This column first appeared in the Friday, November 4th edition of the Statesboro Herald.
Before he even fielded the ball for the final out, Kris Bryant was smiling.
It was the smile of a man who knew he was about to make the last play that would finally give the Cubs their first World Series in more than a century. The smile of a man in just his second year in the Majors knowing he had a Rookie of the Year award, likely an MVP award to come and now a World Series Championship.
It was the smile of someone who was not only reaching the pinnacle of his sport, but doing so while ignoring the pressure and having fun. It was joy.
But for me and millions of other Cubs fans, it was not only a smile of joy, but a smile of relief. It means relief from ever having to hear about 1908 again. About never having someone mention the last time the Cubs won the World Series, the Ottoman Empire still existed. Or the fact that 1908 was closer to the time of the Louisiana Purchase than it is to today, or any other random piece of trivia pertaining to the end of the Teddy Roosevelt administration.
I was the kid who grew up in Statesboro, Georgia as a Cubs surrounded by a sea of Braves fans. I was in middle school in 1991, which Braves fans know as the start of the seemingly endless string of division titles. So all though middle school, and high school, and college, and after college, I got to endure the (mostly) good-natured mocking that Braves fans earned the right to give Cubs fans.
There were glimpses of good times. The 1998 season saw Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire chase the most hallowed record in sports and the Cubs made the playoffs. I got to go to a Cubs playoff win in Atlanta in 2003 and see watch them fall apart both that year (it wasn’t Steve Bartman’s fault) and the next year.
I can remember wearing a Cubs jacket to a Georgia Southern football game during one of the Cubs’ rare winning seasons and being roundly mocked and even perhaps a jinx on the Eagles for bringing the Cubs’ bad luck to Paulson Stadium with me.
And like all Cubs fans, I suffered through the rebuilding years after Theo Epstien, the man who built the team that ended the World Series drought for the Red Sox, was brought in to do the same for Chicago. There were some rough seasons during Epstien’s first few in Chicago, but if you were paying attention, you could see the plan in place. Acquire lots of young hitters, trade pitching for prospects, draft the best hitters available, and then let them develop.
The plan obviously worked as last year saw the Cubs win 97 games and make it to the NLCS. Unfortunately for me, they would fall just short of fulfilling the prophecy of Back to the Future II, which predicted a Cubs World Series title to the amazement of Marty McFly.
At the start of this season, the Cubs were considered the best team in baseball and proved it by winning 103 games during the regular season. The playoffs, however, are a horse of a different color.
Even the dominant 2001 Mariners who won 116 games in the regular season didn’t win the World Series.
But through skill, luck, good fortune, karma, divine intervention or whatever natural or supernatural powers that guided the outcome; the Cubs defied the odds and came back from a three games to one deficit on the road to win in a dramatic Game 7. In doing so, they ended the longest championship drought in professional sports.
So keep smiling, Kris Bryant. Smile that smile that is symbolic of the joy my son has while he make amazing catches in the back yard and that I have when you hit a bomb and that you have from winning the World Series. If nothing else, smile knowing that this Cubs team has brought more than its share of smiles and joy to myself and Cubs fans around the country.