Last weekend, I found myself in the position of having to explain the Cubs and their 2003 collapse in the playoffs to a young fan who didn’t know anything about it. I’ve written about this before, from many different angles, but writing is so much more preferable to me than speaking. It’s always been that way: I don’t make eye contact very well, I mumble, my thoughts get jumbled up, my tongue doesn’t function as well as my brain wants it to. It’s a confidence thing, I’m sure.
When I was teaching, and had no choice but to overcome this on a daily basis, I found that a visual aid–or a prop, as I thought of it–could make a point better than I could on my own. And so, to explain what happened to the Cubs that year, I pulled out a Chicago Tribune front page dated October 15, 2003. It was the day after Moises Alou and that foul ball down the left field line.
I explained how the Cubs were ahead, and had just five more outs until the pennant was won. I described how Mark prior was a robot that year, seemingly unbeatable every time he went to the mound. I explained how people were ready, both inside Wrigley Field and out, to yell and scream and celebrate like they never had before. And then, in the course of one half-inning of play, it all came apart. And it hasn’t been close to that point ever since.
I saved that newspaper, as I did a lot of them during the 2003 postseason, because I was expecting great things to happen that fall. I wanted to keep them, as tangible proof that yes, it really did happen for the Cubs, after decades of waiting for it. It felt like a lifetime of waiting was finally going to be over.
The young Cubs fan, who seemed to be intrigued by the story I was telling him, looked at the picture and noticed something interesting. It was below the newspaper’s fold, and I had never noticed it before because all of the action takes place above the fold, which runs through Moises Alou’s torso and is visible above if you look at it the right way.
It was only after the paper was opened up all the way that this revealed itself to him, and only after he spotted it that I saw it too. He pointed to a fan with a blue Cubs jacket, a smile on his face, and his arms spread wide apart, and asked me “Why is this guy so happy?” I looked at him, and right away I understood the reason for his big smile.
Everyone in the park at that moment, and around the outside of the park, and watching on TV felt exactly as he did, at least until that ball twisted toward the stands. This guy was looking for a TV camera, oblivious to what was unfolding just a few feet away from him. I’m certain that, in five minutes’ time, he wasn’t nearly as happy as he was in that moment.
If only that exuberance, captured surreptitiously and preserved in a newspaper for all time, could return again. Almost nine years have now gone by, and life has moved on for all of us. The Cubs are finishing up yet another season that hasn’t quite turned out the way we wanted it to.
I still have some more baseball seasons left in me, I hope, and one of them might end up the way that I thought that the 2003 season would. And if it does, perhaps this old newspaper won’t be worth looking at, anymore. Hope springs eternal.