On the World Series, anachronism and perfect 10s

| Senior Forum Editor

When I was a little girl, I loved to hear my dad talk about baseball. He grew up watching the legends: Ernie Banks, Billie Williams, Ron Santo. Santo was the favorite in our family—the former third baseman who proudly wore a blue number 10 on the back of his jersey. A number which, after its retirement in 2003, will never be worn by another Chicago Cub.

I didn’t grow up in that era, but I still found myself rifling through boxes of worn-out baseball cards and reading every sports-related chapter book I could find. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up between the ages of 8 and 11, I would have told you it was my dream to be the Cubs third baseman, even though I was a girl and could barely field or hit in softball (two features that are hardly related, mind you, but keep you out of the major leagues nonetheless). If you asked me between the ages of 11 and 15, I would have told you I dreamt of playing sassy intervals of organ music for the fans, or even turning the tiles of Wrigley Field’s green scoreboard. Who needs air conditioning when you have anachronism?

My favorite player was, and is, number 10, so I suppose it makes sense that number 10 was also my favorite birthday. A 10th birthday on the 10th of August with a group of 10-year-old girls at Wrigley Field. The Cubs lost, naturally, but it stands out as a favorite nonetheless. One friend made me a sign that took at least three of us to hold up—a bedsheet with blue-painted words, “Sarah and Santo, Perfect 10s.”

Santo, up until his death in the 10th year of the 21st century, color-commentated for the Cubs radio show, “Pat & Ron” (or, as I called it, “DadTurnOnAM720RightNow”). Naturally, I could always expect to catch a glimpse of Santo in the press box whenever I was at Wrigley Field. With the painted bedsheet sign in tow, our little group of 10-year-old girls stood below the white press box after the game and held up the sign, until we were granted a wave of acknowledgement from the ultimate 10, Santo himself.

It seems cruelly poetic that the Cubs won last night in the 10th inning. I expected to scream; I expected to sob, but I found myself silent and unable to speak, my tongue held back by a confusing mixture of relief and bitterness. This was something I had waited for my whole life, something that I never really believed would happen.

Santo died in 2010, following a lifelong battle with diabetes. By that time, I had grown apart from most of the girls who were there for my favorite birthday. In 2012, Santo was inducted into the Hall of Fame, an achievement that he would never see. In 2013, mere weeks after we graduated, the girl who made me the bedsheet sign passed away. We hadn’t spoken in years.

This isn’t the reaction I expected to write if the Cubs won the World Series, mainly because I didn’t expect them to win. I grew up lovingly entrenched in the superstitious history of baseball, pulled between a desire to focus on past memories of memory and the need to reassure myself that “next year” would bring me to the sort of Camelot I heard of in my dad’s stories. For some reason, it never mattered to me until now that Santo never saw a Cubs World Series, much less a World Series victory.

People talk about Cubs fans being resilient, as if team support is only a result of success. We have a new set of greats now, most of whom aren’t that much older than I am, and I’ve lived to see my team take it all. I don’t need to say that a Cubs World Series win—the first since my grandfather, whom I never met, was born in 1908—is more personal than most. It holds a load of inherent meaning and magic when a team you’ve been dutifully, and often disappointingly, rooting for since before your conception breaks two curses and three generations of pessimism.

Figuring out how to stop paradoxically living in your team’s past and future becomes complicated when the present suddenly renders itself satisfying. I’m happy and sad, but above all I’m grateful to this ridiculous team for producing a mess of emotions like none other can. It’s not a long-anticipated win that makes a Cubs World Series win great, but the anticipation itself and the years of expectation. Rooting for a champion isn’t something I’m used to, but I’m eager to experience it. I know that regardless of next year, I’ll be in the same place I’ve always been—a 10 on my back and blue in my heart, proudly flying each tattered W that comes our way, no matter how few or many.

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