Here I am, basking in the glow of one of the greatest nights of sports history. The Cubs won the World Series – 108 years in the making. No matter what team you root for, everyone can agree what happened November 2, 2016 was historic. My Facebook feed is full of awestruck, speechless, tear-filled, emotional posts – countless video mash ups and tributes. But, so many of us are struggling to describe it – trying to truly get across the emotion of what happened. Maybe we’re having a hard time articulating it because it wasn’t of this world – maybe it was a miracle.
I know what you’re thinking – “really Katherine, are you going to equate a baseball game to a holy experience? to faith? to belief in God?” Stick with me here.
My husband has been a Cub fan all his life. He tells tales of watching them play, listening to Harry Caray with his Dad, his Grandpa, his uncles and cousins. That night before the final game started, he called his Grandma because he knew she would be sitting in her apartment alone, watching and hoping for this win to happen in her lifetime. He wanted her to know he was right there with her – in spirit. For him, he is more than just a fan of the Cubs; they are part of who he is, his history and the cloth from which he was cut. And so, they became part of who I am too.
We have some great Cubs memories together over the past 20 years. Sneaking out of work a little early to catch Ronnie Santo and Pat Hughes broadcast a game while floating on our boat. We would drift around without saying a word to each other; laughing as Pat Hughes played straight man to Ronnie’s jokes. Like when Ronnie, the severe diabetic who had lost his feet to the disease, would promote a certain brand of shoe and go on and on talking about what great shoes they were, “so comfortable to walk in.” And then after a dramatic pause say, “Of course, I don’t have any feet anymore, but if I did, those are the shoes I’d buy.”
Another favorite broadcast story was one summer the Cubs were playing in Arizona. To say it was hot would have been a gross understatement. The temperatures had reached well into the 100’s and the Diamondback’s ballpark had run out of ice. Yes, the entire ballpark was out of ice and poor Ron and Pat just couldn’t stop talking about it. They sent people all over to try and find ice for them. To make matters worse, it was a fairly boring game with no score. Finally, after yet another scoreless inning, just when we thought the ice debacle had been forgotten, Pat went into his usual wrap up before the commercial break and declared in his perfect monotone voice….”And after five innings, no runs, no hits and no ice.” We about wet our pants. If you’re not laughing – maybe you had to be there.
Chris has a true love of the game itself. When our boys were little, he helped coach them in little league and was known as the best coach pitch Dad around. So when my cousin Emily, who happens to work in Major League Baseball and is like a sister to us, invited us to Spring Training a few years back – Chris was like a kid in a candy store. Emily is the bees knees. She won’t admit it – but she’s pretty amazing at what she does. She is the right hand to Dayton Moore, General Manager of the Kansas City Royals. You know that person that knows what you want before you ask, answers your call even in the middle of the night, and thinks ten steps ahead for you at all times – that’s Em. Her goal is to make Dayton’s life easier in every way possible – and I think he would agree she does just that. So on our little trip to Arizona a few years back, among many amazingly fun activities, we went to the ballpark and got a chance to talk to Dayton. We learned that he’s not just about finding great baseball players, he’s about cultivating great human beings. He is rooted in his Christian faith. And, in what I observed to be a very genuine way, impacts his players lives with more than just statistics and contracts. He has faith in them. Players like Ben Zobrist who helped the Royals clinch their own World Series just last year, and once again is humbly proclaiming his faith after being named this years’ MVP.
Fast forward to October 2016. We spent the entire season watching the Cubs and wondering (as we have every year prior) if this might be the year. And then, my phone buzzes. It’s Emily. The text says “I’m just asking this…. we have two tickets for each home game the Cubs play in the World Series. Would you want to go?” The earth stopped. I said yes without consulting a calendar or my husband. It was October 20, my Dad’s 82nd birthday and two days before the Cubs even clinched the pennant to move on the World Series. When I told Chris of the opportunity Emily had blessed us with, after he regained his composure, I said “now they just have to get into the World Series.” To which he replied; “God wouldn’t let them come this far, dangle this opportunity in front of me and then not let them make it to the World Series.” Two days later, he was proven right. The Cubs clinched and we were heading to Wrigley.
With only two tickets per game, I was adamant that Chris should take one boy to each game. Ellie and I would enjoy the hotel and the city for the weekend. It is a father son memory like no other that needed to be made. The next hurdle was – will there be a game 5? Will each boy get a chance to see them play in the World Series? That question was quickly answered when the Indians won game 1. So after the Cubs win with game 2, we were off. We loaded the car on midday Friday and journeyed toward the Windy City. The town was electric. W flags adorned nearly every building and the lights of the skyscrapers were turned on in systematic fashion to form Cubs logos. We made it to the hotel just in time for Chris and Lew to squish in with thousands of other people on the redline L train to the Addison Street exit. They got to see the first World Series game played at Wrigley field since 1945. Sadly, they lost that game but the experience was historic nonetheless. The next night we watched game 4 as we played glow in the dark bowling with the kids, only to see them lose again.
Sunday, the sun rose and yet there was a grey cloud over our moods. We got dressed and walked 10 blocks to the Church of the Assumption for Mass. The Priest had a great homily about the story of Zacchaeus. Chris grinned as I could tell he was recalling the childrens hymn in his mind “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he…” After Mass, we walked towards a favorite brunch destination and we started to discuss the schedule for the day ahead, leading up to Chris and Charlie’s trip to Wrigley that evening for game 5. “They have to win tonight,” I said. And Chris replied, with all seriousness, “It’s gonna be o.k. God spoke to me at Mass.” Stop here for a second. My husband is a very faith-filled man, but its a very personal thing for him. He’s fairly quiet about it. He lives it – he doesn’t talk about it. So for him to say God spoke to him – I was all ears. “Well, what did he say?,” I exclaimed. In a voice like he had just been given the winning lotto numbers he said; “He told me – ‘Of course the Cubs are going to win this way. Of course it’s going to be a struggle. They are the Cubs.’ ”
As you all know, the Cubs won game 5 in epic fashion. Lew and I high-fived and made silent screams of delight in our hotel room as Ellie slept. Charlie and Chris were in the bleachers at Wrigley, surrounded by many fans who had taken in as much Old Style as they had air that day. The Cubs were still in it and thanks to Emily and Dayton, they had been there to see it.
(are you still with me?)
Game 6 fell on All Saints Day. Prior to the game I headed to Mass for this Holy Day of Obligation. In the Catholic Church it’s the day we honor the Saints who have passed before us. You might be thinking, “What is a Saint anyway, Katherine?” – Well, I’m no theologian, but to be recognized as a Saint in the Catholic Church is a very involved process. They don’t hand out this badge in the same manner you earn your woodsman patch in Cub Scouts for braving an overnight camping trip. There are many, many, many criteria that a true Saint must have; but one of the most significant is they have to have miracles attributed to them.
Game 7, fell on my dear friend and devoted Cub fan’s birthday. It also happened to be All Souls Day; the day we pray for and remember all the souls of those who have died. Souls like Harry Caray, Ronnie Santo, Chris’ Grandfathers and thousands of other Cub fans who had their stories retold in the days leading up to this moment. As we were in the midst of preparing dinner, readying for the game, the skies opened and a major storm blew in – Tornado sirens blaring – it was as if the souls of all the Cubs fans gone before us were readying the heavens for this event. And as quickly as it was upon us – it departed just in time for the first pitch.
The world knows how crazy this game was. It had nearly everything happen that could possibly happen – stolen bases, errors, rain delays and extra innings. Cubs fans across the nation stayed up late, holding their breath, riding the waves of highs and lows. Throughout the entire game, Chris’ words kept echoing in my mind – “‘Of course the Cubs are going to win this way. Of course it’s going to be a struggle. They are the Cubs.’ ” And I liken how I felt through this whirlwind of a game to how you feel when you are watching a suspense film that you have already seen. You know whats coming and yet you still scream at the scary parts. I kept repeating – “they are going to win. Don’t worry – they are going to win.” And it wasn’t a hope or even a prayer – it was a fact that I knew in the core of me. And as Kris Bryant threw that ball to first base for the final out, Illinois and many parts of the nation exploded with joy. Today, the Cubs rode through Chicago for their victory parade and attracted 5 million people, the 7th largest gathering of humanity of all time.
They define a miracle as a discernible, divine act in the world, outside, above, or beyond the natural order of things – that inevitably calls people to faith. Baseball is full of great stories of fathers and sons, die hard fans that pass that love onto their kids, dreams coming true with first pitches, national anthems and caught fly balls. This miracle is not just about the Cubs. They just are the straw that broke the camels back – showing generations, at a time we need it most in this country, that having faith for hundreds of years can result in miraculous events.
As I reflect on it all – I can’t believe how many little things led to that one big moment. It’s like God is handing me a big card that says “Here’s your sign.” And I’m ok if you think I’m crazy. But I choose not to think life is full of a series of unrelated coincidences. You don’t have to believe – but in the words of Harry Caray – Holy Cow.