I ALWAYS LOVED THE CUBS-IT WAS A FAMILY TRADITION. ONE DAY I ASKED MY FATHER HOW THAT TRADITION BEGAN.
By Travis Stebens
BASEBALL HAS ALWAYS been my favorite sport. And I’ve always been a Cubs fan. For as long as I could remember I was the only kid among my friends cheering for them. I’m not a kid anymore, but after all these years, I’m still the only one I know whose loyalty is to the home team at Wrigley Field.
The red, white, and blue colors of Chicago run thick in my blood, even though when I started out I never knew the history of the Cubs. I just knew that they were my team. However, over time I learned through the years of disappointment—and sometimes moments feeling weightless with anticipation and elation. But win or lose, I love to love my team.
A highlight of my growing-up years was watching Sammy Sosa during that historic home run race against Mark McGwire. And I loved outfielder Andre “The Hawk” Dawson, shortstop Shawon Dunston, and my favorite, power-hitting second-baseman Ryne Sandberg. Ryne is the reason my favorite number is 23.
We moved to Los Angeles from Las Cruces, N.M., when I was 5 years old. That gave me the opportunity to see real baseball at Dodger Stadium. My family went all the time, but my favorite games were when the Cubs were playing.
My dad Myrl, mom Patsy, little sister Chelsea and I would stay for the whole game and then we’d wait hours afterward to see the players going to the bus hoping they would come up near the stands and sign autographs.
And then, in 2003, the Cubs came so close: If fan Steve Bartman hadn’t reached from the stands and tipped the ball away from Moises Alou, they might’ve gone all the way. That “incident” almost fucking killed me. Oh man, was that horrible.
But how did I first become a Cubs fan? Interest in any other team was always out of the question. But one day I did start to wonder. So I gave my dad a call and asked him.
“I know we’re Cubs fans, dad, but why, like how?”
“We just are, we have always been.”
I chuckled a bit and in my head I was like “yeah, no shit dad.” But I said:
“Okay, I get that. But, how?”
At this time I’m thinking he’s going to say something like. “Oh, they were on WGN and the only team on TV to watch, so I picked them;” or “I liked their jerseys.” I totally didn’t expect the answer I got.
MY GRANDFATHER Theodore Stebens joined the Army before World War II started, serving in the 11th Airborne Division. Some of the men in his unit were from Chicago. They had become a tight group—“good ole boys” as my dad put it. One day they were talking about baseball and one of the guys asked Theodore what his favorite team was. Now, my grandpa loved the game of baseball, loved it. But he didn’t have a favorite team, just loved the game. When he told them that, the Chicago guys insisted:
“Ted, you got to go for the Cubs. We’re buds and you seem like a good guy, you have to be a Cub.”
So my Grandpa responded “Sure, why not?”
I was listening to my dad tell that story on the phone and I’m thinking wow, that was pretty cool, and I thought for a moment that the story ended there. Nope.
The war hit. My grandpa’s unit was sent to North Africa. It was a heavy combat zone at that time. One of the guys had gotten wounded pretty badly. My grandfather carried his buddy to safety, but the man was dying.
My grandfather’s gone now, so I don’t know everything the mortally wounded man told Theodore Stebens. But I do know that with his dying breath he made my grandpa promise to continue the tradition of rooting for Cubs. Of course my grandpa said that he would.
And with that vow, sworn on a battlefield in World War II, and passed down to my father then to me, I have been, am now and will forever be a Cubs fan.
I don’t know the names of the Chicago guys in my grandfather’s unit. But I hope that their children and grandchildren are watching the games along with Myrl, Patsy, Chelsea and me. I hope that someday we can find each other and catch a game together.
I’m writing this to celebrate today’s home opener at a sparkling new renovated Wrigley Field. And to bless the memory of my grandfather and his war buddies, and to bless this season, which everyone believes is going to the THE ONE. Here come the World Champions, the Cubs!
Travis Stebens is a financial services adviser at a credit union. He once got a ticket for going 90 mph while towing a boat in the fast lane on Highway 99 North. This memoir will be featured in the forthcoming edition of Conquistador Quarterly.