1 small cup of coffee
24 oz. strawnana berry smoothie
3 cans of Simpler Time beer
As I mentioned in last week’s post, Simpler Times beer from Trader Joe’s has a slightly higher alcohol content than most beers. I’m also a die-hard Cubs fan. As you can imagine, depressing Cubs baseball and a depressant like beer are forever intertwined in my life. I can’t follow the Cubs numbing the pain with alcohol. Conversely, when I drink beer, I like to relax and watch a sporting event like baseball. It’s a vicious cycle of futility, and it perpetrated itself again on Monday, when I settled into my couch to watch the Cubs take on Mets. My sustenance for this game was a six-pack of beer and a plate of hash browns, which was easy to make while drunk.
I blame my parents for me being a Cubs fan. Of all the places in America where they could’ve immigrated to, they had to settle in the North Side of Chicago, exactly 5.25 miles from Wrigley Field. If we didn’t actually make it into the games, my brother and I would hang out by the players’ parking lot. Shawon Dunston would borrow a Sharpie from us. We’d fight fort Ryne Sandberg’s attention, only to settle for future Yankee manager Joe Girardi’s autograph. I even got to hold backup catcher’s Hector Villanueva’s newborn son for a second, much to the horror of his wife and confusion of a ball player who got ambushed by two kids after a 13-inning loss. Meanwhile, my mom developed a crush on Mark Grace, who occasionally visited her dry cleaner. All women in Chicago had a crush on him then. He was dreamy.
So it was inevitable that I grew up a Cubs fan, and for most of my life, baseball success was a pleasant daydream if anything. Sure the Cubs won the National League East Pennant in 1989, but that was a happy anomaly. In 1998 though, that all changed. Led by fluent English-speaking outfielder Sammy Sosa, who dueled with Mark McGwire for Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, the Cubs somehow made the playoffs as a wild card team. The team finished last for several seasons after, but the Tribune Company, started spending more money on players, and they had another winning season in 2001. With this newfound commitment to winning, us Cubs fans changed as well. We no longer accepted losing. We saw a team good enough to win. In other words, we had hope. And having hope can be a crushing thing sometimes.
And this leads us to the events of 2003. The Cubs finished the season 88-74 and won only their second pennant since 1945. Unlike 1989, we weren’t just happy to be there. We truly expected that this was the year for the team to break their 95-year title and 58-year World Series drought. We had Sosa, a healthy Kerry Woods, and two important players, Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton, who the Cubs fleeced from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Finally, we had Mark Prior, the phenom who was considered the greatest pitcher in college baseball history and was supposed to be the next baseball great. In 2003, he delivered on his promise with a special season. More importantly for me, he was a USC grad AND a Cub. He brought greatness to the two sports entity I cherish the most, and for that I was ready to worship Prior in the unreasonable way non-athletes worship athletes. I even had my argument mapped out to convince my future wife to name our future son after him. His name would’ve been Prior Boo, and he would’ve been like Dylan McKay at whatever high school I sent him too.
There was no way the Florida Marlins, a team that only existed for 14 years and were cobbled together from spare parts, could stop my Cubs from reaching the World Series. It was destiny. And sure enough, the Cubs won three of the first four games. All they had to do was win one more game to reach their first Series since 1945. When the day of the fifth and possible clinching game came, I decided that I couldn’t watch by myself at home. I had to share the experience with fellow Cubs fan. So I walked to the nearest sports bar to my apartment at the time, Hollywood Billiards, and found all of three Cubs fans there. One looked like BJ Novak and barely acknowledged me, and the other two were much older and talked to themselves. They weren’t the friendliest of bunch, but whatever, they were Cubs fans. Right before the game started, I decided to make one last trip to the bathroom. Cutting through another section of the bar, I spotted the back of a thin, blond woman sitting by herself at the bar. She was wearing a royal blue cap that could only be a Cubs hat that day. Figuring that I should gather all Cubs fan in one place, I tapped her on the shoulder. When she turned around, I saw a 30-something-year-old women who was obviously a recent transplant. Like a displaced Midwesterner, she thought a stone-washed jean jacket and stone-washed jean pants made a good match. And just like someone who was new to LA, her skin was burnt red from spending too much time in the California, exasperating an already splotchy complexion. And just like a small-town Midwest transplant, she rolled every other syllable when she spoke. Needless to say, I was not attracted to her, except for the fact that she had a Cubs hat. “A bunch of us Cubs fans are in the other room. You should join us,” I told her. “Oh yeah? OK!” So she came to the other room, saw a sad-sack bunch of Cubs fans and joined me and BJ Novak at our table. The three of us watched in relative silence, and the Cubs eventually lost. 95-year-old doubt started rising up, but I quickly shot it down. “There’s no way we’re losing game six. Prior’s pitching. We’re back at Wrigley. We’ll win.”
So the three of us, without coordinating with each other, ended up at the same table for Game 6. The bar drew more Cubs fans and it was actually boisterous. And just like I thought, Prior dominated the Marlins, shutting them down for 7 1/3 innings. In the eighth, he got into a little trouble and allowed a double to Juan Pierre. I still had faith in Prior to get us out of the jam. And sure enough, he induced a pop-up from Luis Castillo down the third base line that leftfielder Moises Alou slowly tracked down. The ball was curving to the stands, but it should be an easy out.
Then this happened.
There was stunned silence. I remember being aware of the room, and the fact that people were there. But it didn’t feel like I existed. My conscious completely separated itself from my physical body, to escape the torturous pain that was about to come. The Cubs still had a chance to get out of the inning. But Prior inexplicably walked Castillo. Ivan Rodriguez singled to drive in a run and cut the lead to 3-2. The lead was now tenuous. But Miguel Cabrera hit a chopper to shortstop Alex Gonzalez, one of the best fielding players in baseball. It was an easy double play and the Cubs could get out of the inning with a one-run lead. Instead, Gonzalez, who only made one error that year, dropped the ball.
More stunned silence.
That was then punctured by the sound of crying. It was the blond I invited to join us the other day. She couldn’t help it, and she started bawling into my shoulder. Soon, other Cubs fans started crying. I started crying. The Marlins eventually scored eight runs that inning, and the Cubs lost 8-3. Once again, I yelled to the bar to rally the troops. “We’re still one win away from the World Series. We just have to win one game!” That was technically true, but we knew in our hearts that the Cubs would not win.
We met again for game seven at Hollywood Billiards, and I don’t know why. We knew we’d be in for a world of hurt. Sure enough, the Cubs gave us brief hope by taking a 5-3 lead before losing, 9-6, to drop their third game in a row and a chance to undo their cursed history. After that game, I walked the blond back to her apartment. We didn’t say a word to each other, but she would not let go of my hand. She eventually brought me upstairs and we tried to heal each other’s pain. Normally, I would not have gone up. She was probably the least attractive girl I’ve ever slept with. In retrospect though, it was a very good fuck. We went at it for hours. But at the time, we did not enjoy ourselves. We barely said a word to each other, and I don’t think either of us ever smiled. No matter how hard we went at it, we could not displace the image of Steve Bartman from our mind. But the alternate reality, going home and watching highlights on Sportscenter, was infinitely worse. Normally, the thought of brushing her pockmarked skin with my hand as if I was reading Braille would be grossly unappealing. But that night, it was the most comforting thing possible.
I snuck out early in the morning, went home, and took a long shower that was 80% “Silkwood,” 20% “Leaving Las Vegas.” I was not affected by my overnight stay, I just wanted to wash the depression of the previous night’s game away. Off course that didn’t work, and I eventually turned to beer to help ease the pain. That was the closest the Cubs came to the World Series. Prior blew out his elbow and he is now out of baseball after being cut by the San Diego Padres last year.
So what was the point of this LONG story? Oh yeah, it sucks to be a Cubs fan. They lost on Monday to the Mets, 6-1. Of course they did.