As a lifelong Cubs fan, it has always seemed like there were only two possible scenarios for this team: They’re either going to be in last place, or they’re going to have a great team that finds a way to fall short in the playoffs.
And then came 2016.
To win a world championship, you need a lot to happen. Having the most talent won’t be enough. More times than not, the best teams from the regular season don’t win it all. You need a mix of resiliency, good fortune, and a whole lot of heart. And for the 2016 Chicago Cubs, all of the stars finally aligned.
This team had two mantras this season: “Embrace the target,” and “We Never Quit.” Well, I guess it’s really three, if you count “Try Not To Suck”. Could those have possibly been more fitting?
All the table-waiting wannabe screenwriters in Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script for how this season played out if they tried for the next five years. Just think about all of the major storylines for these players and how the playoffs went down for this team:
Dexter Fowler – He shocked the world by turning down a multi-year deal with Baltimore to return to the Cubs for another season. Sure enough, Fowler leads off Game 7 of the World Series with a leadoff homer. “You go, we go.” And he went, in the biggest game we’ve ever seen.
David Ross – This sport may never see a backup catcher with a final season quite like this. He surpassed 100 career home runs, caught a no-hitter, and homered in Game 7 of the World Series, retiring as a champion. Ross made us feel “Forever Young” all season long.
Kyle Schwarber – Speaking of things this sport will never see again, Kyle Schwarber’s only hits of the entire season were in the World Series. I thought the Cubs were nuts for putting him in the lineup after missing that much time, but Schwarber proved me wrong in unbelievable fashion. He made an extremely difficult game look easy on the biggest stage.
Anthony Rizzo – After an MVP-type season, his bat went silent at the most important time. So, naturally, he switched bats, using Matt Szczur’s stick putting up huge numbers once again. How about when the Cubs faced elimination? Rizzo changed his walk-up music to the Rocky theme song and vowed that the Cubs were “going to go the distance.” Again, was this a movie or a real-life player?
Kyle Hendricks – This guy wasn’t guaranteed a spot in the Cubs rotation out of spring training. In a league filled with flame-throwing pitchers, Hendricks turned into a Cy Young candidate by throwing in the high 80’s. Oh, and then he defeated Clayton Kershaw to win the pennant before starting in Game 7 of the World Series. You can’t make this stuff up.
Miguel Montero – At one point in the season, he said he thought the Cubs were going to release him. He struggled all year and saw the Cub fans going crazy over the other catchers, Ross and rookie Willson Contreras. Montero is also a self-proclaimed “really bad pinch hitter.” So what happens? He hits a pinch hit, game-winning grand slam in Game 1 of the NLCS. He also had a massive RBI in the 10th inning of Game 7, just like we drew it up!
The Weather – The Cubs aren’t supposed to get lucky breaks, but mother nature was on their side. There were unseasonably warm temperatures to wake the bats up, and then came the most opportune rain delay of all time. If you think it wasn’t a big deal, just ask the players. They each said how important that time to regroup and focus was.
The 3-1 deficit – When it looked like the series was over, guess who’s turn it was in the Cubs rotation in Game 5? The guy who started a foundation called NVRQT (Never Quit) He’s one of the most battled-tested people in all of sports, both as a cancer survivor and a veteran of many playoff games. Even down 3-1, Cubs fans still had some belief left in them. Giving the ball to Jon Lester in Game 5 was a big reason to keep hope alive.
Road-Field Advantage – The All-Star Game deciding home-field advantage in the World Series is one of the dumbest rules in all of sports. The Cubs deserved to have four games at Wrigley after winning 103 regular season games. But this team didn’t care and they actually used it to their advantage. They were able to have Kyle Schwarber for four games instead of three, and they were able to get away from the tension at Wrigley.
Down, never out – The Cubs could’ve easily lost Games 4 and 5 in the NLDS to the Giants. Instead, they rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the 9th inning in Game 4 to win that series (they had a 2.3% chance of winning, according to FanGraphs). Then the Cubs trailed 2-1 in the series against the Dodgers. “Same old Cubs, choking again,” they said. But they rallied and won the next three games, winning the pennant at Wrigley Field.
I was lucky enough to attend that game, and it felt nothing like Cubs playoff games of the past. There was just something different about this year’s team. Every fan I talked to truly believed the Cubs were going to defeat the mighty Clayton Kershaw and win the pennant. That belief stayed with the fanbase into the World Series, even after trailing 3-1.
I knew this day would come, that it was a matter of when and not if. For my entire life, I could only dream about how it would go down. I always wondered what type of team it would be, who the opponent would be, how the series would unfold. Could there have been a better story than what actually happened? With this group of guys? Coming back from 3-1? Seeing one of the craziest Game 7’s in history?
Now the Cubs franchise and fans will finally have new stories to write. They made history, the “lovable loser” punchline is no longer valid. Nor is that nonsense about a curse. And with the massive weight being lifted off of the players’ shoulders, the sky is the limit as to what storylines are next.
To the Cub fan base, you are all champions. You are the most loyal fan base in the history of sports. Let this world championship serve as a reminder to always keep hope alive, in baseball and in life. Patience pays off. Loyalty pays off. Perseverance pays off.
This time, the tears that flowed were born of joy. This time, it was the stars aligning for the Cubs and not their opponent. This time: It. Finally. Happened.