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In Chicago, the final wait for a Cubs win mixes joy and sorrow

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Epstein's legacy now cemented in history (1:39)

After ending the two most storied championship droughts in sports, Theo Epstein's legacy is forever cemented even if a legacy is the last thing he was chasing. (1:39)

CHICAGO -- CUBS FANS awoke Wednesday to one last wait, with little to do before Game 7 but think, about themselves and their families, about the people who've come and gone during these 108 years of failure. Hundreds found themselves drawn to Wrigley Field, where workers were already breaking down the concessions and cleaning out the freezers. Some people said they didn't even mean to come. They started off on a trip to the store and ended up standing in front of the stadium's long brick wall facing Waveland Avenue. Many wrote chalk notes to the dead. Some dedicated messages. This one's for you, Dad. Others wrote names. Dan Bird. Ben Bird. Eugene Hendershott. A man with a bright smile but melancholy eyes wrote the name of his late wife, Andrea Monhollen. They met four blocks from here, on Racine. She's been gone six years.

"Cancer," John Motiejunas said.

He looked around at the names, each one as special to some stranger as his wife's name is to him. All these chalk ghosts longed to see a day like this one. Each name represented an unfulfilled dream. The big bright murals made the wall seem fun and festive from afar, but a closer look revealed life stripped of romanticism. "A lot of people waited their whole lives," Motiejunas said. He took a picture of the wall and then left, walking through the light rain that had begun to fall.

A little boy named Conley, not yet 3 years old, carried two big pieces of chalk while his grandmother, Maggie O'Connor, worked to keep him out of the street. The kid drew wherever he wanted, bouncing around. His grandma looked at him, without the baggage of the past century, and she laughed.

"He'll get used to them winning," she said. Conley wrote "Go Cubs Go," in the uncertain script of a toddler, then stopped strangers on the sidewalk to tell them about it. He asked one of them to draw with him and after some squiggles, he stood back to admire his work.

"A seahorse!" he said.


I DIDN'T KNOW exactly what to do while waiting on the final game of the World Series, so I woke up early on Wednesday and went to church. The priest at the cavernous, ornate Holy Name Cathedral didn't mention the Cubs during the homily, but his talk about suffering and faith resonated with those who came to celebrate All Souls' Day. Yes, Game 7 was played on the same day as the annual Catholic holiday to remember and celebrate the dead, and pray for their safe passage from purgatory into heaven. You can't make this stuff up.

The hyper-focus of camera lenses will make the last 24 hours in Chicago seem like one big explosion of joy, but that's not really true. The whole exercise has produced its own extremes. On one hand, people have been going wild, with Eddie Vedder and Bill Murray closing down one of those 5 a.m. dive bars on Division Street -- closing it down together -- and fans lighting off cherry bombs near Wrigley. Yet there's also this palpable sadness. Nobody could really be sure how'd they'd feel when it all ended, whether they'd be full of joy, or grief, or both.

The question felt personal to me. My wife's grandfather, a decorated World War II veteran, who survived being named Bob Weinberg in a German prisoner of war camp, died in May. He grew up in Chicago and loved the Cubs, and as the season went on, my wife and I talked about how cruel it seemed for a man to live for 94 years, survive his bomber being shot down and being held captive, only to die five months before the World Series he longed to see. With him in mind, I reached out to a half-dozen area hospitals and to the team itself, looking for fans who were hanging on, hoping to find someone who might beat Bob's odds. The Cubs connected me with a woman named Ginny Iversen. She listened to the games on the radio religiously, even at 93, and loved to tell people she shared a birthday with Andre Dawson.

She never really grew up, wearing a tiara and feather boa to her 90th birthday, and trying to do one of those college girl no-hands shots on her 92nd birthday -- her kids loved to pull out photos of her with an entire shot glass in her mouth. Somewhat recently, an equally old male suitor gave her a diamond ring, which he then forgot about, which of course led to him buying her a second ring. She seemed hilarious to me, but her family didn't think she was up for a stranger to visit. I disengaged and didn't think about her much until yesterday.

At the Wrigley Field memorial wall, I saw a woman writing on the metal gates to the bleachers themselves, across the street from Murphy's. Mary Beth Talhami (I'd learn her name later) finished her message and stood back to admire it: "Mom, thank you for teaching us to believe in ourselves, love and the Cubs. Enjoy your view from the ultimate skybox."

I took a picture of her, close enough to overhear her conversation with another stranger to her left. Mary Beth talked about her mom and how ESPN had contacted the family. The dots connected in my head. The hair stood up on my arm.

"That was me," I said.

She told me her mother was Ginny Iversen and then, starting to shake and cry, she told me the news. Her mom died between Games 2 and 3.


TWENTY MILES NORTHWEST, cars parked in groups along the winding paths of the All-Saints Cemetery. An hour remained until the 5 p.m. closing time. It's a Catholic burial ground, out in the middle-class suburbs, and there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of Cubs flags and hats and license plates and signs. It's one of many places around Chicago this past week where the conflicting ideas of joy and pain leave the realm of the psychological and become attached to action. People come here for many reasons, to say a little prayer, or talk to someone, to themselves, or to believe that their loved one knows what is happening tonight. Last Friday, an old man in a Cubs jacket stood over a grave and left a pennant and a Cubs pumpkin. Yesterday, a middle-aged woman named Maureen stood for the longest time at a grave not far away. A sign said "Believe." Maureen touched her hand to the Cubs logo on her chest and smiled, looking back at the ground.

"My son," she said.

Then she pointed across the rolling hill to the most famous grave in the cemetery, which is where she was headed next, to pay respects to Harry Caray before going to watch the game. His stone has green apples on top, an inside joke referencing a quote about the Cubs one day making it to a World Series just as surely as God made green apples.

A man stood at the grave, unloading five more crates of apples, arranging them in a half-moon. One of the cemetery custodians, named Don, helped him. Some women, there to visit other graves in the area, did too. I walked up, and Don grinned at me and introduced his friend, Coley Newell, who happened to be Harry Caray's son-in-law. They had some times. The night the Bulls first won a title, he and Harry watched the game at Gibsons Steakhouse. Harry pulled him down to Division Street, lined with bars, and the crowd went berserk and mobbed them. Cops had to pull Harry up on horseback to ride him to safety. "He was the best father-in-law ever," Newell said. "He got me in more friggin' trouble."

Newell pointed at a spot he'd cleared among the apples.

"This is where the radio is going."

One of the women did a double-take.

"You're gonna broadcast the game?" she asked.

Newell nodded. He pulled out and switched on the radio -- tuned to the local broadcast so Harry "wouldn't have to listen to Joe Buck" -- and covered it with a plastic carton. He snaked the antennae through a hole he'd cut, then covered it with duct tape to keep out the rain.

"There's the real mojo," Don said.

"Yes, it is," Newell said.

He's done this before every World Series game, turned on the radio and let it play once the place closed. With the pregame show already started, he listened to the announcers debate Corey Kluber and the Cubs' ability to hit him.

Newell kneeled down and said a prayer.

Then he drove back toward the city to watch the game. The custodians locked the fence by the road, and near the back of the cemetery, a radio at the foot of Harry Caray's grave played the national anthem and the lineups and the first pitch.

Nobody but the dead were around to hear.


MARY BETH TALHAMI got to her local bar just as the game began. They love her at a place called Wildwood Tavern, in the suburb of Niles, and the owners saved a barstool for her. Her friends hugged her and told her that her mother was up there helping the Cubs tonight. It's been six days since Ginny Iversen died, taking her last breath wrapped in a Cubs blanket she loved. The baseball has kept Mary Beth distracted; she hasn't even bought a dress for the funeral. People from the neighborhood filled the bar, which served steaks and cold beers, and when the Cubs got their first out of the game, Mary Beth grinned.

"Twenty-six to go," she said.

The Cubs looked dominant, a repeat of the Game 6 performance, and for the first time, she allowed herself to feel confident and to consider a life after this season. When the Cubs took a 4-1 lead, her lip began to quiver. A friend hugged her and she started to cry, sitting in this bar, wearing her mom's Cubs jacket, waving a plastic Cubs flag that had been in her mom's room, drying her eyes with a Cubs rally towel someone brought her mom the week before she died. Mary Beth stood up and walked outside. A friend named Sarah watched her leave, concerned. Some of Mary Beth's friends worry that a reckoning is coming soon, and that the end of this season, win or lose, might knock her off course.

"It's happening," Sarah said.

Mary Beth returned and still struggled to keep away the tears.

"It's real," she said. "I think her dying is finally setting in."

Mostly, she wanted to see some sign that her mother's presence wasn't gone forever. Two hours after Ginny died last week, Mary Beth sent out a text message to the select people who needed to know: "The bad news is my mom passed away. The good news is there is another angel in the outfield." When she met me randomly, that was a sign too, and after we left the chalk wall at Wrigley, she sat in her car and sobbed, then ran into Murphy's Bleachers to do a shot of Jameson for her mom. She and her friends all carry these desires; the owner of the place, Ellie, had started finding dimes everywhere after her dad died. Each of those dimes is a message. Today, Mary Beth saw a rainbow and said out loud to her mom, "Can't you leave me alone already?" So the Cubs performance had become tightly wound together with all sorts of deeper and more personal questions, which raised the stakes for her.

The score stood at 6-3 in the eighth inning.

"Four outs," she said, holding her mom's towel to her face, which was too new to be laced with the light orange scent of Ginny's favorite perfume, Emeraude. She looked down to make eye contact with the bartender, so he could pour victory shots.

"Get ready," she said.

"Now?" he asked.

"No!" she said. "No bad mojo."

The Indians scored, and then hit a two-run homer, tying the game. She pulled the towel up over her eyes and said, over and over, "Oh my f---ing God."

Her niece texted her.

"I'm shaking."

"Keep the faith, baby," Mary Beth responded.

"I wish I was with you," Elly wrote.

"You are, sweetie."

The game went into the rain delay, then the 10th inning, and she stood up and leaned toward the screen. She wondered if her mom was pulling a prank on her.

Then it happened.

The Cubs scored two runs, then got the final three outs, and the bar around Mary Beth got loud. People jumped up, and the young people to her right hugged and danced and high-fived. Others pounded on the bar, and the stereo blared "Go Cubs Go!" Mary Beth remained quiet, holding her victory shot. She raised her glass and tipped it toward the ceiling, toasted her mom, but then the sobs hit so hard, her shoulders shaking violently, that she couldn't drink. Until faced with it, she'd never known how she'd react to the Cubs winning a World Series. Turns out, she thought about her mom. The glass stayed in her hand for 30 seconds or more, until she finally steadied herself and knocked it back. Then she put her head in her hands and began to cry. That night, she fell asleep wrapped in her mom's Cubs blanket, the one Ginny wore the night she died.


THE TOWN WENT nuts. Cars sped down the freeway, waving flags out of windows, weaving through traffic. Huge crowds gathered on Michigan Avenue, and every horn seemed to honk at once. Cops blocked the exits near the stadium. Wrigleyville turned into a loony bin, with one person collapsing to their knees to weep, while others set off fireworks. Near downtown, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune rolled off the presses, packed into bundles and fork-lifted into waiting trucks. The truck drivers hung out in their ready room for assignments. Many wore Cubs gear, and they all talked about the game.

Truck 376 rumbled out of the loading bay, Al Mocchi behind the wheel. A big guy, a union guy, he looked both friendly and like he could handle himself, in that typical Chicago way. He's driven a newspaper truck for more than 30 years. His father did it for more than 30 too. It was about 2:45 a.m. Tonight at some spots, he said, they'd deliver about 25 times the number of Tribunes and maybe eight times the number of Sun-Times, both papers going out together. At the first stop, a fan bought a copy, right off the truck, then held it up in the air like the Gospel, carrying it to his friends.

"It's gonna be one of those extraordinary evenings," Mocchi said.

He and his two-person team stocked convenience stores and honor boxes. Along the river, a couple walked home, the man carrying a box.

"This guy's got a pizza and a girlfriend!" Mocchi said. "What else do you need?"

A man in a white van cut them off to buy two copies of each paper right from the truck. Other people pointed when they drove by, some people understanding that the passing newspaper delivery meant that the next day had in fact arrived, and the sun would be coming up in a few hours, and that the headlines proved none of it had been a dream. The no-curse world had begun. Mocchi made a loop through the quiet city, except for the random stray stumbling Cubs fan. At one stop, Mocchi checked Facebook. All the posts were about the Cubs or Harry Caray, whose grave still had a radio playing at it 20 miles to the northwest.

"If he could be here to see this," said Shawn Brown, riding shotgun.

"You never know," Mocchi said. "He might be."

He left the truck idling outside a 7-Eleven, while he and his team lugged in bundles. A couple at the counter was paying for Gatorade and Bagel Bites when the woman saw the papers.

"Wait!" Grace Kingston said. "I WANT ALL OF THOSE!"

She settled on five copies of the Tribune -- the A1 headline read "At Last" -- and carried her proof home with the electrolytes and carbs, the three most essential food groups of a post-curse hangover. An hour later, a little after 4 a.m., the drivers dropped me off at my hotel, 20 hours after the previous morning's Mass. After saying goodbye, I sat down to read the paper, first the celebratory front page story about the Cubs, then working my way through the rest. At the back of the business section, I found 39 death notices, people who almost made it. One was for Mary Beth's mom, Virginia Iversen, page six, column two. At the bottom it read: Memorial contributions may be made to Chicago Cubs Charities.

The address listed is for Wrigley Field.