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Bartman and Me, Ten Years Later…

It’s all so foolish. I know that now. But I still don’t want to look back.

I know that walking around the University of Missouri-Columbia campus in a daze was dumb. Moises Alou, Sammy Sosa or Dusty Baker wouldn’t have taken a day off class to process what had happened to me.

But that was me 10 years ago. I was a chubby Chicago kid away from home for the first time. My roommate in my all-male dorm was a drugged-up asshole who happened to be from a different continent and made much of my life miserable. I didn’t realize it then, but no co-ed in her right mind would be interested in me. I was still a year away from starting my journalism classes, and wasn’t that interested in Psychology 101 or whatever else I was taking.

But I had the Cubs. The bad-ass 2003 Cubs, whose ignominious ending was 10 years ago this week. Monday is the 10th anniversary of Bartman, and Tuesday marks a decade since the Marlins won Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS.

In the past week there’s been much written about that team. There will be more coming soon, like at 9 p.m. Tuesday night when Comcast SportsNet Chicago airs their documentary “5 Outs.”

“To be honest, it’s not been good so far,” said Sarah Lauch, CSN Chicago’s Executive Producer of Original Content, of people’s reaction to making a documentary about the 2003 Cubs. “But what we’ve all been telling people is that 20 minutes of the (one-hour, 15-minute) show is about Bartman. The rest is about the subplots of that season.

“Those stories are stories that may have been told at that time but maybe not through the eyes of the players, more through the eyes of reporters.”

cubs wsHere was my subplot. It was about being proud of who I was and trying to build an identity, albeit in a misplaced way.

I was a Chicagoan in enemy territory, spending my first semester at Mizzou, just 125 miles from St. Louis. If I wasn’t rocking a black-and-gold Tigers hat (which also seems dopey) I was wearing my Cubs batting practice cap. I was that guy, the loudmouth Chicagoan playfully picking fights with Cardinals fans, my trusty in Dusty at an all-time high.

As the Cubs got closer and closer to the 2003 World Series, I became more and more insufferable. They beat the Cardinals four out of five in September and I believed this was THE YEAR. They clinched the division on Sept. 27 when they swept a doubleheader from the Pirates, and I remember getting blotto on Natural Light with some older friends at their house. The Division Series with the Braves was all a dream, with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior winning three games and giving the Cubs their first series victory since 1908.

Yes, this was the year. I was going to rub it all in the faces of every red-wearing Cardinals dude from St. Charles, O’Fallon or wherever else. Things were different now, I thought.

OK, they lost Game 1 to the Marlins after blowing a big early lead. But that was a blip. Prior was dominant in Game 2, they won Game 3 in 11 innings on a Doug Glanville triple, and while I watched Mizzou beat Nebraska at Faurot Field, Aramis Ramirez’s first inning grand slam staked the Cubs to big lead on their way to a Game 4 win.

It wasn’t a big deal that I had missed Game 4 because the Cubs were one game away from the World Series. Even if Carlos Zambrano — who couldn’t hold the Game 1 lead — lost to Josh Beckett in Game 5, the Cubs still had Prior going in Game 6 and then Wood the next night.

Like me after Mizzou’s big win, it was in the bag.

Then Game 6 on Tuesday, Oct. 14.

I went to class wearing a matching Cubs jersey to go with my hat. If I could have stapled a Chicago flag to my forehead I would have done it. I walked around campus that day with a shit-eating grin, kind of like a boy who knew he was about to become a man.

The game went as I hoped. Prior was cruising, the Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the first and added on in the sixth and seventh. It was surreal, like a fuzzy dream that you don’t remember when you wake up. But this was real.

And then the eighth inning. You know what happened. Bartman, Gonzalez, D-Lee, Mordecai. All that.

The next day I knew the Cubs were screwed. The Cardinals fans smelled blood, playfully wishing me luck when they knew what was coming. Yeah, Wood and Alou homered to put the Cubs briefly in front, but they were dead as dead.

After Paul Bako flew out to Jeff Conine to end the series, I turned off the TV and went to the basement to play ping-pong with a friend. The first thing I did was fling my Cubs hat to the ground, stared at it, and let it stay there for a while. Then I played ping-pong. Then I went back to my room, put my face in my pillow and I cried.

So that brings us to the next day. I took off class and my brain was gone. When I did venture out Cardinals fans were exactly what you’d expect. They taunted me about Bartman, about 1945, about everything.

Certainly, things weren’t much better for the Cubs themselves. But it actually happened to them, not me.

“Hearing all these side-stories and hearing what a great relationship Wood and Prior had and how hurt Dusty was after the season and that him and his family couldn’t walk down the street,” Lauch said. “It’s emotionalizing the game and that season.”

It all seems so foolish now for me to get emotional. Since then I’ve become a professional sports writer, and I’ve covered the Cubs plenty of times. My fanaticism  is long gone, along with any chance of a baseball game affecting me that way.

It was a pivotal, life-changing time for me. I was on my own for the first time and yet I couldn’t let go of something from home. I let it define who I was.

That’s why I don’t want to look back. But maybe that’s why I have to.


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