It’s a better story if they blow it.
This is what I kept telling myself in the bottom of the ninth inning of Thursday night’s Cubs-Phillies game. I stood in Section 134, staring at the giant white moon glowing in the sky above the grandstand just to the left of home plate, trying not to watch the cosmic meltdown happening on the field. What had been a five-run Cubs lead was now certain, impending doom in the form of Bryce Harper stepping to the plate with bases loaded and Rhys Hoskins (HBP; WTF?!?) standing on first, repping the winning run.
Insanity is a palpable physical sensation, and I know this, because that’s the only way to describe how I felt in my gut at that moment. Looking around me at the Phillies fans on their feet, ready to celebrate (because everyone knew how Harper v. Holland was bound to turn out), it hit me. I felt this exact same way on the night of Nov. 2, 2016, standing in the upper deck on the third-base side of Progressive Field in Cleveland after Rajai Davis’ game-tying home run. Yes, Game 7 of the World Series when your team hasn’t been in the World Series since World War II is a smidge more significant than a cross-divisional matchup in mid-August, but my anxiety doesn’t get that! It only knows one speed: full spin cycle.
I spent about half my life trying to slow the motor with alcohol, but anyone out there who loves sports with every fiber of their being – as I do – can attest that nothing soothes the insanity of those excruciating/exhilarating suspenseful moments. What you want so badly is completely beyond your control, and no amount of wringing your hands, biting your nails, talking to yourself, punching your husband in the shoulder, screaming – or drinking – your face off will ever change that. It’s maddening. It’s almost unbearable.
It’s real life.
Our outing to Citizens Bank Park came on Day 40 of my new real life as a non-drinker, and I made a huge deal about it beforehand, because my past adventures as an insanely invested Cubs fan almost invariably involved as much booze as I had the patience to stand in line for. Up until Thursday, I had basically not left the house for 40 days, other than to go to work and A.A. meetings. I dreaded having to venture out and confront an anxiety cocktail of my intensely frustrating favorite team, family dynamics and a stadium full of beer vendors and jolly drinkers, with my only defenses being a sense of humor, a bag of peanuts and a Diet Coke.
I came up with a whole coping strategy. A dear old family friend who’s also a huge Cubs fan and a recovering alcoholic suggested that I keep score to keep my mind – and hands – occupied. I adored the idea. Memories of my childhood at Wrigley Field, where I’d approach the guy in the wooden cart just inside the gates and hand him 75 cents for a piece of card stock and a pencil, then chart every 6-3 putout and backward K while coloring in every misshapen, hand-drawn diamond – for the other team, probably, because this was the early 90s – came flooding back.
My mom taught me to keep score when I was 8. It’s a very important milestone for a young girl, you know, when she learns the meaning of “FC” and that a BB is not an AB. …But I think I might be getting off topic.
It’s a better story if they blow it.
Well, they blew it, and this story ends in sadness rather than being tied up with a neat little red-white-and-blue bow. We left our seats while Harper’s moonshot still hung in the air, a gentleman wearing his jersey stepping out in the aisle to bid me a fond, four-letter farewell as his team celebrated a three-game sweep of epic proportions on the field below. I didn’t bother to draw the final four diamonds on my scorecard or fill in Holland’s official pitching line (😉).
Friday morning, I drew my 40th hash mark on the whiteboard in my basement. The board hangs right next to a replica of the iconic ‘W’ flag on one side and a panoramic pic of Wrigley Field on the other.
Talk about mixed emotions.
That’s the story of your life when you’re a sports fan, and I realize now how very similar it is to staying sober. There will always be those insane moments when situations, events and outcomes are completely beyond your control, and sometimes, you’ll be left dealing with a crushing defeat, a F*CK YOU in your face, and you won’t be able to fight back or to escape.
Of course, there will also be magical moments. Such as, random rainstorms that wash out the other team’s rally, leaving you the World Champions for the first time in over 100 years. Or such as, waking up without a hangover and a bloated body and feeling genuine excitement for what the day might bring.
The latter is completely within my control. I can experience that kind of winning feeling, every single day, one day at a time, if I continually choose not to blow it.
Right now, for those scoring at home, my record is 41-0.