If ‘Next Year’ finally happens, what then?

Today’s Wisch List column from the Kankakee Daily Journal

If ‘Next Year’ finally happens, what then?

Oct. 10, 2009

On Wednesday afternoon, with the first day of the 2009 Major League Baseball playoffs underway, my buddy in Chicago shot me a text message.

“What time do the Cubs play?” he asked in a query so heavy with sarcasm that if my iPhone had a tongue (is there an app for that?), it would have been permanently planted in its digital cheek.

After a wry chuckle and a frown, I texted back: “I think they play at a quarter past March.”

Unlike the past two Octobers when hope sprung nocturnal as Cubs fans prepared for postseason night games at the Friendly Confines, the ballpark and neighborhood stood quiet this week.

With the Cubs unable to sire a winner, the filming of the third installment of the “Meet The Parents” movie franchise by Ben Stiller & Co. a few blocks north of Wrigley Field was generating the only buzz in the neighborhood.

Perhaps one day they’ll film a championship at the ballpark, but it wasn’t on the menu this past Sunday when I went swan singing at Wrigley during the Cubs’ finale, a 5-2 loss that in spite of the team’s toe-tag status still drew the bulk of the 39,154 fans who had purchased tickets.

When I bought mine in February, I had hoped to spend the day at Wrigley celebrating a division championship and christening the Cubs on another postseason voyage, substituting a cup of Old Style for the bottle of champagne.

Alas, the only reference to top dog status at the ballpark on this day was the Miller Lite rooftop billboard across Sheffield Avenue, which boasted “First Place Taste” as it peered down on a second-place team.

When the final Cubs batter of the season struck out (quite fittingly), I strolled out of the ivy-covered burial ground to the tune of the organist playing “Auld Lang Syne,” as if celebrating the official start of “Next Year” on Chicago’s North Side is akin to ringing in the New Year.

And, perhaps, in some ways it is. There’s something bittersweet about both.

Now, just like every other long-suffering Cubs fan, I’ve often wondered what it would be like if the Lovable Losers actually did win the World Series.

There’s little doubt it would be amazing. The biggest sports story in the history of sports stories. In Chicago, the authorities likely would have to set up a demilitarized zone from Montrose Avenue to Fullerton and from Western Avenue to Lake Shore Drive just to contain the postgame celebration.

The city wouldn’t sleep for a week.

Well, White Sox fans might. But we’d make it difficult.

At the same time as imagining what Cubs fans would gain with a world championship, however, unlike most other fans I’ve also often pondered what we would lose.

Yes, lose.

With this season’s failure, the Cubs’ championship drought has now reached 101 years. And, while that’s a stunning number, I think it’s perhaps even more remarkable that the team hasn’t even reached a World Series in 64 years.

To not win, I can somewhat understand. Somewhat. It’s difficult to become a champion. But to not even get to the Series since 1945 – “the year we dropped the bomb on Japan” as Cubs balladeer Steve Goodman once sang – is incomprehensible.

Just getting there isn’t that hard. At least, it shouldn’t be.

But, for the Cubs it is.

And, of course, that’s what makes the team what it is. And, in turn, it’s what makes Cubs fans who they are.

The team’s star-crossed history has made its double-crossed fandom special. Not happy, mind you, but special. Because when you wear that Red Badge of Courage on the front of your Cubs cap, it does mean something – something that’s taken an entire century (now, plus one) to build.

But if the Cubs ever do win, all of that will be gone in an instant.

Poof. Just like that.

Being a Red Sox fan used to mean something, of course. They were the fatalistic fans who expected to lose, whereas Cubs fans hoped to win. With the playoff collapse of 2003, the identity of the Cubs fan changed somewhat and became more pessimistic.
But in 2004, the underdog identity of the Red Sox fan vanished forever.

With the team’s World Series title that year – followed by their second one in 2007 – rooting on the Red Sox became no different than rooting on the Yankees.

Both are rich and largely reviled.

With a title, the Cubs would likely become the same.

Now, don’t get me wrong, no one wants the Cubs to win more than me. But if and when (and if) it does happen, I’ll spend at least one moment in the thrill of victory paying the unique identity of the “Cubs fan” its final respects.

“Auld Lang Syne,” by the way, is Scottish for “old long ago” or “the good old days.” For Cubs fans, the days may not be so good, but they are old.

In a weird way, there’s something to be said for that.

And, hey, as a Cubs fan, sometimes you have to take what you can get.