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  • Writer's picturePeter Bai

Spiritual Journey of being a Cubs fan

It’s been a few weeks since I last wrote. Two reasons for it. One, I was on a personal retreat and when you are on a retreat the point is to take break from your normal activities (more on this retreat in coming weeks). Second, Chicago Cubs have been in playoff and are currently in the World Series for the first time since 1945. When the Cubs are in playoff, things don’t really get done around here.

I was twelve years old. Recently arrived from Korea and getting adjusted to the new life in Chicago, I found first two real loves of my life. One was God (and you know how that story goes). The other was Chicago Cubs.

It was year 1984 - the year of first postseason since 1945. Rick Sutcliffe and Ryne Sandberg. They didn’t advance to the world series, but it was enough to capture my heart and imagination. The American game I learned to play back in Korea few year prior became my American love and pastime. In the years following, I learned about the players, their stories and stats. Watched the games in my bedroom, often falling asleep with the ever-familiar voice of Harry Caray.

Few memories come to my mind as I look back on those years. I remember in high school checking the game schedules before saying yes to my friends’ invitation to go out with them. For me, Cubs came before meeting new girls. The other memory is in college where I was attending Carleton College in Minnesota. My daily routine would be to go to library to read Chicago Tribune to check boxscores and the news on my Cubs (yes, those were the days when we didn’t have personal internets and the daily news came in the form of newspapers. I was so glad to find out my school had a daily copy of Chicago newspaper!). This daily ritual came before my studying or any other extracurricular activities I had. And i didn’t even really need to find another Chicagoan to share the news with. It was my alone time with my Cubs. My solitude, my devotion, and my religion.

This love, however, wasn’t easy to hold fast over the years. The disappointment of 1989, the drought of 90’s (except the exciting one game playoff against SF in 1998 which I distinctly remember listening to it on the radio in my Hyundai being late to a gathering with my newly acquainted friends in California - to whom I decided not to try to explain my tardiness), and of course the dreadful 2003. That year was my wife’s introduction to the agony of being a Cubs fan.

Before I end up recounting all other memories of the ups and downs of being a Cubs fan, let me attempt to articulate what I have realized to be my spiritual journey of being a Cubs fan so far.

1. You can NOT forsake your true love - no matter how much you've tried: During some of those drought years (the 90’s and after the heartbreaks of 2003 and years after), I actually tried to stop being a Cubs fan. It was emotionally too exhausting, and I said to myself, "I’m simply too busy to waste my time on this." I felt that it wasn’t worth my time and energy, and I had better things to do. However, it inevitably happened without fail. Something will happen to draw me back to it. Like magic, like an addiction, like the everlasting power of God’s love, I would find myself right back where I tried to leave behind. I might give up on It. But, it WILL always find its way back to my heart.

2. Real hope means more than just wishing. It's actually believing: This isn’t easy to explain. I thought (until this year) that I was really hoping all these years for the Cubs to win. But, I realized this year that I was hoping without actually believing it could happen. Yes, it was due to all these years of losing and the history of many previous years of losing even before I ever became a Cub fan. As Cub fans, we were hoping for a better tomorrow but already knew in our heart that when tomorrow came we would still be hoping for yet another tomorrow. Yes, we were hoping alright. We are good at hoping. But, really believing, well, that kind of went out the field along with that fateful ground ball in 1984, or certainly by that foul pop-up came along in 2003. And, I didn’t realize this until this year - when the Cubs were actually winning (and winning big). You see, as they were winning this year, I found myself feeling uneasy. Not just anxious that they might eventually falter again, but uneasy that they might actually keep winning. Like, REAAALLY win. I wasn’t used to this feeling of something not going wrong. My wish really coming true. No longer being on the losing end. Finally winning, and winning big! I have to confess, when the Cubs were winning against the Giants in NLDS, I was shocked to find myself secretly rooting for the Giants to come back and win a game or two. I had to shake my head around to wake myself up from some kind of spell. “What am I doing? Don’t I want Cubs to win? Of course, I do? But then why do I feel uncomfortable about it? I realized that all these years of being a Cubs fan, I wasn’t really expecting them to win. Yes, I was hoping but I wasn’t really believing. I wonder, what others things in my life that I hope for but not truly believe it would happen. Am I hoping for the sake of hoping? Have I found solace in my hoping? What is hope if without faith?

3. Winning is fun, exhilarating, and liberating: Of course, I didn’t really understand this until just this week when they finally made to the world series. I didn’t realize how exciting it is to finally win. To be honest, as alluded above, I couldn’t really get myself to truly believe it until just this past week. But, as they were winning, I could finally relax, accept, and truly appreciate the moment. Wow, we are winning. We don’t have to hope for next year again. We actually don’t have to hope anymore. We can actually enjoy this, right here, right now! Once I began to really enjoy it, I found myself feeling and thinking differently even about other things in my life. Somehow my overall mindset was shifting from expecting less than what I had hoped for to feeling more is possible and attainable. I think I was actually moving away from being a pessimistic idealist (hoping endlessly but secretly knowing it wouldn't happen) to more of an optimistic realist (hoping with real faith and expectation). And as a realist now, if things don’t work out, I’m ok with it. Because you can’t really win all the time anyways! It’s so funny (but real) how one real win (Cubs going to world series) can have affect on someone’s overall psychic and mindset. But it really is happening this year, and it’s happening in my mind and spirit as well. I’m no longer just hoping and wishing, but I now have the luxury and grace in my heart to enjoy what I have already gained. Winning, like love, relaxes you and allows you to be grateful and appreciative.

Of course, the Cubs haven’t won the world series yet. Don’t really know what will happen this week. But, somehow my heart is full now. No longer anxious like this past week. I think I can enjoy the games for what they are. Being present and appreciating each moment (or at least that’s how I feel at the present moment). If they win it all, it will be an icing on the cake. If they lose, I know and believe (not just hope) that they will eventually win it all in the next couple of years. Now, if they end up losing due to some freak incident? (No, stop! I refuse to think this way anymore!)

Visited an uncle this week who recently moved into an assisted living due to his increased dementia. Wasn't sure what I would talk to him about. Ended up talking about the Cubs the whole time (he was actually following the games and knew the series scores)! Will have old friends I haven't seen for a decade over for game 4 and 5 this weekend. I feel blessed already!

Postscript: Cubs won! Cubs won!! Can't believe it but they actually did it! With game 7 going into extra innings, with many of us going through a rollercoaster ride of emotions unimaginable, it was simply the greatest ending to a life-long prayer for many Cubs fans. Personally, it was so fun texting with friends from all over the world as the game was getting more and more intense and the Cubs finally pulling it off at the end. I described to friends that it was the most emotions I've felt since the day my twins were born. Anxious, anticipating, worrying, exhausted, and simply overjoyed. I didn't thank God that they won but I thanked God for the joy I could feel. Happiness I could share with my friends. And the lessons God has taught me on faith, hope, and love.

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