Just playing ball

I knew it the minute I stepped out into the street outside my friend’s apartment, out into the masses of people that were congregating, drawn there by love — love for a game, for a sport, for a reason to hug strangers and celebrate.

I knew it when I looked in my friends’ faces, and the faces of hundreds of people around me, and saw joy.

I knew it when I thought about those 108 years of waiting, those years that I had lived only a fraction of, and yet I could feel all 108 of them tugging on me, and then letting themselves go.

I knew that I would never forget the moment the Cubs won the 2016 World Series, or the moments that led up to it. I knew I would forever be grateful for the joy that baseball has given me.

I’m mostly writing this post because summer has me thinking about my love for baseball, and I don’t want to forget the happiness that love has given me.

Nothing can ever compare to the Cubs’ historic win, but I don’t want to forget that a sport, a team, and a game can make us feel pure, immense joy.

Cubs game feels.

I’m not a die-hard Cubs fan in the sense of knowing all the statistics and team history.

Instead, being a Cubs fan has just been a thing of life. It’s just another fact about me, like the fact that I have three brothers and I have brown hair. Like many others, we rooted for the Cubs because it was in our family, and we stuck by the team, saying “next year.”

I’ve played some version of the sport myself since I was very young — t-ball, summer leagues in middle school, softball in high school.

But it wasn’t until I grew up a bit that I realized how much I really loved this game. I loved playing night games in the summer, when the mosquitoes would bite you up and you’d walk home with a warm Gatorade in your hand. I loved sitting in the dugout with my friends, or playing catch in the yard with my dad. I loved that first warm spring day after so many bitterly cold softball games, when you finally took off your team sweatshirt, only to get a sunburn. More than anything, I loved the feeling of catching a long pop fly.

And there’s nothing like the happiness of stepping into a ballpark and spending a few hours watching a game and keeping a scorecard.

In her book, “Baseball Life Advice,” Stacey May Fowles describes this joy that ballparks bring, and how baseball games became a refuge for her.

I never feel more human, or more sane, than I do inside a ballpark. — Stacey May Fowles

I’ll remember the Cubs World Series run as one of the happiest times of my life.

I was in the midst of the most difficult semester of college yet; I was taking 20 hours of classes and working two jobs. It was the most stressed I’d ever been.

Watching the Cubs became a welcome distraction. I would come home from a long day and curl up on the couch in my apartment and watch the games.

I was on that same couch, by myself, wrapped up in a blanket, when the Cubs won the NLCS. The tears came when I watched the video of Harry Caray saying “Sure as God made green apples, someday the Chicago Cubs are going to be in the World Series,” and I thought of my grandparents — those who did and didn’t get to see that day.

The next few weeks can only be described as surreal. It was like I was watching everything from the outside. Like any lifelong Cubs fan, I also had my doubts.

And then it started to feel real. The night before Game 5, I made the spontaneous decision to take a bus to Chicago. I didn’t have tickets; I just wanted to be near Wrigley Field.

I’m so glad I did that. I met my mom in Chicago and we stood outside Wrigley for hours, along with hundreds of other people who had the same idea. We saw hilarious signs, people walking goats, people dressed up as Teddy Roosevelt and the pope — everyone was happy.

When Game 7 came around, I met my friend and we raced through town in a downpour of rain to make it to her apartment in time to watch the game. The second we walked inside, we saw Dexter Fowler’s lead off home run, and it felt like a sign.

I don’t remember much about the rest of the game. We sat on her couch, anxiously eating hot dogs and trying not to think about just how much this game meant.

By the rain delay, I was a goner (meaning my stomach hurt from anxiety so much that I was then lying on my friend’s couch). And then that last inning seemed to go by lightning fast, and Kris Bryant made that beautiful throw to Anthony Rizzo, and “next year” was this year.

I believe this Reddit comment described that history-making moment best:

Kris Bryant is smiling as he makes the last out, as his foot slips, a 108 year curse grabbing at his cleats, grasping with its final breath. But Kris Bryant is young. He is laughing. And he is just playing ball.

Hundreds of people spilled out onto the streets outside. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. All I could do was stand there and laugh and cry as I realized the magnitude of this moment.

Pure joy.

I was fortunate enough to then be able to go to Chicago again for the victory parade. I soaked up all the happiness that the Cubs could give me.

As the team rolled by on giant red buses, people in the crowds yelled “thank you” to them, and I thought about how that was the perfect thing to say.

There are very few times in our life when we truly experience awe. We can’t always predict when we’re going to feel this way, when we’re going to be so overwhelmed by a moment that we can’t help but smile constantly and talk happily to strangers. But when moments like these come around, I think we should cherish them, and realize how fortunate we are to feel them.

There is still joy in this world, and it will find us in unexpected ways.

Someday finally came, and I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.

A few weeks ago, I joined a community softball league. I’d been craving catching pop flies and getting back to the sport I loved.

The first game I played, our team lost terribly, but it was still the most fun I’d had in a long time. I was so happy when I came home and saw there was sand from the infield in my socks. I felt like a kid again.

All of this starts with a love for a game. It’s a love that seems silly at times, and some people can’t understand it, but it’s real, and it’s the beginning of so many beautiful things.