By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) That time in third grade when your school was running a fundraiser selling boxes of candy and the kid in front of you bought a box of Skittles and you took it from amid his stack of books and snuck it in your backpack and watched the kid cry because he’d spent his money on the candy and couldn’t figure out where it had gone but you were too afraid to confess and give the candy back because they cut your hands off at school for thievery and then you cried on the bus ride home and gave the Skittles to your little brother because they might as well have now been cyanide pills.
That time you watched kids your age pouring out of a high school in Colorado with news that two of their classmates had gunned a bunch of people in the school down.
That time your good friend, your grandmother, and your mother all died within a year and you asked a lot of questions that got no answers.
That time you woke up after a college night out watching Monday Night Football and saw planes crashing into towers and became very angry and ignorant for a while.
That time you learned that the fantastic kids that you teach that will go on to great things sometimes get brain tumors or get shot and never get a chance to spread their wings.
These are the figurative wounds we accumulate in the battle of life. And most of them heal for most of us, hopefully. But they leave scars for sure. We gather subhuman wounds along the way as well. Those cuts that come with being a fan.
Like that time your favorite rock star killed himself and you wore the same nasty flannel shirt and corduroy pants for a week and wore out the Unplugged CD on your bedroom boombox.
And then there was that time you were certain the Cubs were going to the World Series, and it didn’t happen. And not only did it not happen, but it kicked you in the junk. Hard.
The 2003 series between the Cubs and Florida Marlins scarred me for life. I don’t mean that in some overdramatic, huddled in a corner shaking today way. Game 6 and Game 7 changed me as a fan, marked an emergence from a naïve cocoon a fanship that changed the way I consume sports and react to the highs and lows.
Dave Wischnowski wrote Tuesday, “But after 2003, things changed. Since then, Cubs fans have demanded more, and they’ve been more surly when they haven’t gotten it.” That’s true for a lot of Cubs fans and myself in some ways. But there was a different change in me, too.
Watching the Comcast Sports Net documentary 5 Outs Tuesday night brought back a few old emotions, just as ESPN’s Catching Hell did for me (if you didn’t see and DVR 5 Outs, it will rerun, and I suggest seeing it because I did gain info I hadn’t previously known in what might seem an otherwise sadomasochistic story). Knots again formed in my stomach reliving the drowning feeling of those two maybe most famous games in Cubs history, but nowhere near in the crippling fashion they did 10 years ago.
And it was reaffirmed for me when the film concluded that I am at peace with 2003. During this 10-year anniversary week you can find a lot of “Woe is me, the Cubs fan” pieces and columns dripping with gravitas over how someone hasn’t been able to shake that playoff series to this day. Not for me. To be honest, I hadn’t even realized this was the anniversary of it all until I saw a commercial for the documentary. That baggage hasn’t stayed with me, but that’s not to say I’ve repressed the memories into my subconscious.
I was 21 years old in a Western Avenue bar in Beverly for Game 6. The Cubs were going to the World Series. This was just fait accompli in a baseball culture where nothing had been certain in a hundred years.
Then Moises Alou went into the stands to get a foul ball unsuccessfully. My friend who was at the bar with me immediately walked out after that play, and it was as though he took something about me with him as he disappeared for the night.
Then Alex Gonzalez booted a ground ball. Then no coach tried to calm down Mark Prior in suddenly the highest pressure situation in an organization’s history. Then there was Game 7. Then my happiest moment as a Cubs fan went into the bleachers off that bat of Kerry Wood. Then it was over, and the Cubs weren’t playing more baseball that year.
I was awash in anger and confusion for a while. But what cured all that was a sadness I experienced in viewing the visceral reaction and downright despicable treatment of fans toward Steve Bartman, who I wanted to not have to mention in this column, but it’s unfortunately unavoidable. I saw a different kind of sports fan emerge, one that blurred the line between a game and real life, and it was a fan I never wanted to be. 21-year-old me was all kinds of stupid, but at no point did I blame Bartman for what came after. Not even that night in a White Sox fan bar with Sox fans actually consoling me as not even they could process what had happened into the traditional civic schadenfreude.
And my wound healed. A scar was left that allowed me to compartmentalize what happens between the lines of sports and more important things, that inability we usually have in our childhood sports fan lives where our idols are perfect and we don’t realize the myth that is The 12th Man or The Fourth Phase.
Now I can watch a documentary about the worst two days of my sports life and make fun of them as I did while live-tweeting the film Tuesday night despite having a natural bothered reaction to some of the rehashing. I can make a Bears victory feel like a farce and a loss feel like a comedy of errors that we are all better for having experienced.
Now I can go through 2007 and 2008 without taking the day after the final game off of work because I just can’t stand to be near another human being (and I’m really hungover). I can be very disappointed and have opinions on why failure occurred and what needs to happen in 2009 and 2014 to ensure it doesn’t occur again, but I don’t let it consume me.
Now I can be done with the “When the Cubs win, _____ will happen” Of Mice and Men-type ideal campfire stories that fans love to tell. I don’t put eggs in sports baskets anymore, the 2015 plan or Theo Epstein be damned, because it so often goes awry, and I can’t control any of it. This allows me a better ability to notice how awful human beings can be as sports fans (David Kaplan in the film discussing getting a phone call off air while doing a postgame show where a “fan” described how Bartman would be killed is one of the more vile things I’ve ever heard).
Now I can enjoy the joy of victories, anguish in the draining defeats, marvel at awesome acts of athleticism, mock the foibles of guys still far physically superior to me, and afterward realize that game scores aren’t a reflection of me, don’t evolve or devolve me, are independent of what’s important in my life.
That time that the worst sporting experience of your life made you a more conscientious sports fan.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.