Forget about the intricacies of baseball for a moment. Don’t worry about the difference between a fastball and a slider. Instead, focus on an emotional, brilliantly dramatic sporting narrative which has gripped the American public this week.
The moment the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years on Wednesday night will be seared into the memories of fans and non-believers alike. When deep into the 10th inning the ball was flicked to Anthony Rizzo to end a brave Cleveland Indians fightback, the weight of history was lifted in a glorious instant.
The dodgy curses. The bad luck. The awful teams. Cubs fans, recognised as the most loyal and devoted in the land, have been through enough to last a lifetime. The Indians last won it in 1948. Their pain continues. This, however, was Chicago’s night.
The outpouring of emotion following the 8-7 win was something to behold. Grown men were crying. Strangers hugged in the streets and bars of the Windy City. Elsewhere, happiness was tinged with sadness.
Memories and dedications for those devotees who passed away without seeing their heroes finally reach the holy grail were everywhere. One Cubs follower placed a radio next to the grave of his father so he wouldn’t miss that magic moment. There were many similar stories of lament for lost ones. Too often in modern society, money-crazed franchises take the game further away from the people. This however felt closer to home.
Certainly, the story played out on the field helped immeasurably. The action, especially in Game 7, was dramatic. Even Mother Nature made an impromptu appearance, sending down a timely rainstorm just as everyone was settling in for extra innings with the scores level at the end of the ninth.
And as the conversation over the NFL’s falling TV ratings continues, it was no surprise to learn the events in Cleveland during the decider topped 40 million viewers, ensuring it was the most watched baseball game in 25 years.
“Fans like history,” PR executive John Fuller, who has spent the past decade working in baseball, told Sport360. “I was in Boston in 2004 when the Red Sox ended their 86-year drought. It was the same as what the Cubs are experiencing.
“When the Yankees were beating them in the playoffs, almost everyone was behind them and that feeling of wanting the Cubs to win was similar. It’s great for baseball and the MLB.”
You only have to look at the characters involved. Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, Hollywood stars Bill Murray, John Cusack and Vince Vaughn were all A-list cheerleaders. Those in the uniforms, however, were the true stars.
The Cubs dominated the regular season, winning 57 times at home, the best ever return from the 101 seasons played at their beautifully iconic stadium. Kris Bryant is a certainty for National League MVP while Rizzo was all-action and not afraid to let his emotions run wild. The pitching triumvirate of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and closer Aroldis Chapman all played starring roles. Meanwhile, amiable manager Joe Maddon appeared the calmest man in town while nerves were being shredded in the stands.
Yet the most remarkable storyline is of club president Theo Epstein’s latest curse-busting mission. The man who ended those decades of hurt in Boston produced more magic here, an achievement which arguably superseded events at Fenway Park.
His Red Sox team was already packed with talent on his arrival. A few clever tweaks to the roster were administered to guarantee glory. In Chicago, however, Epstein walked into a mess. Three seasons of dross followed yet allowed the 42-year-old to begin moulding a team full of youthful endeavour and promise.
While Boston’s team wasn’t something for the future ( just one player remained at the club his whole career while others were senior or past their sell by date), the Cubs have a young bullpen brimming with talent.
When Epstein quit the Red Sox for the first time in 2005, he famously fled in a gorilla suit. Now the monkey is off his – and the Cubs’ back – for good.
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