IF IT takes forever . . . "
That snippet from a song written long before my time caught my attention, as my hopes for one elusive winning season sailed out of the park. The afternoon was warm, sunny -- utterly dismal. The Cubs' eleventh-hour rally failed to yield a victory over the Giants.
As I glanced at the television for a final peek at Ryne Sandberg, I noticed a woman with those lyrics emblazoned across her T-shirt. In that instant, the meaning of Cub fanaticism hit me like a face full of foul tips. And for the first time I understood my father's dauntless loyalty.
My father spent the bulk of his life surrounded by women. He grew up with a sister, married a woman and proceeded to raise four girls. This very same man spent all of his life devoted to the Chicago Cubs, the luckless National League baseball team that hasn't won a World Series in over 80 years. My father is 63. Please do the math.
Although my dad loved baseball, he had no one with whom to revel in it, no brothers to play catch with, no sons to teach the finer points of the game. He needed a baseball buddy, and I needed something that I alone could share with him. At the age of 3, I discovered the Cubs.
One of my earliest memories, more a glimmer than a full-blown tableaux, was of watching television with the big guy. I remember sitting beside him in the cramped family room of our old house, struggling to grasp the rules of a game I didn't yet understand, but grateful for my dad's patient attention. Swirling images of blue caps, rabbit ears jutting from an ancient black and white and a yard of arm draped around my shoulder remain with me still.
I remember the time my dad and my Uncle Howard took us to a Cub game on the occasion of Fergie Jenkins' 20th win. Fans in Chicago need only the flimsiest excuses to dodge work and storm Wrigley. Where one finds sell-out crowds, one invariably finds scalpers. Before my uncle could plunk a few bills into the hands of one of these unsavory characters, my father shuttled us away from the gate.
"These creeps ruin it for everybody!" he spat, as my cousins, sisters and I protested. I couldn't fathom why a man would pass up the chance to watch his favorite team in a classic ballpark, but for my dad, scalpers violated the sanctity of baseball. If he couldn't buy an honest ticket, he didn't want to go to the game.
I got older and we moved east, but I continued to join my father in front of the television. Life for the displaced Cub fan got much easier. With the advent of cable television, we could watch our team on TBS when they played the Braves and occasionally on ESPN.
We also discovered that Vet Stadium in Philadelphia was just 90 miles to the north, so the occasional road trip replaced television. My father designed communication systems for AT&T, while I carved my niche as a college-educated Cockeysville bartender, and sometimes we didn't get along so well. Despite our differences, we usually reconciled when Rick Sutcliffe managed a couple of scoreless innings.
In the fall of 1984, my father unofficially passed the baton to me, when the Cubs lost a heartbreaking play-off series to the San Diego Padres. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek editorial in a local weekly, a tribute to the fierce and unshakable loyalty of Cub fans. Despite my father's disappointment about the series, he took great pride in my article. To this day, it holds a place of honor on his desk, preserved for posterity in a gold frame.
Over the years, my father taught me many lessons, and Cub fanaticism may seem a bit trivial. Through his devotion to a losing team, however, my dad instilled in me a few truly significant values. He taught me to support what I love, even if it doesn't always meet my expectations. He taught me patience. After all, the lyrics from that song epitomize the fate of true Cub fans:
If it takes forever, I will wait for you,
For a thousand summers, I will wait for you.
A thousand? I'm good for at least another 80!
Susan M. Gerber writes from Edgewood. After beating division-leading Pittsburgh Tuesday, the Cubs were 4 1/2 games out and poised to break their fans' hearts again.