|A pterodactyl delivers the good news Wednesday night at the Field Museum .|
It starts with a ball. Foam or rubber or one of those hollow blue plastic spheres that comes in a set with a fat red bat and a brown toy mitt.
But a parent, a mom or a dad, tosses that ball to a toddler. And the baby, joyful, grabs the ball in a fat fist and flings it back in the general direction of the delighted dad or mirthful mom.
So it begins. Working toward a real hardball and more complicated games: catch in the yard; base runner; pick-up with the kids on the block. Enter professional ball, watched on television, tucked safely under dad's arm, cheering when he cheers.
The dream builds slowly. Those backyard players troop off to Little League, to park district squads. Parents watch instead of playing, mom drives from game to game, dad camps out in the stands.
Others may not play, but channel their passions in baseball cards, into fandom, memorizing stats and records, half hobby, half religion.
By then they've divided their loyalties, North and South. Few root for a distant team; you grow where you're planted. South Siders cleave to the White Sox, who lived their dream not long ago. Lest you forget—as ESPN did—the Sox won the World Series in 2005.
But the Cubs didn't—and North Siders embrace the Cubs. As do those empty spaces without teams—lots of Cub fans in Indiana.
It's a complicated passion. Lovable Losers, our hapless Cubbies playing in their gem at Addison and Clark.
Each fan has an iconic initial Wrigley Field visit. Who can forget the first glimpse, coming up those stairs, the green and brick unfolding like a mirage, an impossible vision.
The sacred space where so much happened for so long. Ruth's called shot. The collapse of 1969. Rick Sutcliffe and Steve Bartman and every person who ever played, or ever watched, as the Cubs tried hard but fell short. Years of hope and agony.
"It was like coming this close to your dreams," as Moonlight Graham says in "Field of Dreams," holding thumb and finger an inch apart. "Then having them brush past like a stranger in the crowd."
Getting the brush-off became a way of life. The first game was played in Wrigley Field on April 23, 1914. And ever since then, the Cubs had never been champions. Never. Not once.
Until . . .
This season started in optimism, but so did last season. The Cubs were young, and good, but how many times in the past has being young and good not been enough? They won 103 games this year and the chance was there, but how many chances were bobbled? In 1984. In 2003. Cubs fans hoped yet did not dare hope.
Winning the pennant was a dream not lived in the waking world since 1945. That dream became real. Yet our fulfillment was not complete. There were four more games to win. Otherwise, winning the pennant was only a new twist on losing. Not flying but falling with style.
When the Cleveland Indians took the first game, the old heaviness tapped us on the shoulder. Oh right. They're still the Cubs. Maybe our dream was hurrying past, like that stranger in a crowd. Again.
But the Cubs battled back in the second game, on the road, buoyed by slugger Kyle Schwarber, injured in early April, returning unexpectedly, our hero.
The Cubs lost the next two games, at home at Wrigley Field, to add insult to injury. The heaviness settled in our stomaches. Oh well. At least we were there. At least we were beaten, by extraordinary pitching, and didn't just muff the thing away, as usual. Cold comfort but comfort nonetheless.
Then the Cubs won the fourth game. And the fifth, their bats awakening, the other team, for once, missing the easy fly ball. Addison Russell, all of 22, hitting his grand slam. Even as he was reaching the dugout, you had to think, "He's going to bask in that glow for the rest of his life." As will we.
We were confident going into that seventh and final game and our confidence was not misplaced. We won.
It was the miracle we had waited for, and our fathers and mothers had waited for before us, and their parents before that. We were bathed in healing waters. The family that taught us the game, the city that nurtured it, the friends we played with, memories we shared, pros we admired, all returned, all alive again, awakened by the crack of the bat, the flash of the ball, the smell of the grass. Alive in our knowledge of how happy this would make them, how happy it makes us now, all of us here, together in victory, for one perfect moment, round and pure.
Like a ball.