Faith

Cubs Win: A Lesson on Keeping the Faith

Chicago team's victory represents key spiritual moment for America

We don’t play baseball in England. We have a game that can often last three days — you are not allowed to sleep on the ground, although many sleep during the actual match. It’s called cricket, and it’s impossible to explain to Americans, rather like baseball is impossible to explain to the English, who rudely call it “Rounders” — a game played by small children who grow out of it by the age of 10.

I was taken to my first baseball game by good friends in 1986. I was already a man of faith, but little did I know how my faith would be tested. My friends lived in Chicago and, on an extremely hot afternoon that summer, we went to Wrigley Field to see a team called the Chicago Cubs.

“If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,” wrote Kipling.

Everything about the experience was magical — and, of course, the Cubs lost. It was rather like the only time I tried fly-fishing, intriguingly with the same friends who seem to enjoy sports or supporting teams where victory is unlikely. It didn’t seem to matter whether a fish was caught or not — it was just fun to be there, wasting an afternoon, or, in the case of supporting the Cubs, a lifetime.

On that fateful day in 1986 I decided, as I had not grown up with baseball, that I would support the very first baseball team I saw in person: the Cubs. So followed the journey of faith, the ups and the downs — nearly always downs; the tears and the laughter — nearly always tears. Red Sox fans used to wail about the disappointment and the long wait for a World Series, but that was just Minor League suffering compared to being a Cubbies man.

Kipling wrote, “If you can wait and not be tired by waiting” — sadly, people died waiting for a Cubs World Series. This includes not just those who were disappointed in 1945 — but imagine waiting since 1908.

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Related: Let Your Faith Life Be Larger Than Crisis

What was it about the Cubbies that made one stay the course, not apostatize and go somewhere else, with a new franchise and a glamorous new ground? True, I went to a game in Denver and saw the Colorado Rockies’ faux “old” ground — not bad if you like the Epcot Center and its pretend version of the Eiffel Tower. Why bother going to Paris when you can see it in Florida and get better burgers?

Wrigley Field does, indeed, answer the first part of that question. Quite frankly, for the person of faith, the shrine or sanctuary holds a special significance. Entering Wrigley Field, rather — as said by those who can sense the prayers offered in ancient cathedrals over the centuries — you feel the hope that, season after season, kept the fans coming, and the weighty burden of shattered dreams. It’s a curious mix.

There is also something very inspiring about fan loyalty, especially when it has been tested beyond the patience of Job. There is, actually, an ancient Jewish myth that Job was actually a Cubs fan.

For a baseball beginner, there were also stimulating and invigorating factors common to the quintessential American game. Without investing in rose-colored spectacles — although wouldn’t they be nice to wear these days? — baseball is, and was, a family game.

Coming from a country where attending a soccer game might involve an evening spent in post-game trauma at the ER or a night in jail, seeing fathers, sons, mothers and daughters enjoying a languid afternoon together at a baseball ground was revelatory and wonderful.

Related: Never Give Up Hope in God

Then there’s the beer — extraordinary. I’m not talking about the quality, which is we English tend to call “cat’s p***” — still wondering why the brew pub phenomenon has not hit the baseball ground yet. No, it was the fact that beer could be served there during the game ,with rival fans seated next to each other! If that happened at a soccer game, the battle scenes in “Game of Thrones” would be considered a documentary about British sport.

Catching a plane the other day in Washington, D.C., I happened to be in the same line for TSA torture with a well-known conservative commentator, who also is a baseball aficionado. I asked him, “Cubbies or Indians?” He replied “Indians.”

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“You are not a man of faith, are you?” I responded.

He nodded and said quietly with his famous winsome smile, “And I don’t believe in suffering.”

All that is great about the United States is found in baseball — and all that America can be again is found in the long-suffering fidelity of being a Cubs fan. This includes family, sitting with rivals without killing them, and enjoying a beer when it’s all over. This seems to be the year, not only of the underdog, but for keeping the faith: Brexit, Cubbies winning the World Series, and who knows, a presidential election?

Fr. Benedict Kiely is a Catholic priest and founder of Nasarean.org, which is helping the persecuted Christians of the Middle East.

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