A pennant for the people

Baseball fans wait.

Patience just comes with the territory. The sport is played at a methodical – some would say almost hypnotic – pace. No clocks. No time limit. No instant gratification for a society seeking just that in 2016.

Fans of the Chicago Cubs know this better than anyone. A 162-game schedule typically follows a pattern of hope, then regret, then disappointment. Season after season, decade after decade – even generation after generation.

Let’s talk generations. There have been almost three of those since the Cubs last appeared in the World Series, you know. Seventy-one years, to be exact; the longest drought in our country’s four major professional sports.

But the wait is over. In the days to come, the ”Lovable Losers” from the north side of the Windy City will play for a championship. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but a victory in the best-of-seven series with the Cleveland Indians would be the franchise’s first title in over a full century.

The Cubs’ historic, pennant-clinching win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night was oddly emotional for me. I don’t have any direct investment in their well being. Sure, I have plenty of friends who bleed Cubbie blue. And yes, I grew up watching Chicago games with the affable Harry Caray and analytic Steve Stone on the WGN call when they were virtually the only Major League Baseball television show around.

I anticipated feeling an empathetic sense of relief for their die-hards – many of whom have been steadfastly loyal to this rather dysfunctional outfit for literally all their lives. But baseball has always connected with me in soulfully romantic ways. As such, the final out washed over me like a fresh breath of crisp autumn air.

You didn’t have to root for the Cubs to appreciate what was happening. And that’s when I realized the biggest difference between the actors and the audience in this game we love.

During the team’s run to the National League Championship Series in 2015, I wrote a column encouraging fans to dismiss the ghosts of yesteryear once and for all. Current Chicago players, coaches and management have had nothing to do with the decades of futility, and they certainly have no patience for the idea of a supernatural barricade.

The same cast of characters delivered a long-lost pennant one year later. They’re names you’ll forever associate with the franchise’s modern-day breakthrough: Epstein. Maddon. Rizzo. Bryant. Baez.

Yet 20 years down the road, they’ll all be gone. And you’ll still be rooting for the Cubs.

With all due respect to the current pieces of this puzzle, they didn’t spend most of their childhood and all of their adulthood picturing a National League pennant flying high above Wrigley Field. You did. They don’t wear the scars or carry the miles and memories of shattered dreams.

It’s their job. It’s your passion. The credit belongs to them, without question, but this moment is yours. Enjoy it.

After all, you’ve waited longer than anyone.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net