Permit me, if you will, a bit of personal indulgence as we await tonight's season opener. (You'll recognize the title of this post as the opening lines from Steve Goodman's anthemic "Go Cubs Go".)
I date my baseball and Cubs fandom to the first game my dad took me to on July 6, 1963 -- from that date, I followed the Cubs avidly on TV, went to the park when I could, and eventually wound up spending much of my summers there.
As a 12-year-old I experienced the hope and crushing disappointment of the 1969 season. For those of you who were around that age when one of the other Cub failures of the last several decades occurred, you know how that feels. As a child you want to believe that the men playing baseball wearing the colors of your team are larger-than-life heroes and that they will eventually win and bring you the championship of which you, and they, dream... and when it comes down to defeats in the way the Cubs have suffered them, in 1969, 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007 and 2008 (not to mention near-misses of various types for qualifying for the postseason in years such as 1973, 1977, 1995, 2001 and 2004), each one of us, as do I, have personal stories of where we were, who we were with, what stages of our lives we were experiencing, when these happened. It's the sports equivalent of Pearl Harbor, JFK's assassination, 9-11. We remember because the event was important to us personally.
For the playoff losses of 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003 and 2007, I was in the ballpark when they happened -- the first two on the road, the last three in Wrigley (I didn't go to Los Angeles for the loss last year, partly because I could see it coming and partly for personal reasons, which I won't get into here). Each one felt different, each one felt bad (although I think most of us knew the 1998 team had no business in the playoffs, was lucky to even be there, and it was no shame to lose that third NLDS game to an artist like Greg Maddux).
Which one hurts most? The answer really is, "They all do", but the ones that sear into my consciousness the most are the losses in 1984, when the Cubs were within six outs (yes, they were) of a World Series, and 2003, when they came within five outs.
The gallows humorist in me says that means they should only need five more NLCS to make it. The self-deprecating humor of a Cubs fan: how would we make it without it?
Last October, this site erupted in passionate fury over the horrid NLDS loss (no, it doesn't even deserve a link) after the most incredible regular season in more than 70 years. After game three I couldn't write more than a couple of paragraphs of disgust, but I know we all shared those feelings, and for some it went so far as to have you say you were quitting the Cubs, burning your souvenir jerseys and caps, and becoming monks in Tibet (OK, I made up that last part).
Time does heal all wounds, so they say, and the hurt of October faded, with winter waning, and the sunshine of spring beaming down on fresh baseball fields, bringing the promise of a new year, the "Wait till next year" that never seems to come for us as Cubs fans. Yet we hope, we return, we always think that "this year" is going to be "the year". (Please, though, Ron Santo: don't say it this year. Just don't.)
And so Cubs baseball begins anew today, and at last, after a spring training that seemed to last decades, we have reached the most special day in any baseball fan's calendar: Opening Day. When every team's fans, even those who, in their hearts, know their team isn't going to be any good, can think, "Well, maybe..."
For the 2009 Cubs, we have more than that. Jim Hendry, stung by the playoff loss, has retooled the team in a way that virtually no 97-win team has ever been remade: seven players who were not in the organization at any time in 2008 will take the field tonight in Houston as part of the 25-man roster. Perceived problems were addressed; whether those solutions will actually work is something we will see stretched out over the next six months, 162 games, another summer of baseball, the reason we're all here, no matter how you arrived as a Cubs fan or to BCB, hope does "spring eternal", in the words of that old cliche.
And, we hope, for eleven victories after October 4, 2009. It's far past time. May this be the year to fulfill all our baseball dreams. Go Cubs. And play ball!