So many life lessons can be gauged from the Chicago Cubs Game 7 World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians.
In the wee hours of the morning after the exhilaration began to fade, I wondered why this victory was so important to us. It’s just a sports team. In reality, our jobs and family or finances are not the least bit impacted by whether our Cubbies win or lose. Certainly it won’t determine whether we get into heaven regardless of what our Cardinal and Black Sox detractors have suggested in the past.
I asked God and my last cogent thought, before drifting happily asleep, was, “it’s a validation of the power of faith and belief.” There is a justice about seeing a team we’ve affectionately supported and identified with, succeed. In some ways a familiar shadow of when we take a gamble in spotting a family member $1,000 for a crackpot idea and they actually pay us back and see it succeed. Or when we finally get the nerve to express our pent up feelings to a potential boyfriend or girlfriend and experience the rare fulfillment of those sentiments being returned.
We all face trials. And often things do go from bad to worse. Dreams fade. Desires become soiled and hopes often into regrets. This all happens when something good which we dare to believe in never happens. Or worse, goes bad.
Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Miguel Montero – all 3 – were key players we had great expectations of to move us past the pain of a NLCS pennant sweep after our boys set our expectations on fire with kerosene. It was Miggy who coined the #WeAreGood. The first few times we said it we almost felt guilty for fear we would be shamed by a mob of onlookers who would ridicule us – Cubs fans – for daring to proclaim such heresy. And then just when we started to believe it by crushing the despised Cardinals in the NLDS, we grimaced at the notion that well, maybe we aren’t that good.
Montero couldn’t have looked worse at the beginning of the year. If it hadn’t been for a renaissance September, it’s doubtful he even would have made the team. Still, Miguel only had a total of 4 at bats in the NLDS, 4 in the NLCS and 3 during the World Series. To make matters worse, he had been the primary catcher for Jake Arrieta all year and didn’t even get into the game – in any capacity – in the crucial Game 6 elimination game. To those of us who have spent our entire lives waiting to show our value on a world stage, it would be tough to fight off the label “loser” in our minds, when we were benched for a kid who is nearly young enough to be our son.
Another loser was clearly Kyle Schwarber. Unable to prove his talent behind the plate or in left field in his only 2 games of 2016, he spent the year as the unofficial mascot cheerleader of the clubhouse fending off rumors he would be traded to an AL team that would be better suited to his offense-only reputation. While he seemed content to take the roll of glorified water boy, washing the rosin off of Jake’s no-hit face, many of us would have fed on our own negative thoughts that yes, maybe we couldn’t ever catch much less share in the joy of tangibly contributing to a curse-breaking team effort.
And then there is Jason Heyward. Love him as a man, hate him as a $184 million outfielder that can’t get on base. When you’re hyped (and paid) as a “5 tool” player whose situational hitting against the Cubs was one of the reasons you were recruited – I have no idea how you deal with the self-disparagement reminded daily that you are actually WORSE than a replacement batter. Like most of you, I kept believing every month he would “turn it around.” Even in September there were some suggesting it might happen in the playoffs where the new and miraculous Jason Heyward would suddenly be unveiled. And it gets so bad you are benched in the first game of the World Series.
Three losers who can’t seem to achieve the expectations they put on themselves much less the hype the rest of us bought into. But not a single one decided to give up baseball and go home to mommy. They showed up and kept working on what they had with the tools and opportunities that were given while the Bryzzo MVP race and the JavyTag-mania swept the city.
But without these three “losers” it is highly likely the Cubs would be waiting 109 years to bring a Cubs World Series Championship trophy home.
Miguel Montero came into Game 1 of the NLCS against the Dodgers as a self-proclaimed “really bad pinch hitter” and hit only the 3rd pinch hit playoff grand slam in MLB history. Nice, but hardly redemption of those that suggested there were other options that could do better than 0 for 3 in very limited use. However, with a thinning bench in overtime, it was Miggy who came up with the RBI single that eventually accounted for the winning run. As in the NLCS, his only hit came when it mattered, and secured a World Series victory.
It was Kyle Schwarber’s relentless rehabilitation work ethic that put him into play prior to the World Series that gave an emotional and practical boost to the entire team. Kyle ended up hitting .412 with a .500 on base percentage and .972 OPS including the single in the 10th inning that proclaimed to the Indians and the world, WE NEVER QUIT. He even won over Cardinal worshiper Joe Buck and ghostly apparition Pete Rose shutting up their condescending pre-series dismissals that it was a Maddon gimmick to inspire the troops.
And JeyHey? He hit .104 with a .307 OPS. That’s so bad Kyle Hendricks actually had a better bat at .167 and .333 OPS. Yes, he had a nice diving catch to stop momentum in Game 5 but Statcast showed that the catch was made about 30% of the time and the Cubs poured on other runs that hardly made it seem like a game saver. What the 27 year old did was perhaps the must critical act in the final game of the World Series. After Aroldis Chapman imploded and gave up 3 runs allowing Cleveland the ability to tie, Heyward gathered the team together during the rain delay to give an impassioned plea to focus on what they could control and to believe as they had all year. To a man, every Cub interviewed afterward cited this as the reason the Cubs came out a different team in the 10th inning, completely loose and filled with unbridled optimism that they could win this game. Schwarber singled. Almora heroically got to second on a deep KB sac-fly causing Cleveland to walk Rizzo for Zobrist. Zo brought in the go-ahead run and Carl Edwards Junior and Mike Montgomery kept the Cubs ahead to break the curse and bury the goat forever.
Most of us Cubs fans didn’t know what to believe – or to even dare to hope. Our own lives often reminded us of a plaguing failure where nothing ever seems to go right, when we want it or need it to.
But these kids demonstrated the values we all should adopt in life. Albert Almora said it best when he gambled on tagging during the Bryant flyball in the 10th by saying, “I’m going for it. If I’m out, then I’m out.”
Screw results. Focus on what you can control. And believe. Don’t worry about when or how it happens. But expect the best and when it doesn’t happen your way – accept that it eventually will. Even if it takes 108 years.
There is an amazing Jewish proverb that says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a promise fulfilled is a tree of life.”
Enjoy and eat to your heart’s content Cub fans because there will be no sick or broken hearts today.