By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) It’s early May 2018. We’re just getting used to a new baseball season again becoming part of our daily lives. The latest round of the much-ballyhooed Crosstown Cup is set to get underway while the spring air is still crisp. This, of course, causes us to revisit the still-fresh memories of last July when, after years of pain and struggle and promises and waiting, the Chicago Cubs finally won the Cup.
“I come here every Sunday,” Rick Koharski tells me at St. Boniface Cemetery. “I bring two tall Old Styles, one for me and one for mom, and we chat.”
Koharski’s mother passed away in August 2017, mere weeks after the Cubs went 3-1 against the White Sox to claim all-important civic superiority.
“I’m just glad she got to see it before she left,” he says. “The Cubs not having the Cup was a pain we endured as a family since 2013. Funny how that pain brought us closer. I laugh about it now.”
There are many Koharski’s on the North Side, either living there literally or representing it figuratively across Chicagoland. Cemeteries north, south and west show conspicuous garnishes of blue and red at gravesites, along with many a tributary beer can or bottle of Malört as fans keep a connection across the border to the afterlife with late loved ones via a Cubs trophy many were unsure would ever again be obtained.
“I kinda wish my parents would die so I could have a moment this special,” says Koharski’s girlfriend, Antonia Marie Scaramucci, also a lifelong Cubs fan. “We don’t speak much now.”
For the rest of America — even the rest of America is even aware of it — it’s just a trophy. It’s a kitschy novelty that nobody should be taking seriously, an awkward holdover from a manufactured corporate addition to the South Side/North Side annual battle.
“We hope that in the coming years, the BP Crosstown Cup will be part of the social fabric of Chicago,” White Sox marketing director Brooks Boyer said in 2010 when the Cup was born and sponsored by a company that was amid a PR crisis for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest in history that also killed 11 people and countless wildlife. It was a fun, exciting time in Chicago.
We’re used to non-Chicagoans misunderstanding what we hold dear in this town. They have a difficult enough time wrapping their head around our concepts of pizza and beef sandwiches. Let alone a symbol of blood, sweat and tears that defines a city while simultaneously ripping it in twain. For fans and players — the Crosstown Cup is life or death.
“I honestly thought it was just kind of like bragging rights,” White Sox catcher Kevan Smith said, near breathless, last year during his first emotional rodeo with the series. “I didn’t realize there was a cup. Let’s win it then. I want to get a picture with it.”
Smith will have to wait for his photo op, though. The Cup is Cubs property until the next time the White Sox can win three of the four annual games.
“I don’t even know what it is,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said of the trophy then, presumably in an existential sense. “I don’t think we’ve won it in my two years. But that’s OK.”
OK indeed, as the long wait for Cubs fans finally ended in 2017 in a shower of tears and booze and relief. Finally, it happened.
In a cruel twist, it’s as though all the angst and heartbreak over these Cup-less years was instantly transferred that July night from one side of town to the next, with White Sox fans now cursed to carry such an albatross.
There were even questions this past offseason of how White Sox manager Rick Renteria would be able to recover from this and rally his troops as general manager Rick Hahn continues to add pieces to an impressive rebuild poised to someday reclaim the Cup.
“Having only, like, three guys at the time who ever played in one of these Crosstown things helps and hurts,” Renteria said after last year’s humiliation. “They weren’t prepared for the pain. We just have to forget about this and move forward.”
That won’t be easy, as the Cubs have an impressive montage planned for the Wrigley Field video board to kick off Game 1 this year. The buildup, the anxiety of last year’s Game 1 that the White Sox took, the barrage of balls off bats against Carlos Rodon in Game 2, a mocking tribute to the tribute to Jose Quintana at Guaranteed Rate Field in Game 3, the Kyle Schwarber Game to clinch the Cup in Game 4. The bedlam afterward.
“I didn’t actually know there was a cup until it was actually there,” Schwarber admitted tearfully, probably.
Speaking of unexpected rewards, hospitals across Chicagoland have reported quite the uptick in births these past few weeks, suspiciously nine months removed from the Cubs’ big win of the Cup.
“We were just caught up in the excitement,” Kelly Gertrude-Murphy says next to husband Kevin as she holds newborn Addison Ivy Bleachers Murphy. “The Cup has made us a complete family.”
Yes, Cubs fans had lots of sex last July 27. And now there are little Clarks and Theos and Woo Woos crawling all over the city. I myself sired seven children of my own that night.
“We had promised one another to save ourselves for marriage,” one man said of himself and his girlfriend. “When you’ve waited this long for something, though … the night of the Cup changed us. It all happened so quickly.”
“I hardly knew him,” Morgan Meghan Beverly says of the father of her precious son, Jed Hoyer Tweet. “Now we live together and…”
The emotions overcame her as she spoke of that wonderful night that changed so many. Fitting, really, as life-changing surprises and holes in things seem to come with the Cup.
“I had heard guys talking about it, but I didn’t know there was a hole in the bottom of it,” Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks said that fateful night. “Yeah, we tried to put beer in there, and it went right through the bottom. Really worked out. So I guess it clearly has been a few years since we got it.”
That the Cubs got it is what’s most important, though. All the mystique and folklore of all those years of barrenness on the North Side are washed away. It’s a new era of Cubs baseball, where they are now the team to beat, the team with the envious prize.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.