My Inheritance: A Legacy of Cubs Fandom
Ed. note: The following was written by Jeff Lamb, a contributor at BP Wrigleyville. He had originally submitted it to me prior to Game 1 of the World Series, but timing conspired to push it back. I’ve written a couple times about my grandfather and the influence he had on my fandom, and I really enjoy reading and hearing similar tales from other fans. As we head into the first Fall Classic at Wrigley in over seven decades, I think Jeff’s story will resonate with a lot of you as well.
I didn’t become a Cubs fan by choice. I didn’t willfully decide to commit to year after year of heartbreak and disappointment. If I had made a conscious choice, surely I would have made a smarter one…an easier one. No rational person would intentionally put themselves through the emotional wood chipper that is the life of a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.
Like so many of us, the Cubs chose me. It is bred into us…it’s in our DNA. Just like our fathers, mothers, and grandparents before us, we remember some of our first words being “Go Cubs,” and remember our fathers saying “just wait ‘til next year” every summer.
So it was with me and my Dad. I’d say he was the biggest Cubs fan who ever lived, but everyone thinks that. In fairness, though, his love of his team was always deep, genuine, and true. He taught me to stick with the team, no matter what, because the hard times make the good ones that much sweeter.
I remember as a kid doing chores out in the yard on Saturdays and Sundays with my dad and my brother. I remember listening to all of the games on AM radio coming from an old boombox propped up against an ancient folded-up ping pong table in the detached garage that always needed to be cleaned out. I remember the Old Style commercials. I remember the voices of Harry Caray, Steve Stone, and Dewayne Staats. I remember the games never mattered that much after the first of June.
During those years, way before internet and smartphones, while we were watching The Cosby Show and Family Ties together in the living room, my dad would follow the games. He had this ridiculous combination of a TV and radio with a 4-inch black and white screen and a humongous silver antenna that was routinely topped with a ball of aluminum foil to get better reception. He had that damn thing perpetually propped up on the arm of the sofa that was next to his recliner. He would follow the games — very quietly — whether it was the Sox or Cubs. He loved baseball so much that he would take an interest in the Sox, especially when they had a good squad.
I remember thinking that no team could ever eclipse that of the 1989 Cubs. Sandberg, Dawson, Sutcliffe, Walton, Grace…there was no way they could lose. In the evenings, my dad and I would discuss the box scores, giddy about the possibilities. I remember him saying countless times, “This could be the year!”
That October, when a playoff game fell on the evening of a dinner obligation with friends, I remember my dad sneaking that TV/radio combo (which was the size of a small briefcase) into a dark booth in the corner of a local restaurant. I can picture the smile on his face when he undoubtedly explained to his dinner companions that the Cubbies were playing. To us, and so many more, that is all the explanation that would be necessary.
I was 11, he was much older. He had been through many heartbreaks and should have known better. I’m sure he did know better, but the heart of a true Cubs fan won’t let you temper your enthusiasm. That’s the whole point! You live the lows fully, with your whole heart, until it hurts so much that you can’t take it. Because you know — you just know — that someday they’ll go all the way.
I cried when our team lost to the Giants that year, and I remember feeling silly for doing so. I just wanted them to win so much. Just wait ‘til next year. That’s what you say, because what else can you say? Lots of next years came and passed with only minimal excitement. 1998 was fun, but it never really felt like the year. None of them did until 2003.
By then I was an adult, and newly married. My parents were building a new home, and my wife and I had purchased from them the house in which I grew up. Since their home wasn’t finished yet, they lived with us for a month or so…in October 2003. Some of the best times of my life were watching those playoff games in the living room of my childhood home, which I owned then, with my mom and dad and my wife. We ate and drank, cheered and screamed, lived in the moment of every single pitch of those playoffs.
When the collapse came, I cried again. I was certainly not 11 anymore and I didn’t feel silly about crying this time. I cried because I didn’t want it to end. Not just for the baseball, but for the experience of sharing the games with my family. Especially my dad.
It hurts to remember that series, and not because the Cubs lost. See, as Cubs fans, we were used to losing. We expected to lose most seasons. But on those rare seasons when the team gave us a glimmer of hope, we seized it like a dying man in the desert coming across fresh water. We just wanted them to win…it…all. When they make you think they can, and then it slips away, you feel foolish. It’s like the fresh water was only a mirage brought on by heatstroke.
So we will “wait ‘til next year.” Because that’s what we do. We are Cubs fans. We don’t quit. We don’t leave. We stay. For as long as it takes. Because we know that there will always be a next year. We know the Cubs will come through, that if we just wait long enough we will be rewarded for our patience. The payoff will be the sweetest feeling that can only be obtained by knowing that you stayed true.
Unfortunately, my dad ran out of next years. He died a little more than two years ago after a long, terrible illness. He never quit. He was true Cubbie Blue until the day he died. Best man I’ve ever known and I miss him every day.
Every day is hard without him, but some are harder than others. Holidays, of course…Father’s day and Christmas and his birthday are really hard, as they are for everyone who has lost their dad. But for baseball fans, opening day is hard too. When everything is new and everything is possible. When, together, we would suspend disbelief just for a few days, or weeks, or months (if we are lucky), and think “this could be THE YEAR.”
But this year has been different, and even harder. This year, I think of him multiple times during most games. Every time Javy Baez blows our minds, I think about how much my dad would have loved it. When Bryant or Rizzo go deep, I think of the way he would cheer when Sandberg took one out.
He would have loved this team so much, everything about it. He would love the way the guys play for each other, the way they don’t want to let their buddies down, the way it reminds me of playing little league on the teams my dad coached, when everything was pure and hitting a baseball on the sweet spot would make everything right in the world. That’s how it used to be. That’s how this team makes me feel and my dad would have felt the same way. He would love them as much as I do. And he should be here.
So as I sit here writing this, I cry again, and the emotions are complicated. Sad? Of course. Happy? Yeah, that too. Something else, though…proud? Yeah, I think it’s proud. I am proud that I have accepted the inheritance left to me by my dad: the love of his team, his father’s team, my son’s team.
I’m proud that I’ve never quit. I’m proud that I have been as patient and enduring as he was. As my grandfather was. As my great-grandmother, who was born in 1908 (after the World series) and died a lifelong Cubs fan at age 100 without ever seeing them win a world series.
So I’m going to fully live every single pitch of this World Series. No matter what happens, I’m going to enjoy it with my family and friends — including my wife and daughter, who are White Sox fans and who have temporarily adopted the Cubs because they love baseball — as my dad did.
I’m going to keep my heart wide open, even if that means it gets broken, because that’s what we do. That’s how he taught me. We love hard. We lose hard. But when we win, when we win it will all be worth it. Because we stayed.
I’m going to enjoy this series with my dad, too, because I know he is still with me. He would never miss a Cubs game, even if that means sneaking his TV into a restaurant. But he won’t need to do that, because even though he isn’t on the couch with me, he is still with me. And he has the best seat in the house.
This is the year, Dad. Finally.