I spent the majority of the Cubs 15-3 redemption against the Brewers on Wednesday at the bedside of my grandmother. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2002, she slipped away from us in a cruel fashion. Alzheimer’s is a particularly nasty disease in that instead of your physical abilities and health being taken away from you, your memories are eaten away, as well. Earlier in her progression, I would sit with her often, firing off questions that almost always began with, “Hey, remember when…?” Or, “What about the time…?” in the hopes that it would either jog her memory, or help her hold on to a portion of her life for just a little bit longer.
Now, as she is in the final stage of Alzheimer’s, those questions go unspoken. There is no reason to attempt to jog any memories; there is no memory left to speak of. At a generous estimate of 75 pounds, my grandmother is literally skin and bones. Bedridden for the past two years, that darling lady, once a picture of vigor, of health, of love affection…someone who loved life, now clings onto the last dying days of time well spent on this earth. So, I sit mostly in silence now, keeping my lifetime’s worth of memories to myself.
My father had a heart attack about two years ago that nearly killed him. A strong, tough, man’s man, my hero and I at one time would hike 15 miles a day on the Appalachian Trail for a week or a month at a time. Now, a quarter of a mile is a good trek for him, and is taken on with much apprehension. He is a fantastic storyteller, and I’ve always loved hearing him tell stories about his childhood, his career as a policeman, or anything he feels like talking about, even if I’ve heard the story a hundred times.
My younger brother was nearly killed in a motorcycle accident in 2004, 6 days before his 20th birthday. Its a literal miracle that he is still alive, and an even greater miracle that he is able to walk. I can remember many sleepless nights sitting by his hospital bed, reminiscing about our childhood together, and counting myself lucky to have a little brother that was so funny, charming, and downright wonderful that I’d WANT to have him tag along places with me. My friends always loved him; I did, and do, too.
My grandparents bought some land out in the country when they both retired. It was heaven for two young boys with active imaginations! We always played baseball together out in the large pasture beside their house. My dad grew up in Chicago, and would often tell us stories about his childhood, hoping on the trains with a dollar in his pocket to go see Cubs and White Sox games, getting a coke and a hot dog, and coming home with change. His frequent mention of those experiences shaped our love of the game of baseball; I began rooting for the Cubs, and my brother, out of competition with his big brother, rooted for the White Sox. I won’t hold this against him.
When we played baseball together, however, he was always a Cub. I would always pretend to be Mark Grace (I still wear his number 17 to this day) and he would be Ryne Sandberg. When we pitched to each other, it was always Maddux or Sutcliffe. There was a large oak tree to the left of the field we played in that we dubbed The Green Monster, so all of our games were played against the imaginary Red Sox. We each hit many a homer in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs over that mammoth tree. Looking back now, the infield fly rule would have been in effect, but at 8 years old, that tree was SO far away…
I have very fond memories of my childhood, and many of those memories involve baseball, specifically Cubs baseball. Every time I think about this franchise, my thoughts invariably wind up back to thoughts of my family. Even thought we’re hundreds of miles away from the Windy City, I’ve always felt connected because of these memories.
We’ve got a terrible team this year, but we’re watching grown men play a kid’s game — a game, as a kid, I dreamed of playing when I grew up. As a kid, I didn’t know (or care) as much about won/loss records, WHIP, OPS, or TOOTBLANS. I had a team I loved with players I loved, and whether they won or lost that day, I loved them just the same. I’d just go out into the field, knock a couple over the Green Monster, and make up for them.
Even now, as an adult, I have a simplistic view of the game. I don’t know much about complex statistics…but I’m not sure that I ever want to. All I know is that I love seeing Marlon Byrd smile after one great diving catch after another. I love seeing Starlin Castro grow into his role as Cubs SS. I love watching the deliberate lookoff, then staredown, of Carlos Marmol as he’s getting ready to make somebody look ridiculous with a sick slider. And I think back to Sandberg’s slick fielding, Grace spraying singles, and Dawson smashing homers, and remember emulating them each a million times.
My love of the Cubs is as much about my love for my family as it is the promise of an eventual World Series. This franchise is a permanent reminder of a childhood that is growing smaller in my rear view mirror at a rate that blows my mind. That uniform, the logo, the ivy at Wrigley…all help to maintain that link to people in my life that I never want to forget.
And when the Cubs are on, I never do.
To give up on the Cubs would, honestly, feel like I was giving up on a lot of the great memories I’ve had in my life. And my grandmother has taught me through her illness how important those memories are.
Win or lose, great or terrible…I love the Cubs. I cheer for the Cubs, and I support the Cubs…and I always will.