By Eugene White
Although it’s been almost a month since the Chicago Cubs closed the door on the Cleveland Indians, winning their first world championship in 108 years, the reality has yet to sink in.
Like many fans, I grew up playing baseball and inevitably began watching the Cubs on television. As a kid, my hopes were high and I was oblivious of the fact that the Cubs simply couldn’t win every game. This didn’t bode well with my parents, who had to deal with my wild tantrums after a blown save from then closer Ryan Dempster. And for a kid that had such unrealistic expectations, well, the Cubs probably weren’t the best team to follow.
This didn’t stop me, though.
Year after year, I attended countless games, only to leave in disappointment. And while many of those losses came during the regular season, the toughest were naturally in the postseason—when everything on the line. My first Cubs postseason experience came in 2003, most of which I don’t recall. It was Game 6 of the National League Championship Series when the Cubs flaunted a comfortable lead late in the game when they went on to lose 8-3 in what infamously became known as the “Bartman Game.” The Cubs lost the next game, sending Florida to the World Series, which began a 12 year drought, not reaching the league championship until 2015. I was there, again, when they were handedly swept by New York. And after yet another disappointing season, I grew tired of the same routine.
Then came the 2016 season. After once again reaching the league championship series, the Cubs were able to finally advance to the World Series. This time I employed the perfect defense mechanism against disappointment: pessimism paired with caution. Although this helped me focus on school as the Cubs weaved their way through the playoffs, it came to an end one night.
I was casually watching Game 5 of the World Series with my family, expecting a loss, when the Cubs took an early lead. With Cleveland leading the series three-games-to-one, this was a must-win game for the Cubs. After a dramatic, relentless performance by Cubs pitcher Jon Lester, they went on to win the game, 3-2 sending the series back to Cleveland.
My hope was once again restored after being reminded of the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that overcame similar odds. Boston clawed back from a three-games-to-none deficit, defeating the New York Yankees, and proceeding to win the World Series.
Within a week, I was able to watch the Cubs do the same as they stormed the field in celebratory fashion. It was complete. They had done the impossible.
And although their exhilarating postseason campaign — namely the Game 7 extra-inning antics — seemingly trimmed a few years from my life, I realized that the weight of this series extended far beyond my own desires and even past the Chicago and Cleveland metropolitan areas. We as a nation were watching (40 million during Game 7, in fact).
For many Americans, baseball fans or not, this World Series served as a timely distraction from a toxic, hate-filled election. As a person who spends unhealthy amounts of time consuming news, those four weeks in October were some of the best of my life (yes, the Cubs winning was the cherry on top). But moreover, the story of the Cubs—a team with an exhausted fan base on a championship journey 108 years in the making—and Cleveland—a city that has suffered tremendously throughout the years, looking for its second straight title in less than a year—was the epitome of a true American underdog story.
In contrast to the election, whichever team secured the title, fans from both sides were able to put up a smile out of respect for the other, as they can relate the pain. Both cities know the feeling of despair. We have sat in desolation after brutal losses yet maintain the audacity to return year after year, supporting the teams we love out of sheer loyalty.
The polarization of this election, while highlighting the horrifying effects of hateful political rhetoric, perhaps taught us a valuable lesson through the game of baseball: Win or lose, every American loves to see an underdog story because we see ourselves in that role.
Whether you voted blue, red or Harambe, we are all united through the eternal bond of sports. And no matter which team you root for, your day will come someday. Just ask a Cubs fan.
So after vowing to never have another election like our last, what do you say, America?
How about some baseball? After all, it is America’s pastime.
All images courtesy of Eugene White