Everything was stacked against me that night.
There were four Upvalley high school teams spread around Northern California last Wednesday night for the playoffs. Two of them – the St. Helena and Calistoga girls soccer teams – were playing each other in St. Helena, which helped me a little bit.
If it was any other Wednesday, this would have been fine. But Game 7 of the greatest World Series I’d ever witnessed was taking place smack in the middle of everything, and I was real salty about it.
With a job like this, you get accustomed to missing out on things. It can be as simple as a Georgia football game on a Saturday in the fall, or as severe as spending the holidays away from my family and friends back home in Atlanta.
This one was tough, though. It gets horrendously overused, but “game” and “seven” really are the two best words in sports. It was also for a series that was either going to end the Chicago Cubs’ 108-year championship drought – the longest in professional sports – or that of the Cleveland Indians, who hadn’t won the World Series since 1948.
The support was overwhelmingly in favor of the Cubs. For me, it was more about seeing that fan base have its dedication rewarded.
I have friends who are diehard Cubs fans. One of my favorite bands, Umphrey’s McGee, is from Chicago, and I have a unique kinship with that group, so I wanted to see those guys get one.
This year they’d done everything to get there, too. The Cubs won a league-best 103 games, beat the San Francisco Giants in an even year, and took down the L.A. Dodgers in the NLCS.
If you weren’t a bitter Giants fan, an Indians fan, or that annoying contrarian who always double dips his chip at viewing parties, you were probably rooting for the Windy City.
Generations had come and gone. Countless lifelong fans went to the grave without seeing their beloved Cubs reach the summit.
If good things come to those who wait, these people were due some other-worldly type of gratification.
So, with duty calling, I went to Ana’s Cantina and watched as much of the game as I could before the clock neared 7 p.m. and I had to run to St. Helena High.
When I left for the soccer game, Javier Baez had just cranked a solo shot and Anthony Rizzo had just hit an RBI single to put the Cubs up 5-1 in the fifth inning. I felt good about where the game was at.
This series had been a heavyweight boxing match for six thrilling games. Each side had been knocked down multiple times, but there was that romantic type of resolve in both teams – that demonstration of heart that we always want from our athletes. Rather than wait for the count to reach 10, these two ball clubs somehow pulled themselves off the ground for another round in the ring.
Naturally, that meant the Indians were going to rally. They responded to the two runs in the top of the fifth with two runs of their own in the bottom, after Jon Lester came in for a rare relief appearance.
The next frame, the old head in the clubhouse, David Ross, goes yard. In the final game of his career – minutes removed from a throwing error that eventually led to a run – he became the oldest player in history to hit a Game 7 homer.
Cleveland was still not done. With overpowering Aroldis Chapman on the hill, the home team scored the most unlikely three runs possible and tied it 6-6.
This is all coming to me in the form of updates on my phone while I’m sitting in the cold stands at Patterson Memorial Field, watching each exhale turn to smoke as St. Helena shuts out Calistoga 3-0.
I had been on Twitter like a madman, watching it unfold in the form of 140-character reactions.
The ninth inning is set to start and the soccer game ends. There had been chatter about rain at Progressive Field, so I was crossing my fingers that it might pick up and force a delay so I could catch the final out.
I run around the field for postgame interviews since I had to hit both Napa Valley schools for comments. I get in my car, which I initially thought was wisely parked near the exit of the lot.
Of course, as I try to back up, at least a dozen cars refuse me the opportunity to do so.
I race back to downtown St. Helena, park my car right off Main Street, and run down the empty sidewalk before slowing my pace to make it appear like I’m casually walking back into the same watering hole I was at two hours before.
The Indians are about to come up to bat in the bottom of the ninth. I grab a seat at the middle of the bar and tell the bartender I just want water. I didn’t want to be stuck with a full beer if the Tribe pulled off the greatest comeback in Game 7 history, and I had to turn right back around and go to the office.
As we all know, they didn’t. I got my wish as the game went to extra innings and the rain became a delay-inducing downpour. The bartender instinctively walks over knowing it’s time for me to upgrade.
As I take my first sip, an elder couple comes into the bar and takes a seat next to me. We begin talking about the game before we start talking about their visit to Napa Valley. They’d been here for a few weeks and were ending the trip on the weekend once they visit Stanford and see their grandson, who plays on the baseball team.
The woman sweetly gives him the proud grandma treatment, briefly describing his success while finishing those thoughts by saying “Oh, but I don’t mean to brag on him. I know you don’t care.”
Yes, you do, and you’re right, I don’t.
She was seriously a national treasure, though, so I entertained it. When play resumed and the Cubs were making their final push, she would constantly put her hand out for a high-five, then fist bump, then make it explode.
Someone had clearly shown her once, and it had been her go-to move ever since. I laughed every time.
The Cubs jumped ahead and then hung on to clinch the game in the bottom of the 10th. After surrendering a four-run lead, having to sit through a rain delay after Cleveland had just tied it up – in Cleveland, mind you – they were able to piece together some magic and win their first World Series since 1908.
I was able to share this moment with the random collection of people that had gathered at Ana’s on that cold weekday night. We were all genuinely happy for the Cubs and its loyal supporters.
Later, once my mind started to wander on the search for a deeper meaning to this World Series, I found it.
The old woman I watched the game with is from Florida. It’s a battleground state in the election and tends to lean toward the right like its southern neighbors. But she’s not voting for Donald Trump. He doesn’t have the temperament, she said.
That shared moment, between an old white woman and young-ish brown man, was thanks to the World Series. And then we just so happened to connect on ideologies, which many people might think isn’t possible based on the current climate of perception.
This year has been rough. We’ve lost countless icons and trailblazers in 2016. We’ve gone through the most absurd election in the history of elections. Racial tension has been high. Very few, if any, international conflicts have been resolved. The Supreme Court is still one justice short. The NFL has been borderline unwatchable. The Kardashians are still somehow on TV.
The Cubs winning the World Series wasn’t just for Chicago. It wasn’t a win just for the sports world.
It was a win for humanity, and we are all better, more optimistic people for experiencing it.