For Cubs fan, return to Series about family as much as baseball

CHICAGO — At 81 years old, Jim Smith has pretty much seen it all, including the last Cubs’ World Series — in 1945 from a seat in the right-field lower grandstand at Wrigley Field.

Yet he is not the stereotypical Chicagoan, waiting for sky to fall now that a first championship since 1908 is tantalizingly close to reality. Actually, Smith sounds downright matter-of-fact as he speaks about being back at Wrigley, 71 years later, to see another Fall Classic in his hometown.

That is, until I ask how he got his tickets, and he begins to explain that his 39-year-old son, Tim, got on a waiting list for Cubs’ season tickets several years ago, even before Theo Epstein was hired as GM, with the hope that someday the fortunes for this franchise would turn.

“He got the tickets,” Jim Smith was saying on Thursday. “It’s just the two of us going to the game. This has been my son’s goal…”

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And then it hits the elder Smith.

“Sorry, this gets to me,” he says, pausing to collect himself. “My son said to me, ‘I bought the tickets so you could go to a World Series again.’ “

There it is, the heart of the matter for folks in this part of the country. For so many of them this long-awaited return to the World Series is about family as much as baseball; the generations that waited and waited and waited for the elusive championship to finally materialize.

Many Cubs’ fans died without seeing one — or even a World Series. Jim Smith had gotten to the point where he felt sure he’d be one of them.

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“I don’t believe in curses or anything like that,” he says. “But it has been such a long time. I just didn’t think it would ever happen in my lifetime.”

People like Jim Smith, and his son, Tim, offer tangible evidence as to why the Cubs’ quest resonates well beyond Chicago — the reason this is such a big story nationally.

Even in Boston, where the 2004 Red Sox championship was similarly celebrated as killing off the Curse of the Bambino, they never had a wait of anything like 71 years between World Series appearances.

So Jim was thrilled on Friday to be back at the World Series, after all these years, and, as it turned out, his family had another surprise for him.

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Tim had attended last week’s Game 6 against the Dodgers with his dad, so for the World Series he had invited his brother, Geoff, to fly down from Alaska, where he lives, and accompany their father to the game.

“I had no idea,” Jim said Friday at Wrigley, a couple of hours before game time. “It was a great surprise.”

A Teddy Roosevelt impersonator stands outside Wrigley Field.

A Teddy Roosevelt impersonator stands outside Wrigley Field.

(Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports)

It was also a long, long way from 1945. Jim Smith surely was one of a very few people — if indeed there are others — at Wrigley this weekend who were in the ballpark 71 years ago, when the Cubs lost to the Tigers in seven games.

He was 10 years old that October, living on the north side of the city. His father wasn’t a big baseball fan but worked for a bank that received tickets for the Series, and so his dad took Jim and his brother, Ralph, to Game 4 of that World Series.

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The first three games of the Series that year were in Detroit, as was the custom in those days, so Game 4 was the first in Chicago, and the Smiths were part of a sellout crowd of 42,923 fans that saw the Cubs lose 4-1 to the Tigers.

“I don’t remember much about the game, other than where we were sitting in the ballpark and the Cubs lost,” Jim said. “It was just a neat thing to do. There wasn’t the clamor then for that type of thing that there is now.

“But it was the first ballpark I’d been to, and I became a fan. We lived on the north side, so my friends and I would get on the ‘El’ and take the train to Wrigley for 25 cents. That’s how it started for me.”

Smith says he was never one to live and die with every win or loss as he grew up and became a sales-and-marketing executive, a job that forced him to move to different parts of the country over the years.

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He says not always being in Chicago perhaps helped him have a healthier perspective on the Cubs’ fate than so many fans who came to believe in the Curse of the Billy Goat or Bartman, and came to fear that having hopes raised would only lead to more misery.

Not that the Cubs didn’t test Smith’s blood pressure over the years.

He recalls spending an entire weekend in 2003 dialing and re-dialing in attempt to get World Series tickets that were being sold ahead of time, and being furious at coming away with only obstructed view tickets — only to have them essentially torn up in front of him when the Cubs blew that 3-1 series lead to the Marlins.

“Things like that make you think it will never happen,” he said. “But as (Theo) Epstein was building this team, I started thinking, ‘okay, maybe we can do something.’ “

In this post-season, beating the Giants with Madison Bumgarner and the Dodgers with Clayton Kershaw convinced him these Cubs have the right stuff. As if to prove there is no such thing as a jinx, he bought a sign outside of Wrigley last Saturday, while attending Game 6 of the NLCS, that read, ‘It’s Gonna Happen.’ “

The FOX TV cameras didn’t pick up the sign during the telecast, as he hoped, but neither did anything bad happen to the Cubs, as they breezed past the Dodgers to win the series.

“I’m not a doom-and-gloom guy,” Smith says. “My son is more wrapped up in all that. It can get tense. That’s why I bought that sign last week: I do think it’s going to happen this time.”

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Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News

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