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A Chicago Cubs true believer has a hard time believing it's true

You can see Kris Bryant slip as he throws the ball. The grass is wet, so is the ball, and maybe it slips from his hand, sailing high, and maybe Rizzo's foot comes off the bag and the ball goes off the top of his glove, and Cleveland ties the score … and the World Series is not really over.

News alert from Bleacher Report: 5 million people attend Chicago Cubs victory parade, making it the 7th largest human gathering in recorded history.

Success isn't always comfortable or safe or believable. We optimists (or at least we Cubs fans) do frequent battle with an innate resistance to the notion that true belief translates into a positive conclusion. Optimism is a valuable tool to move forward and cope, but it is not in and of itself a result.

So it is that 50-plus years of love, loyalty and hope-springs-eternalism culminates in the dream-come-true joy that the Cubs have actually won the World Series. And yet I still can't believe it and am nervous that the Cleveland club might still score two more and swipe this crown away.

News alert from MLB.com: Obama invites World Series champion Cubs to White House.

My disbelief is rooted in five decades of disappointment. I carry the weight of history and experience — but can the accumulation of old box scores really hold back a bunch of 20-somethings who are tougher, smarter, faster than their predecessors? Apparently not. This 2016 lineup has nothing to do with old Cub teams, nothing to do with curses (a trite, pop culture trope), nothing to do with inane labels like "lovable losers" (another silly trope).

News alert from Bleacher Report: Cast of Hamilton performs Go Cubs Go during curtain call.

My dad, Ron Brown, took me to my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field in 1963 when I was 5. Though he was an educated and progressive man, Dad was concerned with my fascination with paper dolls, a function of the fact that all my playmates were little girls. Perhaps if he took me to a ballgame, he thought, he might, well, right the ship.

Back then, the Cubs were so bad it wasn't a hard ticket. During warmups we went down near the Cubs bullpen and lo and behold got up close to Ernie Banks, who shook my hand. From that moment on I was obsessed with the Cubs and baseball.

It seemed that I played ball every day after that, whether in the cement "yard" of our apartment building or the modest front lawn of our suburban house, or on my bedroom floor playing Strat-O-Matic. Rubber balls. Wiffle Balls. League Balls. We played all the time, disorganized, fielding more than we hit because we didn't want to break any windows.

I went to as many Cubs games as I could — $1 for a bleacher seat, $2 in the grandstand, and on special occasions, $3.50 for a box seat at Wrigley. I'd go early and sit in the stands and read the newspaper while watching the players take batting practice. I'd hunt for autographs and balls sprayed into the stands during BP. The routine was the same: Hot dog before the game. Hot dog during. Then peanuts. Then a Frosty Malt in the seventh. Later, beer was added to the menu. I saw great players play thrilling games, and more than half the time the Cubs lost.

Every loss struck me as utterly unexpected. I went to the games with my grade school friends like Nagie, or Sork, or Robert Shaw, or my brothers Steve and Howard. I told my friends that if I ever had a million dollars I'd get a place near Wrigley Field and go to every home game. There was a beauty and a magic and even a serenity about being at that ballpark.

In 1967, four years after I attended my first game, the Cubs finally got good. That was the first of Ferguson Jenkins' six straight 20-win seasons. (Six straight!) While there were years when the Cubs came close to a championship (1969, 1984, 2003), they were a pretty weak team. Yet at the start of every season from 1967 on, I, and thousands of people like me, GENUINELY BELIEVED that the Cubs would win the World Series. No lie. Really believed it.

MLB video alert: See Anthony Rizzo stick final out baseball in back pocket.

I remember the phone ringing at my desk in 1984. It was my dad. "Can you get here Wednesday?" Dad had somehow done the unimaginable: He'd landed a ticket to a Cubs playoff game. I hopped People's Express from West Palm to Chicago. We saw the second game of the Cubs-Padres series at Wrigley. We sat in the grandstand with a view partially obstructed by a steel beam that seemed like it wasn't even there. Cubs won 4-2. Steve Trout pitched. The Cubs were one win away from the World Series.

The collapse or choke that followed is well documented, just like the defining fold 15 years before in 1969 (featuring black cats spooking the greatest of Cubs heroes — Banks, Santo and Williams), and just like the so-called "Bartman" debacle in 2003, spawning the ridiculous notion that a fan reaching for a foul ball had more to do with missing the World Series than a shortstop booting a waist-high grounder two plays later.

My old man never saw another Cubs playoff game in person. When my brothers and I were going through his things after he died in July of 2013, I came across a manila folder. Inside were unused box seat tickets to Wrigley Field, Aisle 122 Row 9, Seats 101-2. They were for the 1984 World Series — that never happened. Face value $30. My dad never mentioned to me that he'd scored tickets. I guess he didn't want me to feel worse than I already did.

I kept the folder. Someday, I thought, I'll go to a World Series game at Wrigley. I'll frame my ticket stub along with my dad's. I really believed it would happen. I had no idea when.

News Alert from Bleacher Report: Final Out baseball valued at $3 million dollars. Current owner Anthony Rizzo.

• • •

Wrigley Field was packed, 41,000 strong. As I walked around the park, with my daughter Mina, I looked into so many faces and they looked back at me. I didn't run into anyone I knew. And yet I knew every one of them.

This time the face value on the World Series ticket was $200. I considered it a steal. On StubHub the same seat was going for $2,500. People were paying as much as $25,000 for some box seats.

The wind was blowing out to leftfield and there was a sense the Cubs would belt homer after homer and take a series lead.

They lost 1-0. They never even hit a fly ball to left. I saw the next game, too. They lost 7-2. My high school buddies at home razzed me on a group text about being unlucky. The exhilaration of seeing a World Series game at Wrigley gave way to a familiar dejection: the joy of watching the Cubs play at Wrigley seemed to go hand-in-hand with the sting of watching them lose.

Cleveland led the series 3-1; the Cubs were one loss away from elimination. I felt it would take a miracle. Then I heard the locker room interview with Kris Bryant. "We've won three games in a row before," he said. He was confident in a way that was unfamiliar. Hell, he believed it. He believed the Cubs could mount the kind of comeback that only happened twice in the history of the World Series. He believed it, and so did I.

Bleacher Report: Anthony Rizzo gives final out game ball to Cubs owner Tom Ricketts. "It only feels right."

It was Game 7. Cleveland had tied the score with an unlikely home run in the eighth inning. The Cubs had let a four-run lead melt away. I still believed, but I was sick to my stomach. "I've never seen you look this bad," my wife said. She said I looked worse than when I had my heart attack.

Then came the rain. Then came Zobrist. Then things moved fast.

MLB interview with Bill Murray after Cubs win Game 7: "I'm thinking of my father and my uncles and those who brought me to Wrigley Field all those years and bought me Frosty Malts …"

The lightly tapped ground ball skids toward Bryant. You can see him slip as he throws the ball, but he is smiling. It sails high over Rizzo's head — oh no, oh no, oh no … Oh Yes!

Champions.

I put my ticket stubs from the 2016 World Series in the manila folder with my dad's tickets from 1984. I've got to go buy a frame.

Neil Brown is editor and vice president of the Tampa Bay Times. Contact him at nbrown@tampabay.com.

A Chicago Cubs true believer has a hard time believing it's true 11/08/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2016 8:41pm]
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