A True Champion: What My Dad Taught Me When He Almost Lived to See the Cubs Win the World Series

posted Nov 3, 2016, 9:56 PM by Smith Moments   [ updated Oct 16, 2017, 2:27 PM ]

Something epic happened last night.

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series in what the media is calling “the greatest game ever”. In a jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, up and down, 10-inning, rain-delayed, 7th game the Cubs finally prevailed and “The Curse” was broken. The Cubs are no longer the team that couldn’t quite make it to the top for over a hundred years. They are now World Champions.

There’s a twist to this story. At least for my family.

Last night, while fighting fatigue, my widowed mother and her children and grandchildren gathered wherever they could to root on the Cubs in honor of her husband, a die-hard Cubs fan who lived to see the Cubs make it to the World Series, but didn’t live to see them win it.   

My dad was born in 1949. He spent his entire life rooting for the Cubs. Due to challenges with his sight, he never felt like an adequate athlete. He compensated by using his keen mind to memorize statistics and diligently strategize from the sidelines. He knew everything about the Cubs and he used his giant heart to cheer them on--triumphs and sorrows--until he passed away last Saturday morning, 4 games shy of living to see them become World Series Champs.

At first glance this sounds like a tragic story. But in reality, it’s the story of a true champion.

Though we mourn the loss of a great man and feel jipped not having him by our side to celebrate alongside the rest of Chicago, his premature passing actually taught us unforgettable life lessons that go far beyond a baseball game.

My dad’s lengthy battle with cancer was coming to a close while the Cubs fought to become National League Champions for the first time since 1945. He feebly watched them play their first World Series game of his lifetime on October 25. Hospice was called on October 27. When the nurse predicted a lifespan of 1-5 days, I looked at the calendar to check the Cubs schedule...game 7 was on Nov. 2.

“If the series went that far and if the Cubs win it, would Dad even live to see it?” I wondered.

“Maybe Dad’s actually hanging in there to see the Cubs win the World Series,” I tearfully joked with my brother who was at my dad’s side and had just texted an update the day before Dad died. Deep down I was growing anxious to see him released from suffering. Yet I tried to convince myself that adding a Cubs World Series victory to his bucket list would lighten the blow of his death.

In future retrospect, we’d follow up sentimental memories with a smile and a nod and say, “And can you believe Dad lived to see the Cubs win the World Series? Who would’ve thought? What a miracle! I bet they did it for Dad!”

But then my brother’s response jolted me from my dream and filled me with a peace that surpasses this bucket list wish.

“Has [older brother] told you what he told me last night? Dad told him 10 years ago that he didn’t want to be alive to see them win. Something about always rooting for the lovable losers. So maybe he will jump out early.”

“Huh,” I thought.  “Could that be right? An avid Cubs fan not wanting to see them win a World Series?!”

Then it hit me. This is Dad we’re talking about here. He’s a fun-loving, tender man who greatly valued sentimental deeper meaning in life. So what message was my sports-loving father, who always reminded me during my young MVP softball-playing years to not forget to talk to the neighbor girl at the bus stop, sending when he said he didn’t want to live to see the Cubs achieve the ultimate baseball dream?

I think he was saying: I’m a true Cubs Fan. I don’t have to see them win to feel content.

Dad was essentially saying 10 years ago that he cheered for, rejoiced with, and drooped his head alongside the Cubs his entire life because they are the Cubs. Period. Even in the 10th inning of the 7th game of the World Series last night, Dad pledged years ago that had he lived to see them make it that far, he would’ve accepted them and loved them and lived in the moment with them, regardless of whatever that final moment was.

I know for a fact that Dad would’ve been jumping out of his seat in celebration last night if he could have been there. But the irony of his sincere contentment in being willing to forever watch them TRY to win the World Series without ever hoping to actually see them win it in his lifetime was proof of his ultimate loyalty.

A week ago I thought I’d feel an extra sense of loss if the Cubs won and my dad didn’t live to see it.

Last night, however, instead of wondering what to do with ourselves while the rest of the country hooted and hollered, we changed from our funeral clothes into our Cubs garb and drove to my mom’s house where her grandchildren filled her otherwise empty family room and cheered in Grandpa’s place. As the game unfolded, I didn’t find myself overly mourning my dad’s early departure. Rather, we all marveled, perched on the edge of our seats, at how this historic game was truly a remarkable tribute to him.

For example, my dad is:

  • An eternal optimist. The Cubs won in the 7th game after 10 innings and a 1-3 deficit. Dad would’ve believed in them the whole way.

  • A suspense-seeker. First batter home run, a wild pitch that gave away 2 runs, and a tie score at the end?  Definitely a dramatic nail-biter until the last pitch.

  • A weather-enthusiast. How many World Series Game 7s come complete with a rain delay right when the game’s tied after 9 innings? It was the same rainstorm that soaked us walking into Dad’s funeral in the Chicago suburbs earlier in the day. Did you plan that, Dad?

  • A statistician. After all of the above and more, what are the ODDS of a game like that ever happening again?!

  • A history buff. This one is definitely going down in the books.

  • A procrastinator. Waiting until the last minute to clinch victory? All the more thrilling.

  • A mind-bending jokester.  I honestly think he was smiling from above at how it all played out.

  • A Cubs fan. And they finally did it.

Above all, the fact that Dad spent his entire life cheering for the Cubs, but didn’t live to see them succeed as World Series Champs felt like one last way for him to illustrate the exact lessons I think he’d want to leave as his personal legacy:

  1. Enjoy, appreciate, and accept life, even if it doesn’t go as planned.

  2. Love people and accept people for who they are today.

  3. No matter how people are now, confidently expect good things in their future.

  4. If you are a loser, you are still loved. And there's always next year...

  5. If you happen to be a winner, have a good heart, too.

Dad loved the Cubs this way. He loved everybody this way.

When the Cubs won, I cheered and I cried.

Last night’s game wasn’t just epic. If my dad had to go, perhaps it was his way of saying a perfect goodbye.

Thank you, Cubs! My family and I will forever look back and say, “I bet they did it for Dad!”