BY WILL BASLER
Hope is what keeps a Cubs fan coming back. It is the hope that the 105th season since their last World Series title will bring the championship back to Wrigley. With a miserable 2012 season where the Cubbies accumulated 96 losses against only 66 wins, a run to the World Series is doubtful, even to the most optimistic Cub fan. Still, each of them will have their eyes glued to the television, as they listen to the radio or take in the sights and sounds of Wrigley Field on Opening Day, with all the hope in the world that this will be the year the championship drought will finally come to an end.
Pierce Borah has loved the Cubs for as long as he can remember. His first memory is watching a Cubs game with his dad when he was three. During this game, Borah developed a love for the Cubs, and it has only grown over the years. Like any other true Cubs fan, he sticks with the “Loveable Losers” through their toughest seasons, and bleeds Cubs blue during seasons when they are in contention for the playoffs. Although many of his closest friends, along with his mother, cheer for the hated Cardinals, he has stayed with his fandom. Borah has watched his loved ones celebrate multiple division titles, pennants and even World Series championships, but his love for the Cubs goes unchanged.
“It’s never tough to stick with my team,” Pierce said. “The success other teams have doesn’t really bother me. It does sometimes get tough to continue to endure the failure I have over the years with this team.” His frustration is definitely understandable. Since 2008, the Cubs have averaged only 72 wins per season, and have finished an average of 4th in the NL Central. However, he always stays with them, with the hope for something better. “No matter what happens, I’ll always stick with my team,” he added.
This loyalty is shared by Cubs fans all over the Midwest. They know their team is not the best in the major leagues, but they will wear the blue caps with the big red “C” on them all year. Here, at McKendree, it is rare to go a day without seeing someone wearing a Cubs ball cap or even a Cubs jacket in the winter. They may not be the most successful franchise, but they definitely have some of the most loyal fans. They have been in the top ten in attendance in MLB for 12 consecutive years, drawing over 35,000 fans per game. This is especially impressive, considering the Tampa Bay Rays’ struggle to get 20,000 fans to a game, even though they made the playoffs from 2009-11.
Borah plays baseball here at McKendree, playing second base, and last year, he had the highest batting average on the team. Baseball has been a huge part of his life ever since he could pick up a bat. He spent his summers playing ball, only stopping to eat, sleep and spend a few hours fishing on the lake. As a kid, he would mimic the batting stances of the Cubs players at the time—Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou and Aramis Ramirez; he knew all of them. He looked up to the players on the team, and wanted to be just like them. He dreamed of playing at Wrigley. During his childhood, Pierce would watch every Cubs game. He would bounce off the walls of his house with every win, and would bawl his eyes out if they lost.
“It didn’t matter if it was the first or last game of the season. I was devastated every time the Cubs lost,” he said.
The 2003 club was one of his favorite teams. Of any Cubs team in 60 years, they came closest to making it to the World Series. Entering the playoffs, they were one of the favorites to win the championship. The way their season ended is one of the most heartbreaking in the history of baseball.
Steve Bartman, a lifelong Cubs fan much like Borah, was attending Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins in 2003. If the Cubs had won the game, they would have gone to the World Series for the first time in 58 years. In the eighth inning, with Chicago ahead 3–0 and holding a three to two games lead in the best of 7 series, several fans attempted to catch a foul ball headed into the stands. Bartman reached for the ball, deflecting it and disrupting a potential catch by Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou. If Alou had caught the ball, it would have been the second out in the inning, and the Cubs would have been just four outs away from winning the National League pennant. Instead, the Cubs ended up surrendering eight runs in the inning, giving up the lead. They went on to lose the game. When they were eliminated in the seventh game the next day, the “Bartman incident” was seen as the turning point of the series. Ever since it happened, Cub fans everywhere have blamed Bartman for missing the World Series.
When this happened in 2003, Borah was ten. Right after the incident, it hadn’t really hit him yet. “I was still optimistic- there still was a game to be played.” However, when the team lost again the next night, he was really upset. “I cried my eyes out,” he said. “We lost our chance at the Series. It was awful. I know it wasn’t his fault. The whole situation was just disappointing. The curse lives on, I guess.”
Superstitions are a huge part of baseball. Fans of the Boston Red Sox blamed their 86 year championship drought on the Curse of Babe Ruth, when the 1918 team sold Ruth to the rival New York Yankees, where “The Great Bambino” went on to become arguably the greatest baseball player to ever live. The Cubs’ version of the Curse of the Babe is the Curse of the Billy Goat. Borah truly believes the curse is real. “Normally I don’t believe in curses, but this is real. It has to be.”
According to accounts, the curse was supposedly placed on the Cubs in 1945 when Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave a World Series game against the Detroit Tigers at Wrigley Field because his pet goat’s odor was bothering other fans. He was outraged and declared, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more,” which has been interpreted to mean that there would never be another World Series game won at Wrigley Field. The Cubs haven’t won an NL pennant since this incident and haven’t won a World Series since 1908.
Borah still lives and dies with his beloved Cubs. There may be fewer tears, but the same passion for his sport and his team is still there. His love for past Cubs like Prior, Sosa and Garciaparra has moved onto current players like Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. The young core of talent gives the Cubs’ fan-base another reason to be hopeful. Their nucleus of Castro, Barney and Rizzo will be one of the best in the coming years, and they have plenty to build around. “The present isn’t that great, but the future is bright,” Borah added.
In the end, Borah attributes his love for the Cubs and the game of baseball to his father. The game of baseball is traditionally a game played by fathers and sons, and there is usually a bond between the two with a mutual love for the game and their favorite team. A favorite baseball team is passed down like a religion. To many people, baseball is a religion. It is not just a game; it is a way of life. To Borah’s family, baseball is something he and his dad share. It is something that means a lot to them.
“He’s the reason I love the Cubs,” he said. “Ever since I watched that first game, I’ve been hooked.”
When the Cubs win the World Series, however long it may take, it will be one of the biggest moments in the history of American sports. “I’ll be giddy for days, maybe even weeks,” Borah continued. “I just won’t know what to do with myself.”
It is a crazy thing to even talk about. It’s as if there is some force that just will not allow the Cubs to win the championship. Maybe the Cubs just need to start letting Billy goats attend games. Since this probably won’t happen anytime soon, fans may just need to continue to be optimistic. Cubs fans realize that hope isn’t the only good thing they have. They know they have a great thing in their beloved Cubbies.
As Andy Dufresne’s letter said, “Hope is a good thing, and no good thing ever dies.”
The Cubs and their fans, Pierce included, know that the Cubs will keep trying at that championship. Their good thing will always be there, and the hope for achievement will keep them coming back.