Inspiration in a time of need

Sport is less important than politics. But it is better.

Politicians have never taught me patience or faith or true belief in the face of a lifetime’s worth of evidence that believing is madness. Sports did. More specifically, baseball did. Those who know me know I am a lifelong, diehard Chicago Cubs fan.

This year’s World Series was epic. Truly one for the ages. And from my admittedly biased vantage point, what the Cubs just did ranks among the single greatest accomplishments in the history of any sport. Right up there with the Miracle on Ice and Secretariat’s still-unparalleled record-smashing run to the Triple Crown and Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics with Hitler watching.

This year’s Cubs not only broke a 108-year championship drought by winning the 2016 Fall Classic. They won it all with a target the size of Donald Trump’s ego on their backs. Before the first stretching exercise or the first warm-up pitch in spring training, the nation’s sports writers, TV commentators and baseball analysts made the Cubs the odds-on favorite to win the World Series. These Cubs had to deal with the added pressure that comes with having nearly everyone saying that anything short of a title would be underachievement.

And that’s not the only burden they were carrying. They had a monkey the size of King Kong on their backs. Winning a World Series is hard under any circumstances. But proving you can run and throw and catch and hit better than any other team in Major League Baseball is impossibly difficult while carrying a billy goat, a black cat, Steve Bartman and the torment of millions of fans on your shoulders.

The Cubs just did the impossible. And to do it, they had to dig out of a three games to one hole, twice winning elimination games with their backs to the wall to force a deciding Game 7. And then they had to overcome the trauma of blowing a commanding 5-1 lead in that do-or-die situation. They had to go to extra innings, with the score knotted at 6-6 and with the momentum swung decisively in favor of the relentless Cleveland Indians.

What happened next seemed to me to be nothing short of heavenly intervention. It rained. It was as if Harry Caray and Ernie Banks and multitudes of departed Cubs fans like my dad and mom and sister Linda and brother Dan decided these Cubs were carrying too heavy a burden and needed a moment to gather themselves. The rains came down. The game was stopped for something like 17 minutes. It was as if Cubs fans from the great beyond were telling all these Cubs what grizzled catcher David Ross told his younger teammate, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, when earlier in the game Rizzo admitted to being an “emotional wreck.” With the tarp briefly covering the field, the whole team was given a chance to “just continue to breathe.”

The Cubs immediately struck in the top of the 10th, scoring twice to take a two-run lead. Of course it wasn’t going to end like that. Of course the Indians would fight back to draw to within a run in the bottom of the 10th. Of course the tying run was going to be on base and the winning run at the plate when the last out was finally made. This was not going to be easy. And then did you see what I saw? A smile crossed third baseman Kris Bryant’s face before he fielded the grounder and made the throw across the diamond to Rizzo at first base to make history. The kind of smile that comes when a great burden is lifted.

They did it. They won it all. My pulse is just now returning to normal.

In times of need, inspiration comes to us from unexpected sources. It’s hard to imagine a more unexpected source than those lovable losers on Chicago’s north side. But inspire us they did. They showed us faith is rewarded.

I needed that. I think we all did.

Mike McCabe