Monday, May 19, 2014

Dumb Buzzard's Luck: The "Chicago Federals," "Kansas City Packers," and the Unlucky Bounce of 100 Years

Waiting for the train that would take me back to Indiana, I stood in silence. A man, whom I would guess was around twice my age, let out a sigh. "That was rough," I said, in vain attempt to join him in anguish. "And when that ball hit second base..." he cut me off. The man turned and looked me in the eye. "That was the Cubs." He looked back, straight ahead toward the train, before the sentence had fully escaped his lips. It was as if the decades of disappointment had unfurled before him in a moment of dumb buzzard's luck. Of all the days, in all the years, an ending such as this was destined to come on the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field's first game. The Cubs began the ninth inning up 5-2. What transpired from then-on beautifully and tragically embodied what it means to be a fan of the "lovable losers."

I'll admit, as a guy who lives, breathes, and sleeps baseball, the day was rough. It was honestly the first time in my life I can say I despised the game. Those who were not there on April 23rd might not understand. To the naked eye, it was just another 'L' in the standings. That day was special, however. The Cubs were celebrating Wrigley Field's 100th birthday in the absolute grandest of fashions. Every inch of the building was draped in celebratory robes. The Cubs and visiting Arizona Diamondbacks were outfitted in throwback uniforms replicating that first game. The Cubs played as Wrigley's first tenant, the Chicago Federals. The Diamondbacks were dressed as the Kansas City Packers. The first thirty-thousand attendees through the gates received a quality replica Federals' jersey. Legends were marched out onto the diamond, from both the Cubs and Chicago Bears, who called Wrigley Field home for quite some time. Commissioner Bud Selig was in attendance. Soon, the pomp and circumstance gave way to a baseball game, because that was the real reason we were there.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Justin Ruggiano hit a two-run home run to put the Cubs Federals on top 5-2. With three innings remaining, the floundering Diamondbacks Packers looked hopeless. It was not imperative that the Cubs win this game. In fact, at this point the losses are almost expected. But what transpired was just plain punishment to any loyal North Side fan in attendance.

Flash forward to the top of the ninth. Pedro Strop came in to close out the victory for Chicago.

Walk. Walk. Walk. Strikeout.

The bases were loaded. Martin Prado steps in. Then, it happened. One hundred years of joy and sorrow encapsulated in a bad hop. The score was 5-4. The Cubs Federals still held a lead, but the stands began to clear. It was as if the game was already lost. Three batters later, Ruggiano was injured attempting to snare a fly ball in shallow right field, allowing Aaron Hill to race around to third. Two runs scored. The tally stood at 7-5. A cold, mid-April afternoon saw the Friendly Confines resemble a ghost town even before the home half of the ninth. I stayed to the bitter and inevitable end with my friend and fellow baseball masochist, Jordan.

Groundout. Strikeout. Lineout. Game over.

On a day so built up with hype and fanfare, the product on the field was just as lackluster and painful to watch as any other day. But this one hurt. I felt as if I was being mocked by the team I love, knowing fully that I would pledge my undying affection and unwavering loyalty regardless of whatever hell they put me through. In the near month since, I took time away from baseball. I was drawn into the annual spectacle of the NBA playoffs. I have never claimed to be a one-sport man, and I feel it was necessary for me to step away. I was hurt. But baseball is a game of passion and dedication that guarantees no reciprocity.

Even the damn near criminal optimism of a Cubs fan can crack now and again. The man at the train station had more than likely witnessed far more catastrophic blunders than I, yet there he was, clad in familiar bright blue. He will move on from that game, as will all of us who witnessed yet another fateful dusting of bad luck at old Wrigley Field. The Cubs have never won a World Series in their ninety-eight year residency at the corner of Clark and Addison. Maybe its crazy for me to let the team back into my heart after every new wound. Generations have lived and died doing just the same; believing that baseball isn't just about winning, its about falling in love, getting hurt, and hoping against reality that someday things might change.

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