Series win greatest gift for fans, who earn praise for patience

The parade and rally at Grant Park on Friday capped a remarkable journey for the Cubs.

But it capped an even more amazing journey for the rest of us: the fans.

A baseball team can move along at its own pace, that of a snail or rabbit, a mouse or lion. It can care most about treading water, making money, even about giving the appearance of caring.

But fans, particularly of a team like the Cubs, are all in, all the time. They have no ho-hum default button. Every “Wait till next year’’ bit of solace means one thing to them: Check another year of life off your scoreboard.

The Cubs' World Series parade makes its way south on Michigan Avenue on Friday. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

The Cubs' World Series parade makes its way south on Michigan Avenue on Friday. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

So it was very nice when Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts took the microphone at the rostrum in front of the hundreds of thousands of Cubs cheerers and thanked them for their patience and their caring. I think he really meant it.

After the National League Championship Series win over the Dodgers, the moment that sent the Cubs to the World Series for the first time in 71 years, I asked him if he had meant to win this fast.

He laughed, I think I can say, ruefully.

“It doesn’t feel fast to me,” he said. “Maybe in the grand scheme of 108 years it seems fast.  But seven years is a long time.”

That’s how long his family has owned the Cubs, and if you think about it, truly, how many seven-year spans do any of us have?

That’s one dog year, right? Your dog’s a puppy for a year, and at the end he’s old and doddering — so he gets, maybe, eight solid dog years to achieve whatever he’s got planned.

And there’s us.

May I say here at the end of the ride, out of all journalistic context and neutrality, I’m a Cubs fan, too. Indeed, I’m in my sixth dog year of fandom. I think of all the fans I have known who are dead or ailing.  My granddads and dad are among them. 

I think of Mary Melberg, the oldest card-carrying “Die-hard Cub Fan’’ in the world, then 106, whom I talked to in a nursing home in Plano, Texas, in 2012. “God is Cubs fan,’’ she told me. She went to the big clubhouse in the sky in 2013, just 12 days shy of her 108th birthday.

I love the White Sox, too — sportswriters are allowed to be contrary — and I reveled when they won it all in 2005. Ozzie, Paulie, A.J. — it was a fun ride.

But the Cubs are just different.

The tests they put fans to were extreme. Those soul-breakers — in 1935, 1945, 1969, 1984, 2003, 2007, 2008 — have torn at the fabric of believing itself, at the integrity of dreaming. Dreams that never come true are just hallucinations. Useless.

And Cubs fans, at their darkest moments, had to ask themselves if they, too, were somehow being used. Generation after generation.

When Theo Epstein told the story to the assembled masses of an old lady pleading with him to win the World Series before she died, he said he told her to “take your vitamins.”

It was coming. He knew it. Or at least he knew he was on track. Epstein called manager Joe Maddon “the finishing piece for us.”

And Maddon gave all the credit to the players, saying, “Never be deceived about this — it’s a players game.”

And the players? They ended up belting out “Go, Cubs, Go’’ with the crowd, a victory tune by one of the greatest Cubs fans of all time, Steve Goodman.

From all fans, then, Amen!

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com