Until last spring, I hadn’t watched an entire Cubs game in seven years, and I don’t mind admitting that. My reasons were varied: horrible teams, my leaving Chicago, and losing my father all played roles, but digging into the details feels defensive. I won’t list my Cubs fan bona fides either, although I will say that one of my more embarrassing professional moments involved Mark Grace and the press box at Fenway Park. The painful truth is that a while ago I stopped caring about baseball, so I stopped caring about the Cubs.
But on April 17 last year, with enthusiasm for Theo Epstein’s grand plan at full tilt, I happened to be home in Chicago and decided it was time to settle in for a full nine innings. It was the ninth game of the Cubs’ season, a 1:20 start at Wrigley Field that happened to be the major league debut for what I understood to be a 23-year-old, baseball-cleaving deity named Kris Bryant. The savior struck out three times and the Cubs lost 5-4, but for the first time, I understood how much joy the next few years at Wrigley were going to bring.
I moved back to the city three months later, and late summer and early fall were filled with bearded kings, onesies, and security nearly mobilizing at LaGuardia when I reacted to Kyle Schwarber robbing a baseball of its structural integrity. Even as a thunder god and the demon possessing Daniel Murphy hammered the Cubs in the NLCS, the thing that Bryant’s arrival had hinted at all those months ago had crystallized: This was a fan base clamoring not only for a winner, but for a team worth loving. And man, does it have one this year.
Historic paces (25-6!) and run differentials (plus-103!) are great, and the wins have been spectacular — an Addison Russell blast capping off a comeback victory in the home opener, Javy Báez swinging out of his shoes to end a long afternoon, Jake Arrieta shrugging after shoving another lineup down the garbage disposal — but for me, the best part of the Cubs’ scorching start has been rediscovering baseball thanks to a team that’s having more fun than anyone in the stands. The best moment of Saturday’s 8-5 win over the fellow World Series–hopeful Nationals — and there were plenty of good moments in that four-game sweep — might have been manager Joe Maddon trying not to laugh as Russell shamefully asked for his bat after tossing it away on ball three. (OK, fine, Russell’s double breaking a 5-5 tie with two out in the seventh was better.)
I watched most of that game with a crowd huddled around a computer in the middle of a party. A few of us thanked the brave soul who’d asked for the laptop: We all wanted to watch and were glad someone made it happen. The five of us talked about Dexter Fowler’s transformation into the Human Torch, Tommy La Stella’s current hitting tear, and pitchers trying to deal with Anthony Rizzo when he stands on home plate. They were conversations born from the rhythm of a baseball season, and it felt good to be having them again.
In a few hours, I’ll be at Wrigley again — for the fourth time this year — feeling that rhythm. I don’t know how many teams could have brought me back here. I’m just glad this one did.
This piece originally appeared in the May 11, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.