For Cubs, a love affair still


October 17, 2003|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

CHICAGO - Somewhere, a child awoke yesterday on a dry pillow in a world of light and love and laughter. Somewhere, an old man smiled, warmed by one more October glow to carry him into the winter and beyond.

Somewhere, baseball rewards rather than punishes. Somewhere, just not here.

Here, you keep stepping on that same rug no matter how often it's pulled out from under you. Here, you have said "next year" so many times, you might as well save time and say, "next century." Here, bad things happen to good fans.

"We've almost perfected choking to an art form," says Dan Deuel, who as a Cubs fan and manager of cultural programs for a Chicago suburb knows something about both.

Deuel, 44, and his boyhood pal Kevin Anderson, 43, should have been re-enacting one of those dreamy Mastercard commercials that end with, "Priceless." Anderson, an actor who now lives in Los Angeles, came home this week for Games 6 and 7, Chicago's best chance in decades to finally win the National League pennant.

Anderson ignored the calls that kept coming from his current gig, the new Fox TV series Skin, telling him they really needed his character in the studio, now.

In Los Angeles, where fans leave in the sixth inning to beat the traffic, they don't get it. They don't get how a team can totally, as Anderson puts it, inhabit your psyche - even, or maybe particularly, a team that breaks your heart over and over again.

But Chicagoans know. And so even as Fox was airing seemingly endless commercials for Skin in which Ron Silver rages to his lovesick son, "Her father is the district attorney!" the actor playing that dreadful dad was at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

For him and so many others in the stands, this was a chance to right all the historic wrongs that blot a Cub fan's personal resume: 1969? That would be the Cubs who were in first place for 155 straight games only to collapse and lose to the Mets. 1984? That would be the Cubs who, after winning the first two games of the National League playoffs, lost the next three.

Sound familiar?

During Game 6, Anderson started feeling spooked. "Something weird happened. A cloud moved in," he said. "It was palpable."

There is, of course, no need to further pick at this scab. The twin nightmares of Games 6 and 7 are now and forever part of the city's collective memory. The fan who got in the way of the foul ball on Tuesday, and the subsequent eight-run eighth inning. The inevitability of Wednesday's whimper-instead-of-a-bang ending. The addition of another year to the unenviable records: 58 years without a World Series appearance; 95 years without a World Series victory.

If a city can be in shock without being surprised, it's Chicago. To lose again pains, but in a familiar way.

"When the Cubs do poorly, it's what we expect," says Peter Alter, a curator with the Chicago Historical Society. "It's like a cold winter or a wet spring."

And yet, the city has stuck with its team over the years, much longer and more patiently than other cities might put up with such losing ways. The term "New York minute" comes to mind when imagining the Cubs transplanted there.

While the devotion may seem unrequited, at least in World Series rings, it really isn't.

Ferguson Jenkins, the ace Cubs pitcher of the 1960s and '70s, was among the thousands at Wrigley Field for Game 7. He left early, not because of any feelings of impending doom, but because he wanted to make sure he got to Bernie's, a bar across from the park, to say hello to some old friends there before the post-game rush.

Imagine Cal Ripken walking across the street from Camden Yards to Pickles Pub. But that's what it's like in Chicago when it comes to the Cubs.

"It's a great city. People remember you for what you did," says Jenkins, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991. "They don't forget you if you were a good player."

As he strolls in his trademark white cowboy hat across Clark Street, people approach to chat and he stops. Someone asks after Ron, no last name needed. That would be Santo, a Jenkins teammate and now radio analyst whose medical problems have consumed players and fans during this season in which they retired his number.

The regret that Cubs greats like Jenkins never got to the World Series hung in the air this season like a ghost that could be exorcised only by going all the way. "Do it for Ron," signs in the stands urged this season, but they could have substituted any number of names from Ernie to Ryne.

"I just attached myself as a kid to the players," said Marc Romanz, 40, an insurance company executive. "You just fall in love with the Cubs."

He wore his lucky Northwestern University Rose Bowl sweat shirt to the park, thinking that one local team's similarly improbable rise to glory would spark another. Superstitions, voodoo, invocations to the gods - surely only the otherworldly could reverse the Cubs' fate.

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