By Julie DiCaro–
(CBS) I fell in love with baseball on Oct. 25, 1986.
Sure, I’d played baseball a lot before then. I got my first glove when I was 5. My grandfather sent a tiny Spalding glove and batting helmet up from Florida when I started tee ball. In the summer, hardly a night went by in my neighborhood when the kids didn’t assemble to play 500, hot-box or an actual game (depending on how many of us there were). The “big kids,” the ones in junior high at the time, always insisted on being managers and picking their teams. The younger kids never got to pick. We hated that.
Back then, baseball was something we took for granted. It was just what happened every night after dinner, when the light was soft but before the dew made the grass too itchy. It was as much a part of the fabric of our days as hitting the local pool every morning and coming home for dinner every night. I played a lot of baseball then, but I didn’t watch it much.
But then, Oct. 25, 1986, sitting on the floor of my grandmother’s living room, I watched Game 6 of the World Series between the Mets and Red Sox. Somewhere around the top of the eighth, between bites of my BLT sandwich (my grandmother wasn’t a great cook), I lost my heart to the game forever.
My grandmother (she was actually my great aunt) was born in 1909 in Chicago and spent part of her childhood in an orphanage with her sisters. Not because she didn’t have parents, she did. They just couldn’t afford to keep all their kids at the time. She dropped out of school in eighth grade but walked from her home at Clark and School across half the city to Jackson and Halsted to learn short-hand, proper English and typing.
By the time I came along, she had put half her family through college and dined at the Walnut Room at Marshall Fields. She wore heels and nylons even when she was just sitting around the house, turned out to be an accounting prodigy who could add large sums on her fingers and could reduce a grown man to a quivering heap with one of her withering stares. And often did.
She loved baseball. She talked often about going to Ladies’ Day at Wrigley Field when she was young, watching Gabby Hartnett and Kiki Cuyler. She complained about all the women’s hats getting in the way of seeing the game. She talked about Jack Brickhouse the way political wonks talk about Winston Churchill.
By the time 1989 rolled around, I shared her love for the game and spent many a lazy summer afternoon curled up on her couch, watching the Boys of Zimmer storm their way toward the postseason. Mike Bielecki was her favorite player that year, and we watched religiously through the long summer and into the fall. The Cubs’ postseason that year ended with a whimper and her calling Will Clark “that son of a bitch” after the last out of the National League Championship Series.
As the years passed, we kept watching. Most days, she’d already have the game on by the time I got to her house after school.
By 2003, she was 94, and her mind came and went. Some days she was sharp as ever, other days she claimed never to have heard of family members who she had helped raise, supported and put through school. She still asked often about the Cubs, and we still watched together, her sitting in her familiar arm chair, nylons and heels on under her robe, a glass of wine in her hand. That year, she seemed to forget about the Cubs during the postseason, as she had forgotten about so many other things, including her cancer, and never asked me about them again. I was relieved. How could I have ever explained the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS to her?
My grandmother died in 2004, more than a decade before the Cubs would return to the World Series.
In Chicago, you don’t choose your team as much as your family chooses it for you. Most of us are born Cubs fans or White Sox fans, and we never change, passing the fandom on to the next generation the same way as eye color and double chins. It’s just part of who we are.
My grandmother is never far from my thoughts, and she’s been ever-present as the Cubs are back in the World Series for the first time since 1945. Entire generations in this city have been born, raised families and died in the 71 years since Wrigley Field last hosted the Fall Classic.
I know I’m not alone in missing a family member who shared my love for the North Siders. In fact, a Twitter call for people to tell me about Cubs fan relatives who have passed on elicited so many responses I had to close my direct messages.
Here are just some Cubs fans worth remembering:
My Grandfather Jim Haas is the reason I am such a huge Cubs fan. I can remember when I was 7 years old and watching Rick Sutcliffe and the Cubs clinch the division at his house in El Paso, IL. He also took me to Wrigley Field for the first time in 1985. He passed away in 2013 and I wish he could have experienced this, but I know he was smiling down on Saturday when they clinched! — @RubleJ1
My mom died in 1999 after a horrible battle with kidney cancer, with her beloved Cubs on in her hospital room. She loved Andre Dawson. She dressed like a bleacher bum for Halloween. She taught us to never ever give up on the Cubs. She couldn’t stand fair-weather fans (or St. Louis fans ) I wish so much she could be here to see this amazing team and to watch her grandchildren going nuts and flying the W. — @LawyerMom76
My uncle, Fred Speck, was a troubled man who struggled with alcohol his whole life and strained a lot of his relationships with our family eventually. He also loved the Cubs more than anything, and one of the few things that could bring back the lovable glow he had was when he and I would talk baseball. He’s featured heavily in the Scar Tissue section of this SI article from 2008, and, while he made a lot of mistakes in his life, I can only imagine the joy he’d feel about this team. — @JohnTrupin
My mom born ’39, died 9 yrs ago, biggest Cubs fan ever. Kept score until she passed. Never missed a game. We buried her in a Hank Sauer jersey. Her favorite player as a kid. She would have loved this team. — @tonymccabe74
My mom passed away 15 years ago and raised me as a Cubs fan because her mother did the same. I so wish she was around for this. My earliest recollections of cubs baseball were my grandma swearing at them on WGN. I’m 55 and have passed the torch onto my 20-year-son. Here’s hoping he doesn’t wait as long as I have. — @kenoscubs