CHICAGO – They waited their entire lives for this moment, having faith this day would eventually arrive, but as they prepared to gather Monday at Wrigley Field, they found themselves struggling to absorb the significance of it all.
“It still feels surreal to process it,’’ says Amy Bergseth, who spent eight years on a Chicago Cubs season-ticket waiting list before getting bleacher seats. “I’ve had this kind of mini existential crisis in my head. It was always, “We gotta win. We gotta win. But now we won.’
“It’s like when I was in the middle of that crowd in Game 7 with that big “W’’ flag behind held, and someone yelled, “So what now?’
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but it’s weird. It’s like, “Who are we? We can’t be the lovable losers anymore.’’
The Cubs took care of that last November, winning Game 7 of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians, and Monday night, for the first time in the history of Wrigley Field, a World Series championship banner was hoisted.
They can joke about the Billy goat curse, black cats, Steve Bartman, Leon Durham, 1969, ’84 and ’03 for the rest of their lives now, knowing their suffering finally is over.
The Cubs are champions, and no matter what happens this season, or for the rest of time, nothing will ever take it away.
The memories from the Cubs’ faithful, from 71-year-old George Wiseman, the Vietnam veteran who can’t speak because of the effects of agent orange, to bleacher loyalists Tom and Ginger Peak, founders of the “The Cubbie Family,’’ to Vip Singla, the doctor who moved from St. Louis to Chicago solely because he got Cubs’ season tickets, to “Crawly’ who will be a World Series ring bearer for his faithfulness, to Jake Peterson, whose act of benevolence is legendary, will be cherished forever and ever.
Those bleacher diehards, the ones from the Cubbie Family that sit in the top two rows of right-center underneath the scoreboard clock, planned a get-together Monday afternoon at Yak-Zies bar in Wrigleyville. They headed to Wrigley Field around 4:30 p.m., and thanks to their season tickets were permitted inside five minutes ahead of everyone else, so they can take their seats directly underneath where the 2016 flag was raised.
They laid their towels across the top rows to save enough seats for the 30 or so faithful who plan to be there for the historic game, using a bungee cord to make sure the towels don’t blow away.
“I don’t think it’s going to seem real until the banner goes up,’’ says Paul “Crawly’’ Dzien, 40, a high school history teacher, who went to Ernie Banks’ gravesite and prayed before two of the World Series games. “It’s like the last great American sports story. We used to always joke around the holidays that it was a genetic disorder being a Cubs fan. You remember those cold and sleety April days, the days the wind blew right through you, those hot muggy days in the summer, and thinking one day it will be worth it.
“Well, the narrative has been flipped. We’re not lovable losers anymore. We’re world champions. Nothing that happens again in my life will ever come close to that feeling.’’
Peterson, 32, an Illinois government employee who traveled to the White House to be on hand for the Cubs’ visit, was last seen the day of Game 7 sobbing in his apartment. He bought a World Series ticket for $1,800, and a friend arranged for him to use points for a free flight to Cleveland. He was scheduled to leave at 2:30 p.m., only for the flights to be delayed, and then grounded. He never left the city
“I was balling my eyes out. This meant everything to me,’’ Peterson said. “I went back to my apartment, opened a bottle of wine, and called my buddy who was going to the game and had a copy of my ticket. I didn’t want to let an $1,800 ticket go to waste. I told him to write, “Go Cubs Go. This is a gift from Jake. And put my number on it. And go to the top deck and drop it.’ I figured if I can’t use it, I don’t want to hoard it.
“I’m a bottle of wine in now, and a couple of beers, and someone (Jeff Dublinske) calls me from a 773 area code right before game-time. I’m thinking, “Who’s calling me now of all times? He tells me that he’s a deep-blue Cubs fan, and can’t believe a ticket dropped from the sky into his hands.
“The guy ends up sending me a picture, we meet the following Monday at Murphy’s Bleachers, he buys me four beers, and call it even. It was the most expensive Coors Lights I’ve ever had in my life.
“But you know something, the way it turned out, I wouldn’t have changed anything.’’
Peterson’s biggest challenge now, he says, is figuring out what to do with his Cubs jersey, the Jacque Jones replica, one he’s had since high school and has never been washed.
“I’ve always said I would never wash it unless we win the World Series,’’ Peterson says. “It’s disgusting. It has decades of beer and mustard on it. It literally doesn’t smell too bad, but it looks absolutely terrible.
“I still haven’t washed it. Maybe I’ll wait until we win it again.’’
It’s this rabid, fervent, wildly devoted fan base that perhaps separates the Cubs from all others. No other legion of fans ever endured 108 years between World Series championships, with enough stories to last for another century.
Melanie Wyatt, who sells fixed income investments for a living, believes the Cubs saved her life, thanks to Singla, a pediatrician, who sits in the Cubbies Family section of the bleachers with her.
Wyatt, whose dad and brother are St. Louis Cardinals fans, had fallen down stairs, scraped her legs, and was having trouble breathing when she arrived a few days later at a Cubs’ game. She couldn’t catch her breath, told Singla, and blamed it on the stifling humidity.
Singla, instantly wondering whether her fall was directly related, took no chances and rushed her to the emergency room. She was diagnosed with eight pulmonary embolisms. Doctors told her that if she had waited much longer, she may not have survived.
“Basically, he saved my life,’’ says Wyatt, who attended 87 Cubs regular-season and playoff games last year. “He’s family now. Really, everyone in our group is.’’
Singla grew up in Kansas City as a Royals fan, and adopted the Cardinals as his favorite National League team, only for it to change the night of Oct. 27, 1985.
“It was a kid’s ideal dream having his two favorite teams play against each other in the World Series,’’ Singla says. “But after the Cardinals lost Game 7, 11-0, all I heard was them complaining so much about that Don Denkinger call in Game 6. It really bothered me. So I asked my friends, “Who do the Cardinals hate more than any team in baseball?’ They told me the Cubs. That was the night I became a Cubs’ fan.’’
How big of a fan?
Singla was a doctor at Washington University in St. Louis when he put his name on a Cubs waiting list for season tickets. Nine years went by. The day he got a ticket invoice, he quit his job, moved to Chicago, and found an apartment on Waveland Avenue.
Exactly 989 steps from his bleacher seats.
“I always said if the Royals and Cubs win a World Series, I would retire,’’ Singla said. “Well, I just put in my retirement notice.’’
This phenomena seems a bit eccentric, but according to Jonathan Jensen of the University of North Carolina, it’s actually quite natural. He and researchers from Indiana University, Louisiana State University and Louisville are performing the first known research study on the psychology of Cubs fans.
“When we interviewed the initial group (10 years ago), it was, “Why have you stuck with the Cubs for so long?’’’ Jensen said. “It was completely illogical. There’s no reason why someone should invest so much emotional baggage for a team that had lost so much and never rewarded them with victory.
“What we found out is that they saw it as a badge of honor. It was loyalty. A camaraderie and interest in socializing with other Cubs fans.
“Now, they are internalizing the championship, and after sticking with the team for so long, they actually feel like they won a championship themselves. Their ego and self-confidence has been boosted. Their lives are great. It’s been a psychological change.’’
A positive, yet foreign change.
“It’s a weird feeling,’’ says Elle Ullum, 37, who poured paper cups of champagne for everyone in her Cleveland hotel lobby after Game 7 until 3 a.m. “There’s so much emotion behind it, people still are figuring how to cope with it.
“I’ve turned into a 75-year-old man. I tune in all of the games on the radio now. And this season, I’m going to even learn how to keep score and bring scorebooks to the game.
“Who am I?’’
A member of the 2016 World Series champions, of course.