'Cubs Way' prevails over Cards, and suburban fans at Wrigley really believe
By Burt Constable
The 2015 baseball season began on a cold April 5 at Wrigley Field with the St. Louis Cardinals playing the "Cardinal Way" to put a hurt on the young Chicago Cubs.
On Tuesday, those quickly maturing Cubs added a "Cubs Way" chapter of their own for what is becoming a glorious postseason.
"I was here when they opened the season against the Cardinals, and I'm here when they finish the Cardinals' season," happy Cubs fan Greg Zalewski of Wheeling says at Wrigley, where the Cubs beat the Cards 6-4 to take the National League Division Series three games to one and fan the flames of World Series hopes.
Buoyed by home runs by 22-year-old rookies Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber and another by 26-year-old veteran Anthony Rizzo, the Wrigley crowd stood, cheered and waved white "W" flags throughout the game in anticipation of a series-ending win and the continuation of a wonderful season.
"In April I said, 'We are going to win the World Series,'" says Pattie Murray, 62, a lifelong Cubs fan from Glen Ellyn, who boasts season tickets near the right-field foul pole.
"I was a '69 Bleacher Bum. I was pregnant with my son (Steve) and went to every game," says Murray. She's old enough to rifle through a mental scrapbook of Cubs postseason misery, but she no longer sees the point.
"This year has a whole new feeling to it," Murray says.
Her 45-year-old son, Steve Horvath of Glen Ellyn, wears a special jacket with tributes to Cubs greats.
"I have tickets to Thursday's game in St. Louis, but I don't want to use them," Horvath says before he is interrupted by Schwarber's monster home run, which clears the video screen in right field and cranks the Wrigley Field volume. Horvath's delirious screams, and those of the fans around him, trump any thought of a Cubs' loss.
Those old fears of failure don't haunt this team. Every time the Cards draw close, the Cubs respond before dread can seep into Wrigley, as it did during postseason losses in 2003, 2007 and 2008. Nothing sucks the air, or joy, out of Wrigley this time.
"I think I'm more nervous than they (the Cubs players) are," says fan Karin Rohn, 42, of Hinsdale.
"It's so much better than every other year," says fan Mary McSwain, 60, of Wheaton, who sits next to Murray. Murray says she credits Cubs Manager Joe Maddon, "and his Italian roots," for changing the culture.
For Zalewski, a firefighter for North Maine Fire Protection District out of Des Plaines, and his wife, Michelle, the joy of this season began during their trip to spring training in Arizona.
"The players were so loose," Michelle Zalewski says.
The couple bought their Game 4 tickets online at 6 a.m. and broke the news to sons Cade, 13, Zach, 10, and Owen, 5, who may bleed Cubbie blue but still had to go to school. For the parents, going to the clinching game was a spur-of-the-moment surprise, which fits well with this season.
"It was just so unexpected," Michelle Zalewski says of the Cubs' success. "It's so fun."
And that fun will continue Saturday, when the Cubs open the National League Championship Series on the road.
"This is so different than every other year," says Patty Byrne of Palatine, who has been a Cubs fan for 40 years. She's at the game with fellow employees of Culligan of Rosemont.
"I think they'll do it. It just feels different," says Byrne, who remembers sobbing during the 1984 playoff collapse to the San Diego Padres. "I already placed my bet in Vegas."
As closer Hector Rondon nails down the victory with a strikeout of Stephen Piscotty, Wrigley erupts in a thundering roar, a sea of "W" flags, glowing cellphones capturing the moment and a rousing rendition of "Go, Cubs, Go," as Cubs players swarm the field. But not everyone is jubilant.
"I live in Grayslake, but I was born in St. Louis," say Jon Backes, 32, who wears his throwback Albert Pujols Cardinals jersey. "I can't get it (his Cardinal fanship) out of my blood, and why would I? I've been to the World Series twice. This is like a regular-season game to me. But it's a big deal to lose."
The Cubs, who are a much different and better team than they were at the start of the season, are the ones with World Series dreams still alive.