As I write this (2017), the LA Dodgers have just beaten the Chicago Cubs in the National League Conference Series. The Cubs didn’t put up much of a show, really. Their bid to be repeat champions ended quietly in a 4-1 series loss. For them it meant the off season, and for me, back to normal life.
In Ireland, the baseball fan suffers his defeats alone. The NFL and NBA are gaining traction, but no one has the patience to sit through three and a half hours of a game they don’t understand. The playoff matches usually don’t end until five or six am because of the time difference, and can only be seen on dubious internet streams. I wear the jersey every day during the post season without washing it. My colleagues at the university don’t say anything, but I can feel them condemning me for being simple. The girlfriend doesn’t understand why I stay up for every match, even when it makes me tired and whiny for the whole week. But I tell her I have to.
Finding a 1992 George Bell baseball card in the seat of the school bus was enough to turn me into a Cubs fan as a child. The Irish are often miffed that in America one might choose to support a team outside of their geographical area, but I suspect they are also jealous that they can’t be the beneficiaries of such whims of fate. Since the Cubs had the longest drought of winning a title in the entire world of professional sports, there were already decades of fathers not letting their children become Cubs fans because they didn’t want them to believe that losing was acceptable. Perhaps it was assumed that growing up on a farm had already indoctrinated my outlook on life, or the fact that the men in the family were only passive Yankee fans, but I was allowed to follow my impulse. Doing so made my grandmother a de facto Cubs fan too.
Growing up in a rural area there were no other kids to play with, so my grandmother, living just up the road, became my best friend. It was a demanding role, which involved playing catch and cooking squirrels at her house, but one she took on with vigor. She had satellite TV when my parents did not, and would let me watch the Cubs play on WGN after the night milking or when it was too wet for fieldwork. As a child it seemed natural that anyone would want to spend four hours of their day watching a sub-500 team get beat once again in a notoriously slow sport, let alone an aging woman. It was only when I got older that I was able to measure the depth of her commitment in being a good grandmother and friend by sitting with me all that time. With internet not yet common in rural areas, sometimes she kept the game on the television even when I wasn’t there, just so she could tell me the score later.
My grandmother was a caregiver by nature. Macaroni and cheese and chocolate chip cookies were the currency of the house, and she bandied them to collect visitors. Like with many grandmothers, no one left hungry. I had always hated onions when I was young. Nonetheless, she found a way around this, telling me that onions would make me a better lover. Although I have never found any scientific proof, I have been eating them ever since. There would be four of us grandchildren in total. She enjoyed watching us play sports or show cattle, and was quick to give updates on all of our lives to anyone within hearing distance. She had faith that whatever we were doing it was something to be proud of, and a belief that we would go on to do even greater things.
My grandmother passed away in June, 2016. That season the Cubs would go on to win the World Series for the first time since 1908. I was living in Ireland during the playoffs. I wore the jersey every day and watched all the games, putting everything else on hold for the month of October. The Cubs beat the Giants and then the Dodgers, before coming back from a 3-1 deficit to the Cleveland Indians to become World Champions. I watched most games alone. There was an empty space next to me on the couch.
The jersey has been washed and is now hanging to dry. There’s no way to know what the Cubs will look like next year, or if they’ll make the playoffs again. A lot can change from year to year. Our best pitcher is a free agent. There’s some holes in the bullpen. But when the season comes around again I’ll be watching, reliving those childhood memories once more.
This article is part of The Milk House column series, published in print across three countries and two languages. It can also be found at themilkhouse.org.
This article appeared in a similar form in Progressive Dairyman.