Saturday, October 29, 2016

Reflections: Game 3

My wife said I should do a quick blog post the day after each World Series game to kind of recap my feelings since there's no documentary crew following me around as the Cubs go for their first championship since 1908. So here we go on Game 3.

This season, the Cubs are 8-1 when they've scored at least one run in the game. Obviously they've lost every game in which they failed to score. Well, Friday night, the Cubs failed to score, falling 1-0 in the game and now trailing the series two games to one.

As many of you know, I do freelance reporting for the newspaper here, typically during the Fall when they need extra people to cover all the high school football games in the county. But the beauty of being a freelance writer is I can say I'm not available if I want to. Well, last night I was unavailable to cover a game as the Cubs were hosting the first World Series game in Wrigley Field since they lost Game 7 in 1945.

I settled in to my recliner, turned on the game and was expecting a high scoring game as the wind was blowing out, which is usually a precursor to a lot of runs. Instead, both pitchers pitched great with the only run coming on an RBI single.

It was a frustrating evening to say the least. Baseball isn't a lot of fun when you don't score and last night, we didn't score. I'm not quite in panic mode, yet, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't close. The bad news is we have to win three of the next five games to win the World Series. The good news is that, over the course of the season, the Cubs essentially won three out of every five games they played. Granted, it wasn't against the best team in the American League all year, but three out of five is what we've done and it's what we need now. It just means the Cubs won't be able to win the series at home, but after 108 years, I don't think Cubs fans will care if they win it all somewhere else.

As for tonight's game, I'm certainly anxious. I'm still struggling to truly enjoy the experience, but I think I've given up on that. I'm just a nervous fan and I'm going to be ok with that. I've got faith than an offense that has been so good all year will eventually find their rhythm. I just need it to be sooner rather than later.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Reflections on Game 2

My wife said I should do a quick blog post the day after each World Series game to kind of recap my feelings since there's no documentary crew following me around as the Cubs go for their first championship since 1908. So here we go on Game 2.

Well that was fun.

The Cubs won last night 5-1 and it turns out baseball is much more fun when your team is getting runners on base and scoring runs while simultaneously keeping the other team off base and not scoring runs.

The start time for the game was moved up an hour due to the threat of rain and "wintery mix" forecast in the Cleveland area, which means a nice 7 p.m. start time for me. There's no reason that every World Series game on weeknights couldn't start at 7, except for the fact that the television broadcasters who pay millions of dollars want it at 8 p.m., so games start then.

Fortunately for us, this game started earlier because it was a long one, even though it only went 9 innings. The Cubs saw nearly 200 pitches, which is a lot. The game went on for more than four hours, which I can see how it might drive away casual fans, but at best there are only five games left in the season so I'll take as much as I can get. It's even better that the Cubs won.

Even though the Cubs were comfortably ahead for most of the game, I found myself struggling to actually enjoy it. I'm more of a nervous fan who always worries about the worst. The Cubs' Jake Arietta had a no-hitter through five innings but I kept looking at his pitch count and was worried that he'd walked a few batters. With the Cubs up 5-1 in the eighth, Cleveland got two baserunners on and even though a home run still wouldn't have tied the game, I was terrified of a potential comeback.

This is a weird feeling to have for a team that is something like 71-4 when leading by four runs at any point in the game, but I get nervous that the worst could happen. It's not always a fun way to watch a game, which may be why I enjoy comeback victories more. I don't have to worry about the potential loss and can instead hope and dream on a comeback victory.

One of the Cubs writers I follow on Twitter said he's trying not to let the pressure exceed the pleasure of the playoffs and World Series. I can say that, after two games, I'm not succeeding at that.

But there's another game Friday night, so I get another chance to enjoy the game. Here's hoping it works.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Reflections on Game 1

My wife said I should do a quick blog post the day after each World Series game to kind of recap my feelings since there's no documentary crew following me around as the Cubs go for their first championship since 1908. So here we go on Game 1.

My thoughts on Game 1: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Corey Kluber pitched like the former Cy Young award winner he is, getting strike outs for eight of the first nine outs, the first pitcher to do so in World Series history. He was dominant. The Cubs seemed to execute their game plan of being patient and working deep counts, as they've done all year, but last night, it didn't really matter. Kluber was just that good.

Cubs pitcher Jon Lester gave up three runs in 5.2 innings, but he wasn't sharp. There were lots of baserunners (six hits, three walks and a hit-by-pitch) so to "only" give up three runs was really a fortunate break for Chicago.

Cleveland Catcher Roberto Perez, he of the three home runs total during the regular season, hit two home runs last night, including a three-run shot in the 8th that effective put an end to any chance of a Cubs comeback.

Chicago's best chance came in the 7th, when they loaded the bases with no outs, but a shallow fly out and two strikeouts to end the rally.

But that's all game recap stuff you can read anywhere. Sure, the Cubs lost and that's disappointing, but I got to see a Cubs World Series game on television, something no one on the planet had ever done before last night. There are only two teams left playing and the team I grew up cheering for is one of them. But as a football coach once told me after his team suffered a loss, "hey, the other team practices too."

I was frustrated, like any fan, at the Cubs inability to get the big hit when they needed it, but my team is in the freaking World Series.

Earlier yesterday afternoon, after my son had finished his homework and reading his book, he looked around and said he was bored. I offered a few suggestions, (read more, play a board game, clean up the playroom) but he didn't take me up on any of those.

Instead, he looked at me and, with excitement in his voice, said "I want to have a catch with you."

So off we went to the back yard, just a father and son, having a catch, throwing pop ups and grounders and having a great time.

So yeah, the Cubs lost Game One of the World Series last night. But I got to watch them play and my son asked me to play catch with him, so I'm not going to complain one bit about it.

Now if they lose tonight, it might be a different story.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Go Cubs Go

On October 25, 1986, the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox played Game 6.

Baseball fans know the game, but for those who aren't familiar with it, the Red Sox were on the verge of winning their first World Series since 1918. Boston was up 5-3 in the 10th inning when a series of unfortunate events, including an untimely error by Bill Buckner, led to the Mets coming back to win 6-5 and force a Game 7, which the Mets would win to claim the World Series.

It's among the most memorable World Series games ever played.

At the time, I was a seven-year old kid who convinced his parents to let me watch the game. It was the end of daylight savings time, which I'm sure had something to do with the decision to let me watch. My dad swung the television towards the our screened-in back porch and we sat outside watching the game.

I have no idea how long I lasted and I'm quite sure I didn't get to stay up to the end of the game, but it's my first real memory of watching baseball.

I'm not really sure how I became a baseball fan. My mom was (and is) a fan of the NFL's Green Bay Packers while my dad was (and I guess kind of still is) a fan of the NBA's Boston Celtics. Neither seemed to be much of a baseball fan and to this day I'm not exactly sure why or how I got in to it.

That Spring of 1987, I started watching the Chicago Cubs. There wasn't any real reason for it other than they were on in the afternoons after school on WGN so I could catch the last five innings or so of a lot of games. That was the year Andre Dawson hit 49 home runs and would go on to win the MVP award that, at the time I thought he deserved, but now realize he was far from the best player in the league. It didn't matter that the Cubs finished in last place that year. I was eight and Dawson was hitting home runs and really, what little kid doesn't love home runs.

My parents indulged me, letting me watch more than they probably should have, though there were times they'd make me let my brother get to watch something other than baseball when we came home.

That next year, for Christmas, I asked Santa Claus for season tickets to the Cubs for the 1989 season, despite the fact that I lived in south Georgia. However, I also asked for round trip airfare to get me to and from the games, though I neglected to think about food and lodging and, you know, being nine and flying halfway across the country by myself.

All through high school I remained a Cubs fan, even as the home-state Atlanta Braves would go on to become one of the most dominant franchises in all of sports. Starting in 1991, the Braves would win their division for (checks my math) 173 consecutive seasons, or so it seemed to me. The Cubs, meanwhile, would make the playoffs in 1998, but otherwise had a pretty lousy decade, which was par for the course for them seeing as how they (spoiler alert) haven't won a World Series since the first Roosevelt administration. No, not FDR's first term, Teddy Roosevelt, all the way back in 1908.

The great home run chase of 1998 with Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire was fun and the Cubs managed to make it to the playoffs, but they were swept by the Braves in three games, so that wasn't quite as fun.

In 2003, the Cubs were expected to be good. They were on the cover of Sports Illustrated (which I hung on my cubicle wall) and lived up to expectations. They won the division title and then defeated the Braves three games to two to advance to the National League Championship Series. My wife, (we'd been married less than three months), made sure we went to one of the games in Atlanta. It's still the only Cubs playoff game I've ever been to.

The Cubs would come within one game of making their first World Series since the 1945, but they lost two games at home to the Florida Marlins (including the infamous Bartman game) to continue the longest drought of reaching a championship game/series in all of major professional sports.

I was devastated. I thought for sure this was the Cubs year. It was going to happen. Only it didn't happen.

A few years later, in 2007 and 2008, the Cubs again returned to the playoffs, but once again, failed to make it to the World Series. I was excited about those playoff teams, but didn't have the same hope that I did a few years earlier.

Things got progressively worse for the Cubs until five years ago.

October 25, 2011. That's when the Cubs introduced Theo Epstein, the architect behind the Boston Red Sox, teams that won two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, as the President of Baseball Operations for the Cubs. 

Epstein brought with him more than skills and knowledge and a staff of people who knew what it takes to win. He brought hope, though it wasn't immediately clear to a lot of people at the time what he was doing. Epstein inherited a team of overpriced, aging players and in the span of a few years, tore the team down to the ground and rebuilt it. I won't bore you with the moves he made, but through solid drafting, trading players at their peak value for young prospects, and an owner willing to spend when the time was right, the Cubs would win 97 games in 2015 and make it to the National League Championship Series where they would again lose, this time to the New York Mets.

Which brings me to this year. The Cubs came in to the season as the heavy favorite to finally reach the World Series. After a regular season in which they won a league-best 103 games, they dispatched the San Francisco Giants in the first round of the playoffs, setting up a series with the Los Angeles Dodgers with a World Series berth on the line.

The Cubs won the first game before becoming just the second team ever to be shut out in back-to-back games in the playoffs in games two and three. However, Chicago would go on to win three straight to reach the promised land.

Which leads us back to tonight, October 25, 2016. Exactly 30 years ago to the day of the first baseball game I can truly have any memory of, and five years after the most importing hire in the history of the Cubs organization, the Chicago Cubs will take the field in a World Series.

Their leadoff hitter, Dexter Fowler, is African-American. He would not have been allowed to play in the major leagues in 1945 as the league didn't integrate until two years later. I've been able to watch pretty much any Cubs game I wanted to this year thanks to the magic of, which lets fans stream games of any out-of-market team. The first World Series wasn't televised until 1947, meaning no one has ever seen a Cubs World Series game on television.

I don't know what to expect as the World Series begins. All I know is my son, who just turned eight, will be with me watching the Cubs play in the World Series on October 25, 2016.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Goodbye, Wrigley

Boxes were everywhere.

My wife and I were in the process of unloading our moving truck in to our apartment in North Carolina with the help of some of her new coworkers who were kind enough to come help us. I'd never met them before that day and, in fact, didn't know a single person there when we moved. So boxes were piling up around the small apartment as we were trying to figure out where things needed to go.

But in the corner, hiding out and trying to adjust was our dog, Wrigley. We'd had her for about three years before we moved and she made the six hour trip in her crate in the front seat like a champ. When we got to our new place, she ran inside, ran around looking and smelling her new home and after being content with where she was, she found a corner of the apartment, plopped down and basically watched as we unpacked.

As it turned out, our new apartment was directly across the street from a five-mile walking and bike path around a lake. Since I was a stay-at-home dad during our time in North Carolina and money was tight, so we didn't exactly go out all that much, that walking path became my escape. When my wife would get home, I'd turn on a podcast, take Wrigley and we'd walk. Not the entire way, mind you, but we'd walk a mile or so each day. She'd stop to smell the bushes or bark at the ducks or most often, just pull me along.

It wasn't only my escape, but it was her's too. She was excited to get out and even though we often went the same way and saw the same things, she was always pulling me, wanting to go faster and stretching her leash as long as it would go. She loved those walks we got and while there were certainly times I didn't want to go, she would be at the door wanting to go, so we went.

I thought about those walks yesterday as we were talking to the vet in preparation to put her down. We moved to North Carolina about seven years ago and as with all of us, time marches forward, taking it's toll. Since we'd been back in Georgia about four years ago, Wrigley had developed some pretty bad allergies that, honestly, were too expensive for us to treat to the full extent. We'd give her Benadryl when it got really bad and changed her diet to try to alleviate some of the discomfort.

As she got older, she stopped wanting to go for walks as much. There was a time I could just show her the leash and she'd run to the door. But as time went by,  the enthusiasm she had for those walks became less and less. Over time I would show her the leash and she'd just look up at me and then lay her head back on her pillow. She was tired and didn't want to go anymore.

A few weeks ago, while I was out, my wife and son were going to go for a bike ride around the neighborhood. Much to her surprise, Wrigley wanted to go for a walk, so she took her for a short walk down to the end of the street and back. It was her last walk around the neighborhood.

She'd started eating less and was having trouble moving around. The vet said she had one tumor that was visible and from the color of her eyes, likely had others that was causing internal issues.  After a brief conversation with my wife, we figured it was the most humane thing to do to put her out of her pain and suffering.

We picked my son up from school and with all of us in tears, went to the vet to say goodbye to Wrigley. Our son hasn't known life without her as she was a part of our life even before he was. After he was born, Wrigley was extremely protective of him, barking at any men who walked in the house, including my dad and uncle. Women, for whatever reason, she had no issues with, but she did not like men to come around him when he was born. Eventually she realized that if we let a person in the house, they must be ok. 

After we went in to say our goodbyes in the exam room, the vet asked if I wanted to be in there with her when they performed the procedure. I'd gone back and forth on that and at the time, didn't want to be there. Now, however, I wonder if I made a mistake in not being there. As we were leaving, she looked so nervous, but I don't know if that's because she always is at the vet's office or if she knew what was about to happen.

But I'll choose to remember her not like that, but as the enthusiastic dog who wanted to go for a walk every afternoon around the lake. That's the fun, loving, affectionate dog I want to keep in my memory.