A few months ago, a colleague of mine brought in a stack of her old baseball cards. She collected them back in the early 1990s, when baseball card collecting was at its peak, but in the years since they had been gathering dust in her parents’ house. She saw a piece that I wrote about this year’s baseball cards, and told me that if she could find her cards I could have them. And she made good on this pledge, too.
She sat at my desk, and we talked about Jody Davis, Nolan Ryan, David Justice, Reggie Jackson, Lenny Dykstra, and some of the other players found in her collection. And then I came to a 1993 Moises Alou card, which showed him in a Montreal Expos uniform. It was a card from another era, to be sure.
I made some passing reference to the 2003 playoffs, and what a heartbreaker that had been for a Cubs fan like me. She replied that she didn’t live in Chicago back then, and since she was a Phillies fan she had no idea what 2003 was all about. I told her the story in very broad strokes, aware that she had work to do, and I had work to do, and the time we had already spent discussing baseball would be dwarfed by all that could be said about that nearest of all near-misses. But I didn’t want her to miss out on hearing the full story, either. So I turned to the Internet for help.
After googling “2003 NLCS” I came to a website that recounted all of the Cubs’ disappointments through the years (Ron Santo and the black cat, Leon Durham and the ground ball, Will Clark reading Greg Maddux’s lips in 1989, and so on). After reading through all of these sad events, I came upon the number one disappointment in the history of the Cubs franchise. And what else could it be but the 2003 NLCS?
As I read through the piece, I was transported back to that awful night in October of 2003. I recalled how I wanted to go out and buy a bottle of champagne to celebrate the impending victory, but didn’t want to be stuck waiting in line when the final out was recorded. I remembered how the late Bernie Mac, resplendent in a blue Cubs jacket, sang “root, root, root for the champions” and everyone—whether in the ballpark, out on Waveland Avenue, or in thousands of homes and bars all over the world—loved him for doing it. I could almost hear myself saying “Five outs to go!” to my newborn daughter, as she sat in my lap on the floor of a house that I no longer live in.
I remembered the way that Juan Pierre’s double with one out in the eighth inning was hardly even worth noticing. After all, the unbeatable Mark Prior was still in control. He was going to finish up the eighth inning, and probably come out to start the ninth, too. Who needed a bullpen with him on the mound?
And I remembered the foul ball that Luis Castillo hit toward the left field corner. Every Cubs fan alive today remembers that. If only we could travel back in time and change that moment somehow….but of course we can’t. It happened exactly the way that it did. And while ESPN—rather cruelly, I thought–ended their “Catching Hell” movie with an imaginary catch being made, that isn’t what actually happened. There’s no alternate ending for this sad tale.
The sight of Moises Alou on a baseball card today, and the memory of him jumping up and down in frustration out in left field, literally caused a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Today is the 10th anniversary of that evening, but there’s really no way of remembering it without returning to Alou’s tantrum, and Mark Prior’s unraveling, and Alex Gonzalez and the dropped double play ball, and the Marlins’ terrible eight-spot that snuffed out the World Series dream for that year.
I really thought I had put that memory behind me, but my reaction to the Moises Alou card and the memories of that night proved otherwise. If all of the losing and frustration and heartache of being a Cubs fan could be distilled into one single image, Alou’s jumping is as good as any. I call it the Alou Blues, and after ten years it still lingers.
I can’t speak for every Cubs fan, but I suspect that I’m not the only one who measures my years left on this earth by whether or not I’ll get to see the Cubs finally—in the words of Eddie Vedder—go all the way. And until that happens, and the jumping in frustration Alou is replaced with a jumping for joy Darwin Barney, or Junior Lake, or some other player that we don’t even know about yet, any other developments in the Cubs franchise won’t mean a thing.