Tonight, tonight…

“I’m going to be at the game when the Cubs clinch to go to the World Series!”

I’ll never forget making that exact phone call in Miami in 2003 to a friend of mine back at Purdue from Pro Player Stadium after the Cubs won Game 4 of the NLCS to take a 3–1 lead in the series over the Marlins.

Tickets were cheap and, more importantly, available in Miami given the fact that Pro Player Stadium’s capacity was roughly twice that of Wrigley, so three friends of mine and I decided at the last minute to rent a car from the Purdue airport and drive through the night down to Miami for Games 4 and 5 of the NLCS.

We knew there was a chance the Cubs could clinch, and we wanted to be there for it. As college students, we didn’t have much in the way of responsibilities other than show up for class, don’t drink yourself to death, and don’t fail out of school.

We counted 72 Waffle Houses between West Lafayette and my buddy’s aunt’s house where we were crashing near Fort Lauderdale. That was how we passed the time, counting Waffle Houses (We stopped at the 56th one we saw, somewhere in rural Georgia. It was delicious.), that and talking about, well…

“I’m going to be at the game when the Cubs clinch to go to the World Series!”

I should have known better. But time, time is cruel. Time has a way of thrusting the mirror in your face as you get older to show you just how wrong you were in your youth.

I was a 21-year-old senior at Purdue whose life was going nowhere, fast. I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I picked psychology as a major because I thought maybe I wanted to be a shrink. I thought this, even though I had a sub-3.0 GPA at the time. Again, time has a way of showing you just how wrong you were in your youth.

In 2003, I thought I was bulletproof. I thought the Cubs were bulletproof. And inside the ballpark with 65,000+ others on the night of October 11, 2003, I had no reason to believe otherwise.

The Cubs beat Dontrelle Willis, at the time one of the most electric pitchers in the game, 8–3. The crowd, as I remember it, was roughly 70% Cubs fans. It felt like a home game for the Cubs, only instead of watching it at Wrigley, we were at one of the worst places to watch a ballgame ever. Strangers high fived each other, my friends and I took pictures on our disposable cameras, this was going to be THE year and we wanted to document it.

Finally.

“I’m going to be at the game when the Cubs clinch to go to the World Series!”

Those pictures, which I wound up getting developed at a drugstore somewhere, are in a box in my dad’s basement collecting dust. I don’t keep them with me and I never bothered scanning them, not because I don’t treasure the memory of that road trip (it’s still among the top five best decisions I’ve ever made in my life), but because I was wrong.

The folly of youth is that it convinces you that you can bend the world to your will, and that the good times are going to last forever.

The funny thing about getting older is that you’re consistently laughing at the things you said and did in your youth. Like getting a psychology degree that you never wound up using, or leaving drunk voicemails in the middle of the night when you’re flying high on endorphins brought on by Matt Freaking Clement outpitching Dontrelle Willis to win Game 4 of the NLCS, buoyed by the warm weather in Miami and the eternal optimism that comes with being in your early 20s.

I should have known better. My dad brought me to my first Cubs game in 1987 when I was five years old, before Wrigley Field had lights. 1989 crushed me as a kid, but when you’re seven, you get over things fast. Plus, my Cub fandom was in its infancy at the time. I didn’t know any better back then.

As a 21-year-old college student standing in the ballpark that night, I thought this year, finally, things are going to be different.

“Oh well…”

We did, indeed, go back for Game 5 of the NLCS the next afternoon. Josh Beckett threw the game of his life, a complete game two hit shutout that remains, to this day, the best pitching performance I’ve ever seen in person.

Everyone knows exactly how the 2003 series turned out. There’s no sense in rehashing that here, given the fact that every media outlet everywhere has done that ad nauseam during last year’s and this year’s NLCS. Until the Cubs wind up winning one of these things, it’s going to be a thing that happens. So it goes.

Time has a way of teaching you just how wrong you are about those things. I was wrong that night, and I was wrong about where I thought my life was going to go.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that voicemail over the past two weeks as the Cubs have embarked on a run that has brought more joy to this city than I ever could have imagined as a 21-year-old who thought he was going to grow up to become a shrink back in 2003.

And I’m thinking about that 21-year-old kid this morning and how bummed out he would be by how that series was going to end, but how thrilled he would be with how his life wound up turning out, and how as an adult, he’d live close enough to be able to walk to Wrigley Field to see a Cubs playoff game.

The Cubs didn’t wind up going to the World Series in 2003, and I never wound up becoming a shrink. Instead, I wound up embarking on a career that took so many twists and turns that I’ve lost count. I’ve been a professional mascot, a TV reporter, a telemarketer, and a publicist. I’ve lived in five states, including a three week stint in a Las Vegas hotel room, and worked in six. For the past six years, I’ve been a freelance writer for the likes of ESPN.com, MLB.com, the Chicago Sun-Times, RedEye, and the Chicago Tribune. Seeing my byline in print in the Sunday Chicago Tribune earlier this year was a literal dream come true.

I could not be more thrilled that the road I took from that night in 2003 lead me to where I am today, within walking distance of Wrigley Field as the Cubs have a chance to exorcise the demons of the past with a semi-regular byline in my dream newspaper.

I’ve been thinking about that 21-year-old kid and I’ve been thinking about my mom, and how thrilled she’d be by the fact that all the Cubs have to do to get to the World Series is win one out of two games at Wrigley Field.

The perspective I’ve gained that I lacked 13 years ago is this — You can’t take nights like tonight or weekends like this one for granted, because the good times don’t last forever.

Chicago is absolutely electric right now. If you’re not here, you absolutely should be, because the past couple of weeks have been something else. The atmosphere in and around Wrigley has been off the charts incredible, and tonight, tonight is going to be one of those nights. I’ve been trying to remind myself to slow down, to not get ahead of myself, and to experience as much of this as I can while it lasts. This was worth the wait, the career headaches, the moving around the country trying to figure out what the hell I was doing with my life before I realized that where I should have been all along was right here, in Chicago, living walking distance from Wrigley Field.

Time has a way of giving you perspective, of tempering your optimism, but not completely extinguishing it.

And while I should know better, having been down this road with the Cubs before, I don’t. Because buried somewhere deep in my cynical 34-year-old self is the voice of that 21-year-old college student, brimming with boundless optimism and confidence.

And 21-year-old Matt, I hope you’re right. I hope tonight, tonight is the night.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.