Going to watch your team play a high-stakes road game is a major gamble. Yes, this is also true with big home games, but if you catch an L away, you’re not only out a sizable sum of money, but you’ve got no refuge as most of the fans around you are reveling on Cloud Nine. Compounding matters, and you can’t just go directly home and stew in your misery. You realize that, voluntarily, you’re stuck at the place on the planet you currently want to be least.
Cubs fans in Cleveland last night, despite taking the lead with the first at-bat of the game and never trailing, faced those harrowing prospects in the ninth and tenth innings where a single swing could decimate their fate. I won’t bore you to death rehashing the history or psychoanalyzing what that all means, but those were some profoundly tense moments for the 20,000 or so blue bleeders that pilgrimaged to Progressive Field. Was this about to be doomsday again?
When Michael Martinez hit a slow dribbler that was fielded by Kris Bryant and tossed to Anthony Rizzo for the final out of the World Series, the first reaction of the pair of Cubs fan in my small standing room only pen at the ballpark was not pure, unbridled joy. In a second or two that felt like several minutes relief was followed by a mental self-questioning about whether this was really real, recognizance that indeed it was, which then became the joy.
The scene at the stadium was remarkable throughout. I can’t speak for anybody else, but in my little section the camaraderie between Cubs and Indians fans was wonderful. Where Wrigley Field was impenetrable for all but the wealthiest or luckiest this past week, Progressive Field was attainable. It wasn’t like you could make it in there without any sacrifice, but as opposed to costing an arm and a leg on the secondary market you could get in the building for even Game 7 of the World Series by merely relinquishing one limb.
When I bought a standing room ticket that had a sight line, I thought I was in good shape. However, it turned out that a single-file, horizontal line of people had an unencumbered view, and those who did not arrive at the game early (more on that later) had to either watch between two heads, or lean across the wall that ran perpendicular to the standing line and contort your eyes just so. This was also a small price to pay.
My initial estimate was that it was about a 65/35 Indians-to-Cubs fan ratio in the stadium, but I kept noticing more big patches of blue, so I’m gonna say it was more like 60/40. The Indians fans were much louder. The Cubs fans were FAR more nervous. Indians fans were excited and hopeful and obviously wanted to win, but in those tense moments between action with literally immortality on the line for both teams they had a genuine serenity about them that I’ve never witnessed anything like.
It’s crazy to think about what proportion of that house money mentality is directly attributable to LeBron. Nevertheless, Cubs fans more than picked up the slack in the anxiety department. Three Blackhawks Stanley Cups, Michael Jordan, and the 1985 Bears have not sufficed. They were living and dying with every pitch. This was the type of game that ages the deeply invested in dog years.
I’ve written before about feeling a little bit like an impostor of a Cubs fan, despite living in Chicago for the last 7.5 years and frequently going to Wrigley. I’m not exclusively married to the team till death do us part, and I don’t have an equity stake in any of the suffering that made the payoff so special for its die hards. (For me, those feelings are reserved for the Badgers and Packers.)
That comparative detachment notwithstanding, it really would have put a damper on the moment for me if Aroldis Chapman got the final out. I know it’s delusionally idealistic to think we will approve of the characters in the laundry we’re invested in, that Chapman was not charged with a crime, and that he did his time for MLB, but there also hasn’t been a moment where he showed a level of contrition that would have made him someone you don’t feel guilty about embracing. Especially when the rest of the team is so likable. This was an ominous cloud hanging over the whole season for me, and I know I wasn’t alone there.
Consequently, and in the spirit of abiding by Positive Twitter, I would like to sincerely thank Joe Maddon for mismanaging Chapman’s innings in this series so badly that he was ineffective in Game 7. I’d also like to thank a well-timed rain delay. These served a dual purpose of making it so I attended an all-time classic, and could feel great about how it ended. It was having my cake and devouring it.
I really can’t emphasize enough how gracious all of the Indians fans were in defeat. Even in the lead-up, they were saying things like, “If we do lose I’m so glad it will be to this team.” The lack of anxiety meant that there was no gut punch or stunned disbelief at the finish, even as they had the winning run at the plate in extra innings. (There were some aggressive drunkards on the street, but where are there not?)
After the Cubs won, Go Cubs Go rang out through the corridors while everyone in blue made their way to the 100 level, and strangers were embracing like they were lifelong best friends. On the opposite side of the field, where I wound up, nobody could hear a word of what was being said in the ceremony, but that didn’t matter in the slightest.
In everyone’s face you could see the realization that a massive, indefinite burden had been lifted not just from themselves, but for all the friends and family with whom they’ve socialized, hoped, and commiserated over the years. Loved ones who did not make it to this day were very much in those thoughts. It’s an odd dynamic for your mind’s wheels to be spinning like that simultaneously with peak exultation. What an evening.
As I promised earlier, the story of why I didn’t get to the game early enough to get an optimal standing room spot: When I bought my ticket, my initial plan was to rent a car Wednesday morning, drive to the game, and then drive back to Toledo or something on the way back before returning to Chicago this morning. But, I started poking around people who might be going to see if I could get a ride, and an old friend replied that he would either be driving or his father might be chartering a plane, but either way I had a spot.
The private jet ended up happening. Riding in one is something I’ve never done before, and all of a sudden I’d be in one on the way to Game 7 of the World Series. This was shaping up to be a pretty alright experience. However, in a cruel twist of irony, flying by private jet was the absolute worst way to get from Chicago to Cleveland yesterday, and that includes taking a bus.
Cleveland’s airports were ill-prepared to handle the onslaught. My friend could not schedule a flight until 4pm, and then when we (and two of his other friends, one of whom is a lifelong season ticketholder and said he’d never had a better experience in his life than the Cubs’ winning last night) got to Midway, there was a gargantuan logjam.
After an hour or so of waiting, we came to the realization that making it for the beginning of the game — a once in a lifetime experience that also cost a not insignificant amount of money — was looking increasingly doubtful. There were over 20 other private jets in line to take off before us, and all of the Cleveland airports were slammed and metering traffic.
We were not in the terminal late enough to get to the point where people, who have achieved the pinnacle of professional success to be able to afford this experience — or inherited wealth from someone who has — would have gotten sufficiently pissed off to go walnuts on the polite-but-powerless staffers there, but it felt like that was coming soon. Also, the Chicago weather radar was looking ominous. The reason we were not there to witness it is that my friend, whose grandfather is very prominent in the Cleveland business community, made a phone call.
That call went to, as my friend put it, his grandfather’s “get shit done” staffer, who called the airport commissioner, who within 10 minutes of the initial phone call gave the go ahead for our jet to cut the line of the logjam into Cleveland. It felt like we were the Stonecutters, but there was still another obstacle. In order to be cleared for takeoff from Midway, our pilots had to say we were flying to Akron, because otherwise it never would have flown (pun intended?) for us to take off before other people purportedly in front of us who were going to the same airport.
So, we did that, and headed towards Akron (which is really where everyone stuck should have been trying to get to at that point, but for reasons unbeknownst to us were not), and then the flight was diverted when the pilots did indeed receive clearance for us to land at Burke airport, which is quite close to Progressive Field.
I would be fascinated to learn when or whether everyone else who was waiting arrived; leaving in a car yesterday morning would in retrospect have been a far less stressful mode of transportation, but we did get to the stadium just before the game’s first pitch. You know how the rest played out.