By JOHN FINERAN
(The Baseball Gods obviously wanted Game 7 of the World Series to last forever. They called for rain to delay the game and delay the outcome. But, ultimately, The Lovable Losers Became The Wonderful Winners. The Chicago Cubs Are World Champions with an 8-7 victory over The Cleveland Indians Wedneday night)
On Nov. 4, 2014 – the day the Chicago Cubs introduced Joe Maddon as their manager – a good friend of mine went online to MLB.com and ordered a Cubs home jersey with the name MADDON and the number 70 on the back for about $60, including shipping.
It turned out to be one of the best investments my friend ever made. By the time MLB.com caught on and priced a MADDON 70 jersey at $150, my friend’s jersey had arrived just in time for him to wear it into the press box of Notre Dame Stadium when Northwestern came to play the Fighting Irish on Nov. 15.
When his old media friends from Chicago asked why he was wearing the Cubs jersey to a Notre Dame-Northwestern game, my friend just turned and showed them the name and uniform number on the back of the jersey.
“Let it be known,” my friend told them, “the Cubs’ long national nightmare is going to end. Goats? Black cats? Leon Durham? Steve Bartman? This guy, Joe Maddon, doesn’t run from jinxes; he embraces them. He’ll keep everyone loose and on their toes with his messages, his zaniness and his theme road trips.
“When given talent, this guy knows what to do with it,” my friend continued. “He managed a low-budget franchise that had been the doormat of the American League East and made it into annual contender with the beasts of the East, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, for division titles and wild-card berths. After last-place finishes his two seasons, Maddon had the Rays in the 2008 World Series in his third. He took the team to four postseasons in his last seven seasons.
“And now, given an organization bursting at the seams with prospects all over the field and with seemingly unlimited financial backing from its owners, what do you think this guy is going to do?” my friend concluded. “So enjoy the ride with Joe Maddon, my friends. It’s going to be a blast. Joe Maddon is going to bring a World Series title to Cubs Nation, I guarantee it.”
That jersey sat in my friend’s closest as this magical 2016 Cubs season began. He’d break them out on occasion to wear to weekly trivia contests at a local bar. But mostly, the MADDON 70 jersey gathered dust until my friend got a call from his Florida friend who lived near Orlando, not far from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg where Maddon worked his magic with the Rays.
“Say, I’ve got a favor to ask,” the Florida man said. “My father-in-law-to-be is a huge Cubs fan. He’s one of those guys who have rooted for the Cubs all his life, through all their few ups and their many downs. Since you live so close to Chicago and go to games on occasion, is there anything you can send him?”
And then the Florida man added three words that make you sick to your stomach: “He … has … cancer.”
Immediately, my friend thought of the treasure he picked up on his first trip to Wrigley Field this glorious season.
“Would your father-in-law-to-be be interested in a Cubs media guide?” he inquired.
“Would he?” the Florida man replied affirmatively. And so one was sent via the U.S. Postal Service.
A couple of weeks passed before the two old friends talked again on the phone.
“Did your father-in-law-to-be like the media book?” my friend inquired.
“Did he ever!” the Florida man exclaimed. “He’s read it cover to cover. We can’t get it away from him. Thanks for sending it.”
That’s when my friend asked the question he always regretted having to ask to someone who has a loved one battling cancer: “So how’s your father-in-law-to-be doing?”
The Florida man’s voice suddenly quieted itself. “Well, not good,” he said almost in a whisper. “The cancer has spread.”
It was nearing All-Star Game time, in mid-July, when the two friends talked about the latest medical news. That was also about the time the Cubs were in a midseason funk, allowing their longtime Central Division rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, to get within single digits in the games-behind column.
The Cubs were struggling and so was the Florida man’s father-in-law-to-be. Clearly, something more needed to be done, and as the two old friends talked, the answers suddenly appeared in front of my friend as he looked into his closet and saw the MADDON 70 Cubs jersey.
“Hey, expect a box from me in the next couple of days and take it to your father-in-law-to-be’s house before you open it, so he can see them for himself,” my friend said. “The contents will lift his spirit.”
And so that is how two baseball jerseys of hope came to an Orlando cancer patient who watched most of the Cubs’ second half on television with the MADDON 70 jersey on a hanger nearby. The Cubs pulled out to a huge lead and coasted to the division title, 17½ games ahead of the Cardinals, but still the father-in-law-to-be needed to be assured after each Cubs victory in August and September.
“They’re 16 games ahead,” the Florida man related about one of their conversations. “They’ve got this locked up.”
“You don’t understand,” the father-in-law-to-be said. “I’ve seen the Cubs blow too many sure things, especially in 1969 against the Mets, the ’84 NL Championship Series against San Diego, and the 2004 NL Championship Series in 2004 against the Florida Marlins.”
But then, he didn’t have a MADDON 70 Cubs jersey to comfort him.
Lately, the conversations between the two old friends have been upbeat, because the father-in-law has been enjoying this magic carpet ride that Maddon – the man and the jersey – have provided him.
“It’s like he’s gotten a second wind,” the Florida man told my good friend.
Last Friday, the father-in-law-to-be became the father-in-law. On Wednesday, the father-in-law and son-in-law watched Game 7 together, like many fathers and sons have done in the 108 years since the Cubs last won a World Series.
Isn’t baseball grand?
(John Fineran has spent more than 40 years covering sports for newspapers in Michigan, Indiana, Florida and his native state of New Jersey. But his fondest sports memories have been as a fan, watching baseball games with his own father when he was young and doing the same with his two children.)