Oh, the drama. The unlikely turns of events. One surges ahead, the other catches up. When you think it can’t get any worse, or there’s nothing you haven’t see yet, something new comes up to steal your breath. Soon its down to the wire and the winner takes all.
I’m talking, of course, about the World Series.
In this great nation of ours, torn by rancor and discord during this election, what we needed was our national pastime to remind us that sometimes screaming and yelling can come in exultant forms. To prove that simple things can bring about joy. To find inspiration in dedication to an art. To allow imaginations to wander and memories to be relived and made.
For the last week and a half, Major League Baseball delivered.
The teams with the two current longest championship droughts in baseball faced off for the World Series. Multiple generations of fans for both teams had been born, lived, and died without seeing their team with a World Series Chaprionship. There are a handful of fans yet around who remembered the last Indians Championship in 1948; there were only a handful of fans who could remember the Cubs’ last World Series appearance in 1945, let alone their last Championship in 1908.
In the first two games of this series, the teams traded big blows with each other. The third game was a pitcher’s duel, a 1-0 ballgame. But by the end of game 4, when the Indians won their third game of the Series with a decisive victory at Wrigley Field I, like many others, figured this would go down as a typical Cubs postseason run.
Game 5 went down to the wire and Cubs managed a win at home – finally – before hitting the road back to Cleveland. Game 6 was all Cubs, all the way and suddenly the Series was tied going into Wednesday night’s Game 7.
Game 7 was a roller coaster in and of itself. Just when you thought the Cubs would wrap up the game nicely, the wheels came off. The Indians refused to let the visitors go victoriously into the night – and history books; no one was going to accuse them of not wanting this game more than the Cubs. The Indians kept chipping away at the lead until the Cubs’ star relief pitcher came in. Similar to the Cubs turning to their ace earlier in the game to relieve the starter, the new pitcher made some costly errors. In an at-bat that every kid who’s ever played baseball in their life has rehearsed over and over, the Indians’ Rajai Davis blasted a two-out, game-tying home run in the bottom of the 8th. After a rain delay to start the 10th inning, the Cubs put two more runs on the board, before the Indians fought back for one more. When the potential winning run came to the plate in the bottom of the 10th, you couldn’t help but think of the endless possibilities for how the Cubs may preserve the win or how the Indians may pull off one of the greatest come-from-behind victories in World Series history.
I’ve written before about my love for baseball, how I see it as analogous to the spiritual life. Its the great equalizer and every batter, every pitcher, is put to the test; one on one. In October, the stakes are much higher than they are in Spring Training but, every spring, every team starts out the season with the goal of being the last team standing in the World Series.
How each team fares is contingent upon the men who make up the team. Some overcame the obstacles in their way, like Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs who blew out his ACL and LCL in the second game of the season and managed to work his way back to stand in as the starting designated hitter in Game 1 of thed Series. Some got exposed as high-paid, big-name, but mediocre players simply fulfilling a role. Others poured it all out until they had nothing left to give, like both teams’ star relief pitchers Ardolis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Ben Zobrist came from a small town in Illinois, the son of a pastor and resigned to never play baseball again after his senior year of high school because no one felt he was worthy of recruiting to college ball and found himself the World Series MVP. Carl Edwards, Jr. rose from the obscurity of being a 48th round draft pick and a “player to be named later” in a trade to the Cubs three years ago to get two key outs in the bottom of the 10th inning. Mike Montgomery came to Chicago this summer by a little-noticed trade and was needed to get the last out of the last game for the Cubs to put an end to 108 years of infamy. Each man put to the test. Years of training, months of baseball, all boil down to minutes in the fall.
In the later stages of Game Seven, I was pacing back and forth. Caught up in the drama of two well-deserving teams fighting hard for the win. When Kris Bryant fired the ball to Anthony Rizzo to end the game and the Cubs finally brought to an end their 108-year-old “curse” I couldn’t help but think of my great grandmother who loved her Cubbies and never saw this day and how she always had hope that one day the Cubs would win the Series again. I was happy for college friends of mine who had been in touch throughout the Series and the game; who’d described getting goosebumps in the lead-up to the game; who were in tears with joy for their team finally having won – in their lifetimes. I thought of Indians fans who had to endure another World Series slipping through their fingers. Far from my mind was the thought of who of these friends, family and unknowns were voting for who or the latest scandal or accusation against some candidate.
In the late hours of that Wednesday evening, those who watched, listened or followed the game witnessed one of the single greatest baseball games in history. Yet this game had reminded that other things exist outside a polling booth – it reminded us of our common humanity. It’s possible to be both sad for and happy for people you’ve never met; it’s possible to take joy in their joy and feel grief in their sorrow.
History is not an inevitable arc of progress toward some glowing bright and better future; history is not some great golden age that needs to be restored. History is witnessed in moments when our hearts are moved to think beyond ourselves and our thoughts are lifted heavenward seeking to articulate words that can’t be said. Tears may be shed, chills may run down your spine.
On the night of Wednesday November 2, 2016 at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio, history was made and America was great.