Anyone who has been following me on social media the last two weeks, is aware that I’ve been on the road, with fingers crossed and fandom blazing, following the Chicago Cubs, as they attempt to break their 108-year championship drought.
I should mention first that my fanaticism is no recent development. I’ve documented in other entries on this blog, in great detail, how I became a Cubs fan (thanks, Dad), how my fandom was cemented as part of my identity, and how in 1984, the first time in my lifetime that the Cubs played a post-season game, I inadvertently began the quest that I am now on. You see, I have now attended every post-season game played at Wrigley Field since the day I was born—an achievement that used to bear a punchline, since there hadn’t been very many. But as the years went on, and the Cubs managed to get into the playoffs at least twice per decade, the numbers of games I attended began to mount up. The only limiting factor was that they never seemed to be able to get very deep into the playoffs.
This “streak,” if you want to call it that, came with enormous self-imposed pressure. First, tickets were difficult to come by, and as the years go by and the Cubs curse gets longer, they’ve become even more scarce. I have a rule that I will not pay scalper prices, not only because of budgetary limitations, but also on principle. Also, there are the issues of travel logistics, other obligations (like working for a living) and the guilt of leaving my family for something that is hard to justify. All of this adds up to a lot of anxiety. But no matter how it all plays out, the theory is that eventually it will all pay off, because I’ll be there when the Cubs finally win the World Series—an event that will set off a celebration that will rival any in the history of mankind (forgive the hype.)
So here we are in the 2016 playoffs. The Cubs had the best record in Major League Baseball this year—by far. They have the best, most talented young players of any team in their history, a manager who seems to make all the right moves and makes the game fun for fans and players alike, and a “never quit” attitude that has captured the imagination of anyone who follows baseball. So what could go wrong? The following is my diary of my playoff adventures, and I’ll continue writing entries until it ends, which hopefully won’t be too soon.
Tickets for the National League Division Series:
The tickets to the first two games came to me through Jessica Rosner, a colleague from the art house world, and a fellow Cubs fanatic. Jessica has a half-share in a season ticket at Wrigley, in spite of the fact that she lives in NY. That entitles her to a certain number of playoff tickets, but she didn’t have any tickets for the first two games. She and I recruited a large number of friends and family to sign up for the Cubs post-season ticket lottery, which entitles winners to a code that allows you to buy up to 4 tickets for each series. However, there is no guarantee that you will actually get tickets. You have to go online at the prescribed time, and sit in a virtual waiting room until you are allowed in to buy whatever tickets might be left. It’s a very anxiety inducing process, and one false click can throw you right back to the end of the line.
None of my “enablers” received a code, but Jessica’s folks came up with three of them. Juggling three virtual waiting room windows is near impossible, so Jessica asked me to use one of the codes, and if I got tickets, we would split them. I had been through this process in prior years, and pretty much knew how to navigate it. The trick, if there is one, is not to hesitate and look at where the tickets are. Just grab what you can and pay for them before you lose them. And indeed, I scored two tickets each for the first two games, one for Jessica and one for me.
Meanwhile, my college roommate, Rich Tolman, a Professor at University of Michigan, and another Cubs fanatic, had a similar experience with a contact of his. He was given a code to use, and told he could keep half the tickets. Rich used his code to get four tickets to a possible Game 5, two of which were his, and I would be able to use one of his tickets. So, I was set for the 3 games that would be played at Wrigley for the first round of the playoffs.
Rich and I also decided that since the 3rd and 4th games of the series could potentially be the ones when the Cubs would clinch the Division Championship, we would see what tickets were available for the away games as well. The problem was that we still didn’t know who would be playing the Cubs. There were three possibilities. It might have been the New York Mets, the St. Louis Cardinals or the San Francisco Giants. Jessica had signed up her mom for the Giants lottery (without her knowing about it), and she “won” a code to buy tickets. Jessica decided not to go to SF so she gave the code to me, and I was able to get tickets to both games for Rich and myself.
Remarkably, tickets for possible Games 3 and 4 were freely available on the web sites of both the Mets and the Cardinals. So we bought tickets to those as well. It is worth mentioning that all these tickets are fully refundable if the games don’t get played, which is another advantage of buying from a legit source. So now we were set for the entire first round.
Weeks before the tickets went on sale, I started looking at airfares to Chicago. I chose Southwest because they allow changing or cancelling reservations up until 10 minutes before departure, with no penalties. The only hitch is that your credit has to be used on Southwest within a year. I do enough travelling that any unused flights would eventually get used in any case. I made two round-trip reservations, one for the first two games in Chicago, and a second one for the possible 5th game. If the Mets were the opponent, I would fly home, and then possibly back to Chicago. If either St. Louis or San Francisco was the opponent, I would change the flights around to fly from Chicago to wherever, and then depending on whether it was a 3, 4 or 5 game series, I would either fly home from there, or back to Chicago. There were so many possible permutations, it was mind-numbing, but I had it all worked out in my head.
On the last day of the regular season, the Giants and Mets tied for the Wild Card and the Cardinals were eliminated. So that narrowed things down a bit. The Cardinals tickets were refunded, and Rich booked a hotel for us in San Francisco. Two days later, the Giants beat the Mets in the Wild Card game, and now I could solidify the plans for the first week of the playoffs. I called Southwest and changed my Chicago/New York return flight to Chicago/San Francisco. I couldn’t book a flight for the next leg, since it might have been after game 3 or after game 4, and it could have been San Francisco/Chicago or San Francisco/New York, depending on the results.
Game 1 – Giants at Cubs – Wrigley Field, Chicago
Jessica & I were sitting in reasonably good seats. They were on the lower level, all the way in the right field corner. We could see everything as long as the people in front of us were sitting, which wasn’t too often. The atmosphere seemed very tentative. It was as if, having been burned so many times in the past, the fans were not ready to let loose. Jon Lester pitched an amazing game, but he was matched by Johnny Cueto of the Giants. As the innings wore on and the zeroes mounted on the scoreboard, you could feel the anxiety growing. Then in the bottom of the 8th, Javy Baez hit a solo home run, just barely making it into the basket in left field. Pandemonium. As Aroldis Chapman came in to pitch the 9th for the Cubs, the entire stadium held its collective breath. Chapman overpowered the Giants, and with each pitch, the tension began to ease. 3 up and 3 down–the place went wild. The 1-0 win put the Cubs up by one game in the series. They were on their way.
Game 2 – Giants at Cubs – Wrigley Field, Chicago
The atmosphere was much more festive than the day before. Having one win in bank seemed to ease everyone’s minds a bit. Our seats were in the back of the lower deck, down the right field line. Things started out well as the Cubs scored early and knocked out former Cub pitcher Jeff Samardzija after 2 innings. Kyle Hendricks was breezing along, and was not only pitching well, but knocked in two runs with a single in the 2nd inning. Then in the 4th inning, he got hit in the arm by a line drive. After having him throw a few test pitches, he was also pulled from the game. Now it was up to the bullpens, which meant the Cubs had a real advantage. The first Cubs reliever, Travis Wood, hit a home run in his only at bat, which meant that the pitching staff was responsible for most of the runs. By now, the crowd was relaxed and ebullient. Final score Cubs 5, Giants 2. Only one more win to move on to the next round. But we’ve been here before. On t0 San Francisco.
Part 2 of this series can be found here.