Photos: David Schaper/NPR
If it’s true that misery loves company, then the heartbreaking failures of the Chicago Cubs over the last century certainly cemented bonds through generations of fans.
The Cubs are in the World Series for the first time in 71 years, and they haven’t won the fall classic since 1908.
That makes this year’s success somewhat bittersweet for many fans in Chicago, who remember parents, grandparents, spouses and other loved ones who didn’t live long enough to see this day.
So in cemeteries all across the Chicago area, fans are planting Cubs’ flags, pennants, flowers, balloons and little stuffed Cubby bears in front of the headstones of Cubs fans who are no longer with us.
At Bohemian National Cemetery on the city’s northwest side, there is a “Cubs Fans Forever” wall — built to look like iconic Wrigley Field’s outfield wall with real bricks and ivy from the ballpark — containing the ashes of several die-hard Cubs fans.
“[I was] feeling bad that he’s not here with us to see Cubs winning,” Linda Marano says, as she arranges Cubs flags and flowers and lighting candles and incense in front of her brother-in-law’s grave at Montrose Cemetery.
“I mean to get to this point, you know?” she says, noting the decades it’s been since the Cubs last reached the World Series, “so we were saying, ‘Oh, we wish Johnny was here.’ ”
Marano says her brother-in-law Johnny and the Cubs helped bring the family together to watch the games, celebrate the wins and brood after losses.
There just seems to be something about the game of baseball that brings people together. Maybe it’s the slower pace of the game and the pauses in between pitches and innings that allow us to talk, to analyze, to listen and to connect.
Maybe it’s the long seasons that can mirror the ups and downs of life. And with the Cubs in particular — when a team goes a century without winning — baseball can help us understand that life does go on, and there’s always next year.
Now that next year is finally here, Juan Gonzalez can’t help but think about his dad.
“My father was a big Cubs fan when he came over here,” Gonzalez says. “Yeah, I’ve been a Cub fan since as long as I can remember.”
So first thing Sunday morning, after the Cubs won the National League pennant for the first time in his lifetime and advanced to the World Series, he paid his late father a visit.
“This morning, I stopped by his grave over at Maryhill (Cemetery), and I put a little ‘W’ (flag) right next to his grave and said, ‘Hey, we’re four wins away, Pop! Four wins away!’ ”
Gonzalez’s father passed away a couple of years ago, and though he’s thrilled the Cubs are in the World Series, it makes him miss his dad a little bit more.
“I wish he was here to share it with us,” Gonzalez says. “I remember, you know, truth be told, he’d take me out of school sometimes, and we’d sneak over and catch a Cubs game. So it’s a little bittersweet that he’s not here with us.”
The 45-year-old is now coaching his daughters’ softball team and bonding with his children over the game and this rare Cubs success, the way he and his father bonded over one frustrating season after another. With a tear in his eye, he says he knows his pop is smiling.
“Oh, yeah, he’s always with me,” Gonzalez says. “You know, always with me, always with us.”
Fans of the Indians know a lot about frustration, too. Their team hasn’t won a championship since 1948, and there’s no doubt that many Cleveland fans are coping with the same bittersweet feelings of finally coming close to winning it all, while missing family and friends who are no longer around to share the experience.
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