We Went All the Way

It’s hard to write anything about the Cubs winning the World Series without coming off as extremely corny. It’s been 108 years and it took seven games and extra innings for the Cubs to finally become champions, but they made it happen. The resilient team that went wire to wire as the best team in baseball (more or less) finally ended the drought. I can’t describe to you how happy that all makes me.

It’s hard to be both the beloved Cinderella team and the overwhelming favorite at the same time, but the 2016 Chicago Cubs somehow did it. The team with all the youth, with the ascending superstars, with the successful veterans, a roster that many assumed were destined for greatness after a disastrous final playoff series in 2015 was also something of a beloved underdog, if only for the fact that the franchise’s existence has been pretty damn miserable in terms of tangible success. However the Cubs got to that point entering the World Series didn’t matter, though; what mattered was that they got there, and now all that matters is that they won.

It’s easy to write off a team when they go down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series in which it only has one more home game. Many wrote the Cubs off, and I understand that completely. But I also understand why so many diehard fans stuck by this incredibly resilient and incredibly talented roster.

It took unbelievable performances from so many people in the World Series for the Cubs to pull off the victory, but by the end of game seven it all somehow made sense. Maybe you believe that it was fate that the Cubs would finally win it all this year. Maybe you think the Indians choked (and you are inevitably posting 3-1 memes across social media). Whatever the case is, supernatural or not, the 2016 Cubs completed the season in the midst of a perfect storm of talent, chemistry and luck.

I’m still young and I can’t comprehend what it must be like for all the people older than I am who have endured decades upon decades of upset and misery. My mom still probably won’t be able to get over 1969. There was insane heartbreak in 1984. 2003 is already 13 years in the past and we all know how tragic the ending to that season was. Those are just the playoff/late season disappointments; let’s not forget about all the horrific rosters and basement-dwelling performances the lovable losers put together since their last World Series appearance, let alone their last championship.

But today, all of those memories of heartbreak and despair seem to evaporate into the void. Collapsing and being surpassed by the Mets in ’69 isn’t quite as chilling to remember. Leon Durham letting the ball go through his legs in ’84 doesn’t sting quite as much. Alex Gonzalez’s error in ’03 doesn’t invoke quite as much misery. There are 108 years of bad Cubs memories and moments of abject failure; now, though, it’s time to celebrate.

In addition to all the memories of despair from past Cubs failures that still-living Cubs fans recall, it’s impossible to not think of all the fans who never got to experience this moment. Harry Caray lived his entire life without seeing a Cubs World Series title. Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub and one of the city’s biggest icons, passed away before seeing this win, the same goes for Ron Santo. There is a seemingly endless list of stories of fans who never got to see this championship. As much as the 2016 title is for living fans, I like to think it’s equally as much for all those fans watching from up above.

I spent a lot of time this season thinking of my favorite Cubs from past years, and any time I did is when I would come to realize just how much I love this Cubs team. It’s not just that there was such a ridiculous amount of talent on display all season (but believe me, that was pretty damn fun to watch), but there were so many characters to fall in love with. Those men aren’t just characters anymore, though; they are now immortals.

Kris Bryant has been the golden boy of the franchise for a few years now, proving every year why he is so deserving of that adulation. His list of accomplishments over the past several years, at various levels, is stunning. This season he is the likely National League MVP, putting together a season that was awe-inspiring at the very least. The golden boy, the all-American prototype, the hero to baseball fans across the city, our lord and savior (the moniker I’ve assigned to him and probably won’t stop using any time soon); he can do it all, and he has. His career is on a Hall of Fame trajectory already, but he will forever be immortalized as one of this roster’s key players.

One of the longest-tenured Cubs, Anthony Rizzo is the team’s unquestioned leader. An MVP candidate in his own right, Rizzo has endeared himself to fans through his stellar play and his infectious personality. The first baseman is still plenty young, but he’s already been through some tough times with the Cubs. The Padres gave up on him, he played on the brutal Cubs teams of the rebuilding years, now he’s one of the best players on the best team in the game. He’s also a champion, something that he will always be remembered for.

Rarely do you see a player become beloved and iconic in just two years with a franchise, but that’s exactly what happened with David Ross. A backup catcher who was considered an automatic out by some in 2015, it’s undeniable that Ross quickly became the subject of adoration by the vast majority of the Cubs fan base. In 2016, his final season, his year-long retirement party, “Grandpa Rossy” balled out as much as any 39-year-old catcher could. He became a mentor for the club’s young core. He caught a no-hitter. He was treated like a deity by fans. He received a beautiful send-off at the end of the season at Wrigley Field. He knocked in the game-winning run in his final home game, Game 5 of the World Series. In his last game ever he hit a clutch home run off of baseball’s best relief pitcher. Hell of a final season, no? David Ross: forever young.

I came to adore Dexter Fowler during the course of the 2015 season. I knew he’d decline the qualifying offer during the offseason, and I fully expected him to sign somewhere else. I was excited for him when it was rumored he was going to Baltimore, it seemed like a good fit. Then Dex showed up at Cubs spring training and announced that he signed a new deal. Honestly, I’m still in shock that it all ended up working out and that Dex got to stay with the team. Then Dex had the best stretch of his career to open the season, leading the league in Wins Above Replacement for a time, and made his first All-Star Game. Then he became the first African American to ever play in the World Series with the Cubs. Then he led off the most important game in the history of the franchise, maybe the sport, with a home run. You just can’t write this stuff. You go we go, Dex.

There were people before the season who didn’t know if Kyle Hendricks should even be in the regular pitching rotation. He was the fifth starter to begin the year and finished it as a Cy Young candidate. The man was receiving, and deservedly so, comparisons to Greg Maddux by the end of the year. He doesn’t overpower you but he can still dominate you when he’s on the hill. He only went 4.2 innings in Game 7, and we can argue until the cows come home about whether or not he should have been pulled, but I can say that there is not one player on that team I wanted on the hill in Game 7 more than The Professor.

Kyle Schwarber tore his ACL in the second series of the season. He was a glorified mascot for the team this season, sitting in the dugout and remaining part of the team through the dog days of summer, all the while fans were honoring him with phrases such as “He died for our wins” (at least I did). Almost out of nowhere, he’s cleared to play in the World Series, yet another moment I’m still shocked about. After a horrific injury, one which easily could have sidelined him for a full year, he came back to hit .412 in the World Series. It’s crazy to think about the fact that he’s already the greatest postseason hitter in franchise history.

I could write all day about the guys on this roster and how important they were this season and how incredible their stories are. Javy Baez, despite a rough World Series, ascended to the rank of superstar, at least on a local level, due to his huge homers and insane fielding. Willson Contreras came up midseason after years of toiling away in the minors and made an instant impact on his way to cementing himself as the Cubs’ catcher of the future (and present, for that matter). Jason Heyward struggled mightily at the plate all season, but played Gold Glove-worthy defense and made a huge impact on the team with his rain delay speech in Game 7.

Jake Arrieta won the Cy Young in 2015, then struggled a bit down the stretch this year, but pitched phenomenally in the World Series (full disclosure: I love Jake). Miguel Montero was killed by fans and media for most of the season, quietly improved in the last stretch of the season and then had two of the biggest hits in Cubs history, his grand slam in the NLCS and RBI single in Game 7 of the World Series. Ben Zobrist wins a World Series with Kansas City last season, signs a big deal with the Cubs in the offseason and wins World Series MVP, thanks to his go-ahead RBI double in the 10th inning of Game 7. I could go on for days, and probably will, about this team, but there’s one thing that is undeniable at this point: they are all legends of the game, the team and the city.

I’m still delirious about this win, I have no idea if I’ve made a lick of sense in this post but I’m too thrilled to be rational. Again, I’m young but as a Cubs fan, you never know if you’re going to see that championship come. That’s all moot now, though; the Cubs are world champions.

The Cubs have been laughing stocks forever, the perennial lovable loser that’s the subject of jokes from rival fans and casual on-lookers alike. They can keep the jokes though, because this team finally won the big one, and 2016 can never be taken away from the Cubs and their fans.

This one is for the diehard fans who never quit on their team. This one is for the fans who passed away before getting to see their beloved Cubbies win it all. This one is for Sweet Swingin’ Billy Williams and all the Cubs of the past, stars and cult heroes both included. This one is for all the Cubs legends who gave it their all for this team and are watching down from heaven as it celebrates. This one is for the greatest team in franchise history; you guys earned it and are more than deserving of your status as immortals. Go Cubs Go.

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