Thursday, July 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Area Cubs fans can't quite believe they're going to Chicago for the World Series

It was sometime in late August when Stephen Neldner looked up the dates of the World Series, paying close attention to when the games moved to the National League park. He then got out a calendar, logged on to Southwest Airlines' website and booked a round trip ticket that would get him to Chicago this weekend.

It was quite a leap of faith for the lifelong Cubs fan, given the team's history of postseason failure.

"Oh for sure," Neldner agreed.

Then he added that he booked Southwest because he knew he could cancel the flight and use the ticket for another trip if the Cubs came up sort.

Say this about Cubs fans: They are loyal, and they are smart.

Neldner, 30, who lives in Brandon, is headed to Chicago, and so are the other bay area Cubs fans whom the Tampa Bay Times has followed this postseason.

The idea behind the series is to follow the Cubs through the eyes of their fans, most accurately described as long-suffering.

The Cubs last played in the World Series in 1945 and last won one in 1908.

The 70 seasons following their loss to the Tigers in 1945 included a mixture of lousy pitching, lousy fielding, lousy hitting and lousy managing. It also included a handful of curses and a number of heartbreaking postseason moments.

Those were all flushed away Saturday night when the Cubs beat the Dodgers 5-0 to clinch their first pennant in 71 years.

On Monday morning, Ed Rubin still couldn't find the words to describe what is going on in his world, despite having more than a full day to process everything.

"The feeling is actually surreal. I still can't believe the Cubs are going to the World Series," he said. "Unless you're a Cubs fan it's hard to describe."

Maggie Mitchell, 37, who tends bar at Prime Time Sports Grill in Tampa, worked Saturday night. It was about 1 a.m. when the place began to empty and Mitchell found herself looking at the highlights playing on a TV while her friends reassured her, "Maggie, this is really happening."

"It's crazy," she said Sunday afternoon. "I can't believe it."

Roger Kurz believes. He was 1 when the Cubs and Tigers met in the 1945 World Series. But then Kurz, who lives in West Tampa, has believed all season that this would finally be the year.

"We're taking another step. I feel good about it," he said. "Seventy-one years is great; 108 years is a better goal. God be with them. I hope they make it through."

Jacob Linsky, 27, moved from his home in Tampa earlier this month for a job in Atlanta. Despite rooting for a team some believe was heavily cursed, Linsky didn't think the move would upset his team's postseason mojo. So far, so good.

Linsky watched Game 6 at the house of his new boss. He had been invited with some of his co-workers for a dinner party.

"Don't worry," his boss assured him, "the game will be on."

Linsky said he is known around work as "Jacob the Cubs Fan."

Hey, there are worse nicknames.

Rubin, 54; his wife, Kelly; Mitchell, Kurz and Linsky are all headed to Chicago this weekend, hoping to find tickets for the middle three games. If not, hanging with their brethren outside Wrigley Field will be more than close enough.

"Other fan bases, Yankee fans, Giants fans, they expect this," Linsky said. "As a Cubs fan, it's the complete opposite. This is very new."

Mike Zichmiller, 42, booked his trip to Chicago at the end of August. Like Neldner, it was a leap of faith for the South Tampa resident who grew up in Chicago that his Cubs, who steamrolled their way through the regular season, would continue to do so in the postseason.

"We did it last year, too, but they lost to the Mets," he said.

Zichmiller had that same sinking feeling when the Cubs were shut out in consecutive games by the Dodgers during the National League Championship Series.

He had that "here we go again" feeling, the one he felt last season when Mets pitching dominated the Cubs during the NLCS.

"What a wave of emotions," he said. "It's so sad. It's not easy being a Cubs fan."

It's easier today. Unless you are old enough to remember 1945, it has never been easier.

What's not easy is getting tickets to the games.

Standing room only tickets are going for $2,500. Zichmiller has seen two tickets online with an asking price of $10,000.

"I would like to be in the stadium," Kurz said. "I don't know if that is going to happen."

Mitchell's family brought her plane tickets so she could be in Chicago when/if her beloved Cubs were still playing this weekend.

So as not to jinx anything, Mitchell told everyone in her family that she was coming for Halloween.

After the Cubs clinched the pennant Saturday night, Mitchell called her mom and said, "I'm not coming home for Halloween. I'm coming home for the World Series. I can say it now."

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