It is Uncle Garland's fault. He is responsible for solidifying my life-long love of the Cubs and disdain for the Cardinals.
Every summer during my childhood my parents would trick my brother and I. They would promise a vacation to the Ozarks and Silver Dollar City. They would dutifully pay-up. A brief two day hiatus in the beauty of God's creation would be quickly followed with the news that, "Hey, kids! We are going to grandma's house!"
Nothing personal, Grandma. But I knew what was coming. The evening after we arrived at her home my farmer uncle would show up. Uncle Garland was a big man. He owned acres and acres of cotton-covered farmland. And he owned all of the equipment to make it happen. But what my uncle really owned was the world's most dangerous beard. It wasn't really a beard. He kept it at "lethal stubble" length. I don't know, about a three-day growth maybe. It covered his chin, his cheeks, under his nose, all of those places a good beard is supposed to cover. And here is the thing. I was a Chicago kid who knew nothing ... NOTHING ... about life on the farm. Uncle Garland taught me to drive his tractor and I have not touched one since. Before I could drive the tractor, Uncle Garland would grab me up in his big, massive, catcher's mitt sized hands. He would ask me what baseball team I cheered for. I would dutifully and honestly reply, "The Chicago Cubs." He would let out a big belly laugh and say, "Isn't that the team that plays with rubber balls?" And then ... then ... (this is really hard for me) ... he would bring my tender seven year old cheek up to his burly chest, give me a hug I could never hope to escape from, and then rake my face upward across his "chin of doom" over and over and over and over ad nauseaum. The tears would flow. As he set me down He'd tell me "The Cardinals are the only team worth cheering for! Don't you know that yet? What are they teaching you up there in that city?" I would be reaching for my cheeks, fully expecting to find the skinless, blood covered, remainders of the face I use to have. My parents would smile and then they would go inside and have tea.
I don't like the Cardinals. Uncle Garland taught me to dislike them. (Clarification: I have no hatred toward any individual, whether they wear red or not. I'm talking "baseball hatred" here. It's simply casual sports terminology, as in "that is not my team of choice," or "I get a migraine when this particular club beats my club." I'm certain the Cardinal's are all fine young men. Though they never send me a Christmas card.) The Cardinals were synonymous with pain. People who loved the Cardinals were mean. I would watch my Uncle go inside swearing an even deeper allegiance to my heroes on the north side. I would never give up. No matter what. NEVER.
Over the years my original opinion was confirmed. The Cardinals and pain. Pain and the Cardinals. They were the same thing.
And then came Joe Maddon. He came to town and he brought friends. Good friends with names like Rizzo and Bryant and Swhwarber and Fowler and Soler and Arrietta and Lester. And you know what? Joe has a beard that looks a lot like Uncle Garland's beard. Actually JOE looks a lot like UNCLE GARLAND. I knew it the first time I saw him. But he was wearing blue. Cub blue.
You see, "The Curse" is real. But for me it had nothing to do with billy goats or 100 year droughts. It had everything to do with Uncle Garland. Uncle Garland's beard. And Uncle Garland's minions who have jumped up and down in red jersey's and pumped their fists in the air and laughed at my beloved Cubs.
Most of my best friends are Cardinal fans. Two of my kids are Cardinal fans. That has made it very difficult over the years. I love my friends. I love my family. We just do not agree on baseball. They have never once grabbed me and raked my face against theirs and for that I am grateful. The raking has come with every home run off of a Cubs pitcher. With every blown save by a Cubs reliever in Busch Stadium. With every World Series ring. And yes, there have been a lot of them.
Last night the curse was broken. Uncle Garland holds no power over me today. I am free from his stubble ... free from his raucous laughter ... free from his rubber-ball-jokes. I love Uncle Garland. I just don't miss him. And when I see him in heaven, I suspect we will at long last have a talk. And then we will laugh. But I will laugh the longest. Because I waited. Because I remained faithful. And because the curse is broken! I did not cry when my children were born. I did not cry when my brother and I buried my parents. Last night ... When the Cubs destroyed the cardinals ... I cried.
Will the Cubs go to the World Series this year? I do not know. Will they maybe even win the World Series? Your guess is as good as mine. But I have to tell you. For me ... the Big Game was played last night. The Cardinals were not just knocked out of the play-off's by the Cubs. They were embarrassed. They were decimated. They were made to look ... dare I say it ... human. And that is all I will ever need for the rest of my life. I am satisfied.
Anything else is gravy. The curse is broken.