By Mark Grote–
(CBS) The 11-minute bus ride from the Cubs’ team hotel to the ballpark for Game 7 of the World Series was equal parts brilliant and nervous. Something stately was occurring as three motorcycle-riding state troopers flashed their lights and blared their horns in the name of clearing a path to Progressive Field.
Inside the bus, the players maintained a season-long demeanor of calm and youthful joviality while wearing a smidge of sudden-death stress. Outside of the bus, wandering fans would look curiously at this apparently important ride, attempting to peer through the tinted windows. Once they figured out the contents of this vehicle, it was either a thumbs up or thumbs down, depending on which team apparel they were sporting.
An occasional vulgar gesture even emanated from the ones wearing the home team colors, which mostly prompted head shaking smirks from the Cubs players who were a long way from Wrigleyville.
As the bus finally arrived at the ballpark and the players filed into the stadium tunnels on their pathway to the clubhouse, I received the greatest rejection of my professional life. Kris Bryant said no.
I asked Bryant if he had five minutes to conduct an interview with me to be played on the pregame show. He politely declined. In my two years covering the team, Bryant had never said no to my requests. He declined in a sheepish and apologetic manner, as if he was afraid I might be disappointed in him.
Bryant explained that for this one day, he wouldn’t be doing any interviews ahead of this potentially franchise altering contest and that he would catch up with me afterward.
I gladly accepted his explanation, because it was evidence that he and the team had reached maximum focus, and the proof was in Bryant’s play.
In the fourth inning, Bryant tagged up and hauled home on Addison Russell’s shallow fly out to left, sliding under the tardy tag of Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead at the time. It was a play on which even Rickey Henderson probably would have shown more caution.
In the fifth inning, Bryant sprinted first to home in a flash on an Anthony Rizzo single to make it a 5-1 lead for the Cubs. And in the bottom of the 10th inning, on what felt like the slowest-developing play in the history of the world, Bryant fielded Michael Martinez’ dribbler and fired to first base for the final out as he lost his footing on the rain-soaked surface, triggering the greatest sports party in a century.
The Cubs are no joke, not anymore.
While outsiders previously delighted and obsessed in telling stories of goats, black cats and Bartman, Cubs fans cringed at those topics. They were neither charming nor interesting to them. It felt sickening, saddening and antagonistic.
But now, with a World Series title in the permanent file, all of those things suddenly are quite charming, as it turns out.
Have at it. It’s your loss now, not ours.
Mark Grote is the Cubs pregame and postgame host on 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @markgrotesports.