sosa hit a meaningless home run in his final at bat. It didnít give the Cubs the lead; it metaphorically brought the team to a 4-3 deficit, just short again. Then again, Sosaís homerun signified something bigger. After compiling one of the best seasons that baseball will ever witness, it seemed only fitting that he would end his season with a perfect, majestic, humble and time-slowing homerun to straight away center. It was as if Sosa wanted to thank us for the chance to give us this season. It was as if Sosa wanted to give significance to a Cubs season that will align itself with past disappointments ñ soon forgotten in the buoyancy that next year will undoubtedly bring.
Sosa held a sign in the dugout reading: "Arne, that home run was for you, pal." In a sense, we can all identify with Arne. This was a man who dedicated his life to the love of Cubs baseball, and helped us all learn to love the Cubs by capturing the intimacy of Wrigley for fans nationwide. If ever there was a man who deserved to see a Cubs World Series before he died, Arne Harris is that guy. Inasmuch as Arne was a man for whom Cubs baseball was a way of life, there is a sense that we can all feel vindicated as Sosa thanked Arne in the only way that he could. More than anything, we all walked away knowing that this was a noble moment. That homerun seemed to say, "Be patient. We can do it. Weíll get ëem next year."
To walk in to Wrigley is to walk in to a simpler way of life. Itís beautiful, peaceful, and a perfect venue for miracles. That the miracle of a World Series hasnít happened in half a century is easily forgotten in that place where patience pervades oneís state of mind. Cubsí baseball is just that: patient. We can trace ebbs and tides across decades as easily as seasons. Thereís a sense that it will be only that much sweeter when we finally win. Even more, thereís a sense that all of that doesnít matter in those perfect Wrigley moments when baseball captures beauty, truth, and the meaning of life -- even if it canít be put into words. Understanding this is what it means to be a Cubs fan. This is what I learned this season: baseball allows us to understand what it means for a moment to be pure and good ñ even if that moment is gone as soon as it comes. And it will be that much sweeter when we win next year.