This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
In the bottom of the 12th inning Wednesday, the Milwaukee Brewers loaded the bases with nobody out and failed to score. And then the Chicago Cubs scored the go-ahead run in the top of the 13th via a bases-loaded walk drawn by a relief pitcher who was batting because the Cubs ran out of position players.
That's the moment I knew it was time to reconvene my Cubs fan focus group, consisting of Utahns who are loyally attached to the historically lovable losers. Entering Saturday's play, the Cubs (29-11) owned by far the best record in Major League Baseball, with a roster built by shrewd player development and aggressive acquisition. So this could only mean looming disaster, right?
After all, my panel originally took shape in October 2003, when I solicited responses from Cubs fans about the team's collapse in the National League Championship Series. I heard from a Lutheran minister, a nephew of the Reuschel brothers and the Salt Lake Community College women's basketball coach, among dozens of fans. Clearly, they needed that forum to help them recover, and I was happy to help.
And now I've added two other devotees, including a lifelong Cubs fan who was serving an LDS Church mission in Brazil in '03 and received an email about the team's 3-1 lead over the Marlins in the NLCS and a week later learned what subsequently happened. No wonder these people are scarred.
The issue is whether Cubs fans can allow themselves to enjoy what's happening in May, or if they worry about just another buildup to more disappointment. Turns out, their outlook is quite healthy.
Baseball fans know their sport is unlike football or basketball. No baseball team goes 73-9 or 15-1. As opposed to the NBA, any team that makes the playoffs can win the World Series. So theses folks are not nearly as paranoid about what's to come as I may have thought.
"I'm loving it … not worried at all," said Betsy Specketer, the longtime SLCC coach.
"There is still some sense that the wheels will fall off at some point, that it's too good to be true," said Brian Floyd, of Logan. "But I am enjoying it to the fullest while it lasts, and hope is the predominant feeling."
Cubs fans all have stories of how their devotion began. Jayson Madson, of Syracuse, once was pictured in the Cubs game program with his younger brother, Kaden, after Sammy Sosa rolled a ball to Kaden behind the dugout. He wore No. 17 as a Dixie State University pitcher after his Bear River High School friend, Justin Higgins, died in an auto accident. Higgins had chosen that number in honor of the Cubs' Mark Grace.
So imagine Madson's reaction, being in Brazil and hearing about the Cubs being in position to reach the World Series, and then awaiting another update. "The next week was heartbreak," Madson said.
So that explains why he said, "If you ask me about a World Series, then I start to pump the brakes. I understand baseball. … Anything can happen, once teams get to the playoffs."
Yet he's including a Cubs championship in that description of "anything," while having "a ton of fun" watching this season unfold.
Same with Sandy's Scott Reuschel, whose uncles Rick and Paul pitched together for the Cubs in the 1970s. "For now, I'm just enjoying the ride and will probably get a lot more nervous if they make the playoffs," Reuschel said. "If I continue to hope for the best, but quietly expect the worst, maybe, just maybe, I can be pleasantly surprised come October."
Rev. Steven A. Klemz, pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City, is thinking more positively. He's confident this year truly is "next year," that the 2016 World Series will produce the Cubs' first championship since 1908. He's personally experiencing daily miracles, recovering from spinal surgery with a strategy inspired by Cubs manager Joe Maddon: "Do simple better."
"Everybody knows that the Cubs are a template for failure, mediocrity and despair," Klemz wrote in an email. "They are a perfect metaphor for some of Christianity's most precious and potent theological themes: long suffering, which builds character; patient waiting during lonely exile; hope in the face of defeat; life in the darkness; and life in the midst of death. I do believe the Cubs are going to win the World Series this year. Professionally, I see the loss of great sermon material when the Cubs win the World Series. However, I am willing to pay the price."
The tradeoff would be a lot of stories for him to tell about a life spent rooting for the Cubs, away from the pulpit.