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SPORTS: Excitement-and fear-grows as Cubs pile up wins

June 9, 2008

My father in law, John Parker Jr., died this past March in LaPorte. He was 90, so he didn't get shortchanged in the longevity department. He had a full, complete life.

Except for one thing.

He spent virtually all those 90 years rooting for his beloved Chicago Cubs to win a World Series.

As with many from northwestern Indiana-Da Region-his afternoon ritual, especially in his retirement years, was sitting in front of the television to root, root, root for the Cubbies.

What he got in return for his emotional investment was, inevitably, heartbreak and frustration.

Now, in the year of his passing, it has again become the best of times, and the worst of times, for all who follow Chicago's Northsiders.

It's the best of times because, as of this writing, the Cubs had won nine straight and had claimed the best record in all of Major League Baseball.

The last time that happened as late as June was in 1908. You know, the year the Cubs last won the World Series.

But as heady as their record is, it means it will be a summer-and early fall-of increasing angst and anxiety for Cubs fanatics. For even with every victory, there is the reminder of great seasons that somehow circled down the drain, including as recently as last year.

There was the "Curse of the Billy Goat" in the 1945 World Series against Detroit.

There was "the collapse" in 1969 when the team led by Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins blew a 9-1/2-game lead in September to the New York Mets.

There were the '84 Cubs, who finished 31 games above .500 and took a 2-0 lead over San Diego in the playoffs, only to lose three straight and the series with Game 5 turning on a crucial error by Leon Durham.

Of course, there was poor Steve Bartman in 2003. With the Cubs one victory removed from the World Series, superfan Bartman deflected a foul ball down the left field line that Moises Alou could have caught to snuff out a Florida Marlins rally. The Marlins went on to win not only the game but also the pennant and the World Series.

Since then, the hated White Sox have won a World Series and the other "cursed" team in baseball, the Boston Red Sox, has won two.

Before the 2007 season, the venerable, straight-talking Lou Piniella took over as Cubs manager for Dusty Baker and all seemed swell in Wrigleyville. The Cubs won the Central Division title only to revert to form and get swept by Arizona in the opening round of the playoffs last October.

Now, here they are again, leading the National League in hitting and ranking third in pitching. Could it be?

As much as Commissioner David Stern may have been quietly cheering for a Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals to give his league a boost, baseball's Bud Selig certainly couldn't be displeased to see the Cubs emerging as the feel-good story as his sport attempts to dig itself out from under the steroid scandal.

A Cubs World Series victory-and the serendipity of that occurring on the 100th anniversary of their last title-would be sure to captivate the nation. That's because, while followers of the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers and Braves might disagree, America's Team in America's Pastime is the Cubs, largely due to the long-standing and far-reaching power of WGN television.

It's a sure bet that most true Cubs fans, hardened by years of cruel fate and fearful that the next shoe-or spikes-always can drop, are being careful to keep their giddiness in check. It is, after all, one month before the All-Star break. Teams and seasons can go south in a hurry, and I'm not talking about a Florida road trip.

I confess to being a pretty casual baseball fan, but I've always been a sucker for a good story and that's what the Cubs are. It's June, and I'm scoreboard-watching. Up in that TV room in the heavens, I suspect my father-inlaw is, too.

On a closing note, 93-year-old Lucious Newsom, who's been feeding the hungry for more than 20 years at his Lord's Pantry in Haughville, will be honored and supported on June 17 by sports and political figures including Tony Dungy, Bill Polian, former Secretary Jack Kemp and Rep. Mike Pence. The dinner event will take place at the University Place Conference Center at IUPUI. Table sponsorships are $1,000 and individual tickets are $50. All proceeds go to the Lord's Pantry. Go to www.sportslegendsdinner.comor call (877) 730-6530.

I can't think of a better man or a better cause.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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