|Written by Jay Beskin, BT Contributor|
The Cubs and Cubans show us how to win
There’s a shortage of pandas inthe world, so every time one of them has a cub, a lot of people who’ve never met a panda up close feel a surge of joy. There’s something sweet in the human spirit that feels connected to each creature and uplifts us with the survival against great odds of even God’s least creature.
But if one cub brings smiles to millions of faces, imagine the exhilaration of nine cubs all emerging from the den onto the field. Or 25 cubs, if you count the ones in the dugout?
Yes, 25 five Chicago Cubs have stood blinking in the light after 71 long dark years of playing professional baseball -- and often at a superior level -- but never quite managing to win the league championship. Never making it to the top of the National League since 1945 meant never getting the chance to compete in the World Series.
Think of it -- there are octogenarians who haven’t missed a World Series game on radio or television, if not in person, since they were ten years old, but who have never seen the Chicago Cubs make it that far.
To give some perspective, let’s compare the fate of the Cubs, ensconced in the city of my birth for more than a century, to the fledgling franchise we host here in my adopted home of South Florida. The Miami Marlins, formerly known as the Florida Marlins, are an expansion team, added to the league in 1993. In their 24 years of existence -- two dozen against the Cubs’ ten dozen -- the Marlins have competed in the World Series twice…and won both times! We locals still grumble when they disappoint us, and the attendance at their games is a fraction of what the Cubs draw in Chicago. But at the end of the day, they have outperformed the Cubs in these two dozen years by several orders of magnitude.
In fact, the closest the Cubs ever got to the World Series in those 71 years was playing against our Marlins in 2003. They were five outs from winning the league championship and led the Marlins 3-0. Then one thing led to another, the Marlins got a few hits, Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez (the Marlins had a shortstop by the same name, which made things more confusing) made a key booboo, and then there was the saga of Steve Bartman. Steve was a nice guy who wanted a souvenir of that historic game, and he get very excited when a foul ball was hit right into his hand, except… oops, the ball was catchable by Cub outfielder Moises Alou, and Bartman prevented that out from being recorded.
Now, 13 years later, all is forgiven (though it will never be forgotten). The saga of futility has ended. The Cubs made it to the World Series, ending 71 years of drought. At the time of this writing, we don’t know whether the Cubs will reach the ultimate milestone of winning the World Series for the first time since 1908 -- wait, did you just say 1908? Yep, 108 years. Probably fewer than ten people are alive in the world who were born by then.
But to me, there’s a second part to this story of human hope and striving, and it takes us away from the gleefully riotous Cub fans in Chicago and back here to South Florida’s Cuban community. The Cuban refugees who have come here over the past 50-odd years since the Castro brothers took possession of their island paradise have become symbols of the human odyssey from slavery to freedom, the modern-day Israelites trying to escape the subjugation of the contemporary Pharaohs who hold them captive.
One way Cuban citizens have found to express themselves, despite the stultifying dictatorship, is by playing baseball. Somehow this odd sport with its long languid spaces between bursts of exertion fits both the Cuban temperament and Cuba’s temperature. Those who excel at the art and craft of baseball -- throwing a ball, hitting a ball, catching a ball, and running like hell from a guy in a uniform trying to tag you out -- become heroes there in a way that American athletes rarely attain. These players become symbols of freedom, of hope, of human creativity and force and will and excellence.
Fittingly, the National League Championship series won by the Cubs ended with a Cuban pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, throwing to a Cuban hitter, Yasiel Puig. There have been Cuban heroes in Major League Baseball’s postseason play before, notably Livan Hernandez for the Marlins and his big brother, Orlando Hernandez, for the New York Yankees. But this time, the history-making quality of the moment, the victory despite all the years of defeat, and the overcoming of adversity, all made the Cuban Cub contribution even more special.
Actually, I hesitate to expound too lustily on sports analogies because more often than not the significance of a particular sporting event is limited at best. This time I think we really have that rarest opportunity to use sport as the ultimate metaphor for the human condition, and the poignant victory of a perennial underdog as an encouraging message to all human beings.
All of us have been Cubs at some point in our lives. We’ve all gotten into ruts, where things don’t seem to be working out, where life decisions and life ventures add up to one long losing streak that feels like a Promethean eternity. Some of us know people in those situations who have given up, despairing of ever turning the tide in their favor, and they have sought the escape of narcotics and even suicide. This is a moment to remind ourselves and them (if they are still alive) that there is always a chance for a better tomorrow.
And all of us have been Cubans as well, albeit on a much smaller scale. We’ve been locked in dead-end jobs with controlling bosses holding us down; we’ve been in isolated situations where we feel trapped while we look out at an oblivious world cheerfully going about its own business. We have tried ridiculous escapes on unseaworthy craft and been returned to shore, with new feelings of futility compounding our frustration.
Today, when we look at Aroldis Chapman and Yasiel Puig (although Yasiel will watch the series from home) banking millions and showcasing their skills in the free world, we recommit to always seek that wellspring of freedom in our own hearts, to reclaim our drive and ambition and hope.
Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2017
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