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I am an optimist.

As I tell my son, I am “a happy man.” I try to stay upbeat, see the good in others and have faith that everything will work out for the best.

Lately, however, I’ve been walking under a dark cloud of doubt. I rationally understand that a joyous event could happen in the near future, yet I am fearful that calamity will strike again, destroying this year’s dream and adding more misery onto me, my family, friends and fellow fans.

The subject of this column is near and dear to my heart, as much a part of my genetic makeup as Italian food and Irish blue eyes – the Chicago Cubs. The possible joyous event? The first World Series championship in 100 years.

A glorious night singing the National Anthem at Wrigley Field.

Singing the National Anthem at Wrigley Field in 2004.

As I write this column, the Cubs are beginning their “Hunt for a Blue October” with the division playoff series against the Dodgers. This is only the sixth postseason appearance for the Cubs in my 50-year-old lifetime.

My father, the man who indoctrinated me into Cubs fandom, was only nine years old in 1945 when the team last appeared in the World Series. My Nonno (Italian for grandfather) was not even born when the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908. Now those two die-hard fans are rallying the angels and cheering for the Cubs from Heaven.

Here on earth, I am trying to stay optimistic and keep the faith, but it’s hard. I’ve seen too many slumps, slides and strikeouts to know that no collapse is impossible for the Cubs.

Ground balls through the legs, foul balls not caught, hot summer day games, a black cat on the field, a billy goat kept out of the ballpark – all of these events have kept the Cubs from winning the pennant. Why, after the mythical collapse of 1969 when the Amazin’ Mets won it all, there were rumors that the Cubs were going to be sold and moved to the Philippines, where they would be renamed the Manila Folders. Not really, but you can understand the angst all us Cubs fans feel.

What really concerns me, though, is the realization that the level of my pessimism is directly proportional to the team’s talent and success. Each win delivers a one-two punch of elation and anxiety at the same time. After so many years of failure, am I scared that the Cubs might win? Can we handle the success?

This quandary leads me to wonder if I should “play it safe” with my emotions and not get too wrapped in either the highs or lows of daily life. Is it better to stay on an even keel, or is life best experienced by enjoying the highs and persevering through the lows?

And what about faith? If we are always playing it safe, then we don’t need faith; we don’t need a loving God to whom we turn for comfort for our sorrows or to thank for our joys.

No, even though I am a man of doubt and fears, I am also a man of faith. I will enjoy this postseason. I want to remember the Cubs of 2008 as a great team, no matter the final outcome.

“How do you want to be remembered?” asks Kent Stock, the coach of the Norway High School baseball team in the film The Final Season.

Norway, Iowa is a small farming community just west of Cedar Rapids. Playing baseball is as much a part of the daily routine in Norway as feeding the livestock and hauling hay to the barn. Based upon a true story in 1991, The Final Season tells the story of a very successful baseball team.

Year after year, this small 1A high school baseball team remained independent of any conference so that they could schedule teams from much larger schools. Under the guidance of longtime coach Jim Van Scoyoc, the team focused on the fundamentals of baseball and won 19 Iowa State Baseball Championships.

That winning tradition, however, was seriously put to the test when the county school board decided that the students of Norway High School would have many more educational opportunities if they close the school and merge with the larger Madison High School.

Forcing Coach Van Scoyoc to retire, the school board hires inexperienced Kent Stock (Sean Astin) to coach the team before the merger. Coach Stock must inspire the players to work hard for one more season, one more championship. He wants the team to be remembered as winners.

It’s a story that shows us that despite the possibility of failure or the certainty of change, we should live in the moment and use our God-given talents to the best of our abilities, even if those talents are a love for the Chicago Cubs and a fervent hope that they are successful.

There are many reasons to stay optimistic: the Cubs have excellent pitching, big hitters, and they wear the Roman numeral for 100 on their caps – this has to be the year!

Eddie Vedder, a longtime Cubs fan and lead singer of Pearl Jam, wrote a song this summer titled “Some Day We’ll Go All the Way.” After 100 years, there’s no time like the present.

Keep the faith, Cubs fans.

CF
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First published in the October 3, 2008 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2008 Christopher Fenoglio

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Two weeks ago I was at Wrigley Field in Chicago, watching the Cubs beat the Pirates and step toward the playoffs. As I drove home, I imagined conversations that might be heard if a Chicago sports talk program aired on a religious radio station.

This is Father Michael Patrick O’Connor, talking to you live from our studio and devotional chapel on Waveland Avenue, overlooking the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Go ahead, caller, you’re on the air.

Caller 1: Hello Father Michael, it’s Cathy from Elgin. I have been a Cub fan all my life, but some of my friends have lost faith in the Cubbies. They think the team will always find some way to lose. What should I tell them?

FMPO’C: Well Cathy, it’s interesting that wrigley-layout.gifyou use the word “faith,” as that is exactly what us Cub fans need right now.

Sure it’s been a long time since the Cubs won the National League pennant in 1945. Whole generations have come and gone since the team last won the World Series in 1908. But we can’t switch allegiances and cheer for an American League team. We must have faith that this could be the year the Cubs win it all.

“Hope springs eternal in the hearts of Cub fans everywhere,” my father used to say. Despite the losing streaks, the lack of clutch hits with men on base and a reliable closer, we still believe in the Cubs. They are the team of our fathers and our fathers’ fathers. They are so much a part of us that cheering for them is like cheering for ourselves. We can overcome; we can grab the brass ring.

Cathy, tell your friends to keep the faith. How about another call?

Caller 2: Hi Father, it’s Andy from Omaha, listening on the Internet. Do you think they should make a movie about the Cubs?

FMPO’C: Yes and hopefully a better one than Rookie of the Year. In that film, Henry Rowengartner (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is a twelve-year-old Little Leaguer who breaks his arm. When the cast is removed, he celebrates by going to Wrigley Field with his friends.

When an opponent hits a home run that lands nearby, Henry follows tradition and throws the ball back onto the field. But since the tendons of his arm healed tighter than before, his throw goes all the way to home plate.

Desperate for good pitching and greater ticket sales, the Cubs sign Rowengartner to a major league contract with funny and predictable results. Some of it is just plain silly, much like the Cubs in the mid 1970s.

A better movie would be like Fever Pitch, except with scenes of Wrigley Field, the Bleacher Bums, and the joy felt by 40,000 fans singing “Go Cubs Go” after every victory.

Millions of fans have loved the Cubs since before the days of Banks, Kessinger, Santo and Williams. Now with Lee, Theriot, Ramirez and Soriano leading the way, there’s bound to be a happy ending. We just don’t know the day or the hour of its arrival.

When we read the Book of Job, we find that Job endured many long years of affliction and disaster. Yet he did not curse God or start cheering for another team. We too must have faith that in God’s time—we will be rewarded for our devotion. So, who’s on line one?

Caller 3: Hey, it’s Steve from Chicago. Do you have a good prayer to get rid of all the curses put on the Cubs over the years?

FMPO’C: I know some people say that the years of last place finishes and excruciating near misses are evidence that the Cubs and their fans are jinxed. I disagree.

Granted, trading Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio was an All-Star mistake, and the College of Coaches was a very bad idea. But those were just poor choices made by human beings. Since God gave us free will, we have to live with the consequences of our bad decisions. That’s baseball; that’s life.

C.S. Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain, “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself.”

Like Job, we are stronger from our suffering. We enjoy every small victory that comes our way, yet still know the pangs of humility. Not many Yankees fans can say that.

As for the Curse of the Goat, the story goes that Billy Sianis, a Greek immigrant and Chicago restaurant owner, brought his pet goat to the 1945 World Series—the last one played at Wrigley Field. When the Andy Frain ushers ejected him from the stadium, he cursed the Cubs. But they were right in kicking him out—goats can really stink by the seventh inning.

Forget about curses and believe in the Cubs with a sincere heart. Lou Piniella will do the rest. Of course, a prayer to St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes, can also help. Finally, we have time for one more call.

Caller 4: Hi Father, it’s Rory from South Bend. Do you have any advice for this year’s Notre Dame football team?

FMPO’C: Oh, Rory my son, the lessons of faith are even more important there, but we’ll have to wait until next week. Keep the faith!

CF
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First published in the October 5, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio.

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