CHICAGO -- As the late, great Harry Caray would have said, "Holy Cow!"
To many, that holds an extra-special meaning. I'm in that group. Here's my story.
One of the most difficult things I've ever had to write is what follows. No, not because I think I'm special or more emotional than everyone else. It's more that I don't think I could ever find all the words to properly convey the emotional roller coaster that my family and I went through in the past month.
The good thing for all of us? I think this story can apply to every family that loves sports. Just sub in your story and team(s) for mine and it will work. Just trust me here. You'll see.
I come from an entire extended family of die-hard Cubs fans. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. My wonderful parents (and step-parents!), brother and sister. My best friend in the world who I married. The works. You get it. We all have what my dad used to call "the sickness."
And here's where it turns.
Two days after my 64-year-old father saw the Cubs win an NL pennant for the first time in his life, he found out he had lost his brother to cancer.
Though I did, of course, love him, I don't want to misrepresent the situation and act like my uncle and I were overly close. We spoke several times a year and I honestly can't remember when the last time was that we spoke without at some point talking about the Cubs. Sometimes that's the only thing we talked about. I have an exceptional memory, too, so my hunch is we never, in my entire life, spoke without talking Cubs. That's how much he loved the team.
Non-misrepresentation: I loved talking to him about the Cubs. Even when we disagreed, I so appreciated his passion and love for the team.
Before I left for the 2012 winter meetings in Nashville, he told me I wasn't allowed to come home until the Cubs had a third baseman. He wasn't wrong. It was mostly a mess at the time. A few years later, we laughed about how Kris Bryant was now the man at the hot corner.
That's just an example of roughly three decades of cataloging I have in my head when it comes to my uncle.
That will forever be my point of reference when it comes to my uncle. We didn't have a ton in common, but one thing we did have in common was our love of the Chicago Cubs and our ultimate hope that one day they would provide us with the ultimate moment of happiness.
As the Cubs were getting through this entire season and the cancer wore on my uncle, my greatest hope was that he would hold on long enough to see the Cubs win the World Series. He had already seen some great immediate-family memories (such as his two daughters getting married) in the recent past, so this seemed to be one last item of happiness to check off the list.
When the Cubs beat the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS, I just sat there silently with the biggest possible smile on my face while some tears streamed down my face. A few minutes later, my brother and I popped champagne (we never drink champagne, so this was purely symbolic) and toasted to my grandpa (who is still hanging on at 87), my dad and our uncle.
Less than two days later, we found out my uncle died.
This will mean a lot more in a bit. Note a familiar last name on there pic.twitter.com/LqwUi9mm4a— Matt Snyder (@MattSnyderCBS) November 3, 2016
In an amazing coincidence, the showing and funeral came between Games 2 and 3 of the World Series -- on Thursday, which was an off day. My dad lives in Arizona now, but he flew back and said that his brother did him one last favor when it came to the Cubs. Personally, this was the only possible time I could have made both without interfering with work and it would have only been the case if the Cubs were playing the Indians in the World Series (because I drove from Cleveland and the funeral home was on the way to Chicago).
I mean, how is this even real? It sounds like fiction.
At the showing, I just had to know. So I asked my aunt if my uncle definitely knew the Cubs were going to the World Series before he died. She confirmed that he did.
I was so happy for him that I can't possibly even describe it in words.
In his casket, he was wearing a Cubs hat, an NL champions shirt and there was a "W" flag draped over the bottom part. It was requested by his immediate family that everyone wear Cubs gear instead of anything formal. My brother and I were able to tally jerseys for Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez (me!), Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and there were probably a few we missed.
Of course there were non-Cubs memories exchanged through the night. My uncle wasn't one-dimensional. It's just that this was the dimension I was most familiar with.
And I tell you, seeing him ... man. I've been unbelievably blessed with healthy family members. The last time I attended a funeral of a family member I knew was when I was 16. I'm 38 and I hadn't seen someone in a casket I knew my whole life as an adult. As everyone who has ever been through this (pretty much all of us) knows, that's a hell of a thing. Just seeing this person who I had always known is now without life. After 22 years without that feeling, it's really messed up. I was reeling.
Here's the thing, though: He was suffering and now he's not. And I'm going to believe that his beloved Cubs -- along with his wife, daughters and the rest of his family, obviously -- gave him great pleasure through his pain during the final few months of his life.
I also like to think that his immediate family gets even greater pleasure watching this Cubs team now and thinking of him -- especially when they stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series.
What a team to root for, too. They were an absolute wrecking crew on offense with a flair for the dramatic while sporting the best and most exciting defense in baseball (possibly in baseball history). They had fun. They pitched their butts off.
Because what if?
What if the Cubs won 103 games and were bounced in the first round by a team that was far inferior in nearly every way? Even though the team is so well set up for future years, now they would be carrying the baggage of questions like "yeah, but what happens when you get to October again?" Also keep in mind the personal baggage my family was carrying.
Nope. Not this team.
They even made history with their ridiculous Game 4 comeback, scoring four in the ninth to dispatch of the Giants' "Even Year Magic" in a 6-5 win.
In the NLCS, I was still pretty nervous but it was less than in the first round. The season would have still felt like a failure in the case of a loss, but not with a disaster of an exit. Instead, they got the job done in six games.
As the World Series arrived, I wasn't nervous anymore. Sure, some of it was admitted overconfidence (and, no, Indians fans this isn't a slight to your team -- it's thinking that Cubs were just that good).
It just felt different now.
The moment that sticks out most to me in the lead up to the series is what my wife said before I left for the airport before Game 1. She reminded me that, back in 2011, I was ecstatic to be covering the first World Series of my life. A dream come true (well, OK, a backup dream because playing in it would have actually been the dream). And at the time, I said, "Can you imagine if I ever get to do this and cover the Cubs?"
I didn't just cover them. I was in the clubhouse after they won it all. I shook Ryne Sandberg's hand and personally told David Ross congratulations on getting to go out that way (he was as gracious as anyone you could imagine, by the way).
Hello 2016 Cubs. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Also, thank you for what you did to my dad and his fan psyche. For years, he has been a die-hard fan with some positivity. I stress the some there. He was long prone to "I've seen this movie before"-type pessimism. He actually said those literal words to my friend and colleague Dayn Perry before the 2015 season started.
As my dad and I sat together in the Chase Field bleachers back in the third game of the Cubs' 2016 season, Kyle Schwarber tore his ACL right in front of us. My dad looked at his wife and said, "I'm never gonna see them win the pennant."
Nope. Not this team.
OH WAIT, YES, THIS TEAM
Not just the pennant, dad. All the way.
Again, thank you for that, 2016 Cubs. Further thanks are due, because along the way in this journey, he changed as a fan, my father. This team was so special, he lost the negative part of his fan psyche. It was by far my favorite part of this season, exceeding every single moment by the actual players.
For example, during Game 4 of the NLDS when the Giants took a 5-2 lead into the top of the ninth, my brother and I were already talking about how nervous we were for Game 5. My dad's reply, via text, "it's not over yet." He wasn't talking about the series. He was talking about Game 4. And he was right.
During Game 1 of the NLCS, Baez stole home and I -- from Wrigley, where my dad had taken me probably about 40 times before -- texted my dad and said, "We've been waiting our whole lives for this team."
His response? "I love them."
This team, man ...
For Game 4 of the World Series, my dad and brother tried everything they could to get tickets to the game, but instead ended up at a rooftop that was mostly obstructed from the field. Still, they were basically there with the Cubs in the World Series. From inside Wrigley, I walked over close to where they were to see them. When my dad waved over, I swear that was the biggest smile I've ever seen from him in my entire life.
I could never put into words what it meant to see him so happy after the roller coaster he'd been through this past month. With everything weighing on all of us, I damn near cried. Instead, I had an idea.
During each World Series, members of the media get commemorative pins. Here are this year's.
I gave the Cubs pin to my dad after Game 4.
What did I say?
"Thank you for making me a Cubs fan."
For decades, so many people would have mocked a statement like that. I will swear up and down until the day I die that I firmly believed that, even if the Cubs never won a World Series. This is part of the fabric of my being. I was proud to be a Cubs fan, even if I never saw them win it all.
But they did come back. They did it.
There were moments. Oh boy were there moments. When Addison Russell doubled in Game 6, a few family members and I told each other that my uncle called off Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall and then we again said he had a hand in the rain delay in Game 7. It just seemed like that helped the team -- so what's wrong with us believing this?
It was all so therapeutic.
As I watched the final outs of the World Series, I almost lost it. I ended up having to run into the hallway after the third out because I started to cry. I fought it off, though, and ended up making it the rest of the way at Progressive Field only with a huge smile on my face. This was it. Everyone in my extended family could truly say they had been waiting their whole life for this. What a night.
The day after, I'm not sure when this feeling will wear off. I woke up and started laughing with tears in my eyes. This is beyond belief, as a sports fan. I'm numb, happily and gleefully.
In all, this is the best way I knew to relate to the fact that the first family member I lost in over two decades and it's how I translate so many feelings to my other family members. Writing is what I do.
Why is this here? Because anyone reading this who is smart knows that it's not as much a personal story as it is a vehicle for how sports can be important. Even if sports are of secondary importance, they can still be important.
In this, the weirdest month of my life, Major League Baseball and the Chicago Cubs were my driving force. I'm not unique. In fact, I feel a huge kinship with the rest of baseball fandom. I know many of you have been here before. Now I'm here. Thanks for being with me.
Feel free to leave any of your own, personal stories like this in the comments. And remember, at our core, we're all very alike in this respect. Non sports fans will never know what this is like, either.
Holy cow, the Cubs are champions. My Uncle John is smiling from above.