Lord knows Wrigley Field was ready to shake last weekend.
Baseball can be cruel, though. Games 3 and 4 of the 2016 World Series were twisted, writhed like a soaking sponge, thrust into growing oblivion. It wasn’t because of a goat, or a ghost, or a headphone-padded fan eager to reach for foul balls over the cold ivy wall. The Cubs, they… they just lost. The Cleveland Indians outplayed them, out-hustled them, and rocked Wrigley to its imploding core, slicing it to sad, sloped pieces. After such a bouncy year, the Chicago Cubs were suddenly sedated into playoff purgatory – down 3-1 in the World Series, one home game left, with one hopeful sliver to keep the dream going.
Then, in the 4th inning of Game 5, Kris Bryant – prodigy, demigod, Theo Epstein’s chosen one – hammered a home run to left field. The dream was alive. Wrigley was alive. By the end of Sunday night, the Cubs, curses and all, were still alive.
The heroics of October -- and November
As I watch Game 6 storm into Cleveland, I feel different – tonight feels different from other World Series games, from other so-called historic baseball chronicles. Game 6 always brings thrills, chills, and freezing October nerves like David Freese’s heroics, Carlton Fisk’s wild foul pole wave, Bill Buckner’s blunder, and Kirby Puckett’s wild walk-off homer. The Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908, and the Indians not since 1948. No series has carried such history and dreaded weight. Tonight…tonight just feels different.
Back in the day – before the Cubs were etched in the stone of baseball damnation – players flocked to the Midwest, to cities like Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Detroit. By summertime, the cold central plains, combed by the high crust of ice, would melt into baseball country, where the studs of early lore, of those 1908 Cubs and 1948 Indians, would come out to play. They came from the small towns of America’s old country, of hand-stitched gloves, cold night backyard catches, and the crickets and stars of major league bedtime dreams. Harvey, Illinois. Salix, Iowa. Big Bend, Wisconsin. Lamar, Missouri. The most recent champion ghosts of Chicago and Cleveland came from all over the region.
On Sunday night, the rugged coat of these central coves – the rustic, American air – hovered over Wrigley. It was over the bleachers, in the dugouts, it shook Miguel Montero as he shouted from the dugout, breathless and wild after Addison Russell’s soft bouncer gave the Cubs the Game 5 lead for good. It was in Aroldis Chapman, his electric arm, and his liberating cannon that sent the Cubs back to Cleveland, to this year’s land of championships.
Cleveland, city of light
The Indians feel it too, sure. And why not? A franchise burdened, cursed with demise and darkness since 1915, the Indians have their own demons. Cleveland, ever blurred by smokestack lenses and rain-drenched skies, is dying for clarity and vitality. All season, injury-plagued and disbelieved, they have returned to their roots of rustic grit, of mid-west steel – they have punctured the combing crust of ice and twisted the dagger.
No matter the result on Tuesday, and, if necessary, Wednesday, one city will be devastated, while the other whoops and cries for the warmest winter in forever.
But that’s baseball, right?
I cannot sit here behind a white screen of word documents and tell you Game 6 will be so storied and huge it pushes the baseball world into a new and beautiful universe. But I can’t say the renaissance of 20th century return and sunny cornfield dreams isn’t a distinct possibility. No matter who wins, no matter who lifts a goldenrod trophy over frozen skies, the sheer magnitude and story of Game 6 could rip holes in the Midwest cosmos and bring the love of 1908, 1948, and of baseball’s honest beginnings back to life. It isn’t a sentimental thing. It isn’t a plea for baseball to be better, or to be widely loved again – I can’t explain it. Tueday night just feels different. The baseball world deserves a thriller, a classic, a buzzing rush of pitch-by-pitch nerves to shake Progressive Field and the smoky Cleveland skyline throughout the night.
These games, epics written under the pen of November’s red-purple skies, are always pressed into baseball memory like clay, as if the foundation of childhood dreams is meant to only be padded, eventually blocked from new light.
Tonight, the Cubs and Indians step onto mounds and dig into batter’s boxes – the glass cases where the only sound is the roar of October. It’s finally November. And soon, the central winter of razor wind and spectral darkness will wipe out dreams of Spring Training, sunshine, and silenced curses. Tonight, however, one team has a shot to right the ship of baseball’s remorse, to kick the demons aside and melt the winter crunch in heaven's sunlight.
Tonight, it’s more than a game.