That boy didn't stay in the picture for very long, but my relationship with the Cubs turned into a long-term affair.
I began to casually watch games here and there, but I can remember the day I became hooked. On May 6, 1998, Kerry Wood struck out 20 batters to tie Roger Clemens’ single-game record. Not only was it a brilliant performance by a talented up-and-coming pitcher, but he was also HOT! Thus began my admiration/obsession with Kerry Wood that I'll admit might have been "just a little" out of control. (I may or may not have made a cake on his birthday for several years…)
I took a lot of flak for my admiration of him, too, as he didn't quite pan out the way the Cubs had hoped in the long term. But I stuck by him through every injury, blister and all. Even to this day I remember him fondly, if for nothing else than the role he played in bringing me into the sport of baseball.
Of course 1998 was also the year of the Sammy Sosa vs. Mark McGwire homerun record chase. I can remember watching every game with anticipation and meticulously keeping track of stats and scores. That was a magical season, and the Cubs and major league baseball became a very important part of my life.
I will never forget my freshman year of high school when the Cubs came to New Orleans for exhibition games against the Minnesota Twins in the Superdome. I spent my entire Easter weekend in the Dome with the Cubs. I even made it into the Times-Picayune in the background of a photo after seeing Sammy hit a home run. Well, it was a photo of me taking a photo, but that picture has been in a special frame for nearly 20 years.
When I turned 16, my Mom gave me a choice: She would either pay for me to join some girlfriends for a Sweet 16 party or she would take me to Chicago for my birthday. So that summer, I travelled to "Mecca" and watched every at-bat of a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies. (Was that really even a choice?)
Seeing Wrigley Field in person and actually stepping foot inside the hallowed grounds was definitely a life-defining moment for 16-year-old me.
I even spent my 19th birthday weekend in Houston for a series with the Astros. The Cubs were such an important part of my adolescence and I have so many wonderful memories of watching and attending games.
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t keep up with the team or the game of baseball like I used to. It’s a long season, and life happens. Jobs, kids, and the strain of everyday life have pulled me away from the game in the last several years. It’s been more than five years since I’ve truly invested my heart and soul into a Cubs season.
But this year’s playoff run is conjuring up some wonderful memories of days gone by. Of keeping my own strike tally for every Kerry Wood outing. Of watching every Sosa at-bat with bated breath because of the greatness that could come from one single, powerful swing. And even of the heartbreak they caused me every year that I would start off by saying “This is the year!”
But now the Cubs are only four wins away from being World Series Champions. From finally removing the curse that has plagued the team and its fans for more than a century.
“This is the year!”
Let’s do this, Cubbies.