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Looking at my driver's license at the car rental agency at the Ontario, California airport last Wednesday, the attendant quickly noted that I'm a Chicagoan. "You have to be really excited about the Cubs," she said.
I didn't lie. "Actually I'm a White Sox fan, but I'm very happy for my friends who are Cub fans," I said.
Never having a soft spot for the Cubbies, I still was appreciative - and, yes, a bit envious - of my close friends who have lived and died (thankfully not literally) with their favorite baseball team. When I called one of them at midnight Wednesday to offer congratulations, no one picked up the phone. Was it too much for him? Did his 74-year-old heart fail to withstand the pressure of the 10-inning deciding game?
No, I found out the next morning. He was on the roof of his building watching the fireworks from some unknown place and listening to sirens going off. How beautiful!
My brother-in-law, who at age 12 or 13 was a Cub batboy, texted, "Listening on the radio to Cubs fans expressing their relief and utter joy, I totally bonded with strangers. What an emotional catharsis. I know you experienced that in 2005."
Well, not exactly, because in total candor, there has never been anything quite like this. Sure, I was overjoyed and euphoric 11 years ago when the White Sox surprised everyone, including themselves, by winning 11 of 12 post-season games to become the kings of baseball. We celebrated with spouses and sons at Miller's Pub where the Gallioses gave us bottles of Champagne on the house.
Two days later, in one of the more uncomfortable moments of my life, I was pushed, jostled and confined by a delirious crowd estimated at 1.75 million at LaSalle and Wacker. But this was different. Not Obama, the Pope, the Bulls, Bears, or Blackhawks - let alone the White Sox - ever experienced the level of love, adoration and worship that this band of athletes generated by winning a bunch of baseball games.
If the estimates are even close, the people lining the streets Friday from 3600 North to Grant Park were nearly twice as many as the total population of our city. Metra had its biggest day ever. My younger son who recently moved to Deerfield said he stood all the way home on his commuter train. Thankfully his Red Line experience served him well.
I watched every minute on television. (MLB TV got the live feed from WGN.) It was all rather believable until the shot looking south on Michigan Avenue from Randolph. Hordes as far as the eye could see. This clearly was not 2005.
"You have to be happy for the city," my sister told me. "It's great for Chicago."
I've thought about that. As mentioned, I feel nothing but warm, fuzzy thoughts for my Cub fan friends.
But for the city as a whole, I know a few things. Now that the 108-year drought is over, along with the stories about how Grandpa would have realized a lifelong dream if only he had lived long enough, and hearing how Ernie, Ronnie and Harry were watching somewhere and celebrating, I still am absolutely certain that the Cubs winning the World Series will have no effect on much about our life in the city. The potholes will still be deep next March. Chicago's budget problems won't go away. The homicide rate will continue to spike. Police will still lack trust in many communities. My property taxes won't be lowered. The Cubs' success doesn't make Rahm any more likable.
That being said, the October mania meant that cash flowed into the city where none flowed before. Cub fans from out of town stayed at our hotels, ate at our restaurants and drank at the city's bars. Establishments in Wrigleyville squeezed as much as possible out of the craziness by charging hundreds of dollars just to walk in the door. Forget about having tickets to the games; just being in the vicinity and mixing with the crowd fed the thirst of shedding the "Lovable Losers" label.
I thought about vendors at Wrigley who have been there for decades. I used to be one of them. Eight post-season dates meant another grand or two for them, and they deserve every penny. Before night baseball on the North Side, many of those same guys showed up every blazing hot summer day, walking empty aisles hawking beer, pop and hot dogs.
While this glorious happening might not make a dent in our urban challenges, the exhilaration, exuberance and overt happiness surely must make an impact in the lives of many of our citizens. Lest we forget, this is entertainment, and it doesn't get any better for people - millions of them - who love the Cubs. No movie, concert, symphony, opera, play or museum can top this. All those provide pleasure and enjoyment and contribute greatly to our culture. But years from now so many people can say they were there when the Cubs won the World Series. It will be a badge of honor to be passed down to future generations.
And it will never be quite the same.
Don't misunderstand. With young players like Bryant, Rizzo, Russell, Schwarber, Contreras, Hendricks, Baez and Almora, the team is poised to contend long into the future. But the first one - the championship that broke the fictitious curse that followed the franchise - can never be matched.
Now the expectations have changed. If the team doesn't win, then what? If Rondon or Grimm or Strop blow a late-inning lead, will boos rain down from the grandstand? If Maddon mismanages like he did the last two games of the World Series, will his unique approach come into question? My guess is that this team will fly another championship flag or two in the future, but it will also fall short more often than not.
When the White Sox won 11 years ago, I vowed that it was enough. I could die a happy man. Dare I say my outlook has changed. Chances are the future will be different for my friends who love the Cubs.
Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox. He welcomes your comments.
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