ABOARD THE LAKE SHORE LIMITED — As the Amtrak train slowly chugged through the Ohio night, past factories along the Lake Erie shore illuminated by pinkish lights, Marvin Thomas stretched across a pair of seats, proudly wrapped in a blue satin Cubs jacket.
The 51-year-old Chicagoan had made the trek to Cleveland for the Cubs’ first World Series games in 71 years, and now it was time to go home following Wednesday night’s 5-1 victory over the Indians, which tied the Series 1-1.
“Ernie Banks lived down the street from us when I was a kid,” said Thomas, who paid $800 a ticket to attend Games 1 and 2. “This is the most unbelievable feeling I’ve had outside my children being born. There was no way I wasn’t going to be here.”
Salvador Cardenas, a 28-year-old dentist from Aurora, Illinois, paid $746 to stand along a rail in left field during Game 2. He high-fived other Cubs fans at Cleveland Lakefront Station before the trip home.
“I had to call all my patients off. I said: ‘Hey, got to do this! I got to go to the World Series!'” he exclaimed. “I’m a die-hard Cub fan, so I felt like that came first.”
European soccer fans jam trains for high-profile matches. England supporters urinated in the aisle en route from Verona to Venice after an extra-time win over Belgium at the 1990 World Cup, and Italian tifosi chanted until they were hoarse at the Kaiserslautern train station after a 1-1 draw against the United States at the 2006 tournament in Germany.
In contrast, about two dozen Cubs fans boarded Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited at 3:45 a.m. Thursday for the 341-mile trip to Chicago’s Union Station, far fewer riding the rails than during the 2009 Acela Series between the New York Yankees and Philadelphia. And there was none of the hoopla of the Union Pacific’s nine-hour 1985 World Series special from Kansas City to St. Louis that included Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Bob Gibson.
The Lake Shore Limited starts as two trains, in New York City and Boston; they join together in Albany, N.Y. before continuing to Chicago by way of Cleveland. It has sleeping cars, and a dining car.
Most passengers tried to sleep through the night on a journey scheduled to take seven hours. After a 4-hour, 4-minute game, the train also had pace issues; it arrived about an hour late.
When the Cubs last won the World Series, in 1908, and even when they last appeared, in 1945, the train was the standard method of big league travel. The 1946 Yankees were the first team to charter flights regularly, boarding a Douglas DC-4.
In the weeks after V-J Day, Major League Baseball still used its special wartime Series format, with three games scheduled in one city and four in the other, rather than the usual 2-3-2 that began in 1924.
These days, chartered jet planes are the mode in vogue, and the Cubs had time to sleep in their own beds before heading to Wrigley Field to meet the media at 1:45 p.m. Thursday. The Indians were set to be at the 102-year-old brick-and-ivy ballpark by 5 p.m. to get dressed in the cramped visiting clubhouse for an evening workout.
Thomas, who works in pharmaceutical sales, attended his first game at Wrigley Field when he was 8 years old. He had tickets for the World Series in 2003 — only to watch the Cubs blow a 3-1 lead against the Florida Marlins in the NL Championship Series. His then-10-year-old son, Marvin Thomas III, could not console him.
“I cried. I’m not going to lie. My son was like, ‘It’ll be OK.’ I just told him to go back to his room.”
When Cardenas arrived in Cleveland at 5:45 a.m. Wednesday, he walked to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, found a bench in front and fell asleep with his Cubs blanket covering him. An Indians fan took pity on the chilly morning and added a second blanket, telling him to leave it there when he was done napping.
Later at the Hall, Cardenas saw Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.
“I was like, ‘Hey, Tom!’ like I knew him,” Cardenas said. “He waved to me. He said hello. He smiled.”