It's poetic justice that Aroldis Chapman didn't facilitate the Cubs' final moment of glory
They did it. The Chicago Cubs -- my Chicago Cubs -- won the World Series. And, of course, they did it in the most Cubs way possible, prompting one last heart attack before finally giving us all a story for the ages.
I've imagined this night so many times and never could've pictured the roller coaster of emotions that was this Game 7. The leadoff homer from Dexter Fowler, the solo shot from David Ross in his final career game, Jon Lester in relief, the blown lead, the two-run 10th inning and the final out. It was the best game of any kind I've ever been to in my life -- and would have been even if the Cubs hadn't won.
It almost feels silly to care so much about a World Series win -- someone wins every single year, after all. And yet for the last century, the Cubs have defied the odds in the worst possible way, managing to avoid the winner's circle for 108 years. And now that they're finally on top, the moment will be fleeting. Like every team that came before them, the Cubs will get just one victory lap around the sun before they'll have to win it all again or pass the mantle. No matter, that year will forever feel like a lifetime to Cubs fans.
Wednesday night's ups and downs may have shaved a few years off my life, but the end result was magical. Out in the field for that final out were a handful of guys that made my heart burst with pride. Guys that I'd wished to be the ones to break the streak, to live forever as heroes in Chicago. And in the dugout, the late arrival whose presence always takes my mind out of the game and into the concerns of the real world. Closer Aroldis Chapman, he of the powerful arm and flaming fastballs.
When Chapman reported to the Yankees at the end of his 30-game suspension, he showed no contrition and took no accountability for the domestic violence incident that sidelined him for the start the season. And when he arrived in Chicago after being traded to the Cubs, he shrugged off a question about what would be expected of him off the field, saying he was sleepy when he spoke to team owner Tom Ricketts and couldn't remember what was discussed. He also dismissed any suggestion that he might work with domestic violence groups to speak out on the issue. His camp said the disastrous opening media session was the result of a translating error, but the message seemed to be the same one he'd sent in New York -- I'm done talking about this.
Chapman has been a tremendous asset to the Cubs, particularly when called upon to pitch multiple innings to close out tight postseason games. And by all accounts, he's been a fine teammate and has stayed out of trouble off the field. One can hope that he's gotten to the root of his issues and is actively working to end the cycle of the violence, but hope is all we have. He's made no effort to speak out against domestic violence and, as of August 27, had attended just one counseling session. If second chances are to be given in professional sports, fans deserve more transparency.
I have to admit that those final innings were some of the most stressful, agonizing moments of my life, but with the benefit of hindsight I'm grateful that Chapman blew the lead. Because of his failings, the lasting image of my team's first World Series win in over a century was not of Chapman on the mound celebrating a save. Instead of Chapman in the big pile-up, it was Mike Montgomery, who got one out to record his first career save and clinch it for the Cubs.
That might sound petty, but as someone who felt conflicted about Chapman's role on the team since his arrival, there was a sort of poetic justice to him doing nothing to facilitate the Cubs' final moment of glory -- even if he was technically credited with the win. He's almost certainly off to another team in the offseason and a new fanbase will have to decide whether he's made efforts to change or not, whether they will cheer for him or stay silent.
I'm grateful that the stars aligned to let me be alive in this moment, old enough to understand this grand adventure, to appreciate it and not take a bit of it for granted. Grateful for the 103 times we got to sing "Go Cubs Go" at the end of regular-season wins and grateful for the 11 postseason versions, each sung with added fervor. Grateful for the summer days spent watching a winning team at Wrigley Field, baking in the sun, cracking peanuts and talking about life -- the mundane and the meaningful. And for the fall nights at the park, counting down the wins until the champagne sprayed for a Division title and a playoff berth.
Grateful to see October magic return to the Friendly Confines -- her brick sides covered in chalk, messages of support and memories of loved ones come and gone. To see the green of the ivy begin to turn red and the autumn sun dip down into the grandstands, leaving a splash of orange sky in its wake. Grateful to have been right in the middle of the madness, on the field, in the stands, with the crowds and on the road.
All of us in the ballpark and watching at home are forever linked by this one moment in time, the moment that a lifetime of faithful devotion was finally validated. After 108 years, we finally get to retire the old saying, "There's Always Next Year." This is the year.