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Thursday, 01 October 2015 14:15

Cubs fans stick with team despite playoff failures, excited about future

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Chicago Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio hugs chairman Tom Ricketts Sept. 26 while being doused with champaign by first baseman Anthony Rizzo after the Cubs clinched their first playoff berth since 2008. The Cubs play Wednesday in a one-game, wild-card playoff. Chicago Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio hugs chairman Tom Ricketts Sept. 26 while being doused with champaign by first baseman Anthony Rizzo after the Cubs clinched their first playoff berth since 2008. The Cubs play Wednesday in a one-game, wild-card playoff. Facebook.com/Cubs

Kristen Anderson received her degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, which hasn’t helped her erase all of the heartbreaking near misses and memories as a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan.

However, the Williams Bay resident and Schaumburg, Illinois, native has found perspective after the many disappointments, especially concerning the franchise’s decades of postseason failure, better than most folks concerning their beloved North Siders.

“I attended Catholic school, and I remember when they lost their first 14 games of the year and praying every day that they would break the losing streak,” Anderson, 29, said of Chicago’s 2000 campaign that ended with a 68-94 record. “They knew what I was praying for.”

This year, Anderson and millions of other faithful brethren have had their prayers answered -- at least so far. The Cubs, under veteran first-year manager Joe Maddon, secured their first winning season since 2009 and clinched their first National League playoff berth since back-to-back appearances in 2007-’08, earning a wild-card spot Sept. 26 despite a loss at home to Pittsburgh, which they will play in a one-game elimination contest on Oct. 7.

Several other Stateline area fans, who have suffered much longer than Anderson, couldn’t be more tickled about the team’s accomplishments this summer. And they are optimistic because Chicago has accumulated a ton of young talent that should keep them a contender for the foreseeable future.

Glen “Snook” Thostenson, 71, is a Beloit native whose parents indoctrinated him, and he’s been a diehard since 1950.

“My parents were huge Cubs fans, and in those days it was just as easy to get to Chicago,” Thostenson said. “We went a lot on Sundays. We’d go to 8 o’clock church and then head down to Wrigley.”

He won’t be attending any playoff games this fall, but Thostenson and his wife, Cathy, catch nearly every game on TV or the radio, and he has a good vibe about this year’s bunch.

“I feel pretty good,” said Thostenson, whose favorite players have included Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Greg Maddux and who has traveled to St. Louis and Cincinnati to see his Cubbies. “I don’t think anybody expected this, but they’ve come together pretty quickly. We’ve got (Jake) Arrieta and (Jon) Lester, so I’ll take our chances. But we aren’t deep with starting pitching.”

Val Schole, 55, of Clinton, has never seen the Cubs play in person, but he’s been hooked since the late 1960s.

“Today, you can find a game on TV all day long, but back then all you could get was the Game of the Week on Saturday afternoons,” Schole said. “There wasn’t a team in Milwaukee at the time, so for me, it was listening to the Cubs on WGN. I can remember taking my little transistor radio outside by the drainpipe because that was the only way to get reception sometimes. I can still hear (the voices of announcers) Jack Brickhouse, Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau.”

Now it’s Pat Hughes, who has called Cubs games since 1996 after a 12-year stint with Bob Uecker in the booth covering the Milwaukee Brewers.

This year’s team has created plenty of excitement for Schole, a big-time baseball fan in general who met his favorite Cubs player, the late Ron Santo, at a memorabilia show in the Brew City years ago.

“Joe Maddon is the perfect manager for a team like this,” Schole said. “It’s been amazing considering they’ve got so many young players and four or five rookies starting. In the past, they would sign some big free agents, usually older guys who would have one or two good years and be gone, and they were back where they started. So, they’ve done it the right way this time in building with younger players. The thing about these guys is that it doesn’t matter how far behind they are, they never give up, and that’s why they lead the majors in walk-off wins.”

Such highlights have been few and far between, and the franchise is known more for its failures than its successes, some maintaining that the Billy Goat Curse of 1945 remains firmly in place: That was the last time the Cubs reached the World Series.

The so-called curse refers to Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, who was asked to leave the ballpark during Game 4 of the Fall Classic against Detroit because of bringing his pet goat. The story goes that he said, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

People took it to mean the team would never get to or win another World Series after it fell to the Tigers that Oct. 6 and in seven games after leading 2 games to 1.

Bob “Lucky” Luchsinger, 94, could have played in that 1945 Series for Chicago had fate turned out a little differently. The Cubs signed the Janesville resident and right-handed pitcher for $78 per month after a tryout in 1942. However, the U.S. Navy called a few weeks later, so he pitched to eventual Hall of Fame catcher Mike Hegan instead. After Luchsinger’s enlistment was up, he signed with but never played for the Phillies. Luchsinger returned to the Stateline, pitching occasional semiprofessional games for the House of David.

Although he realized he wouldn’t make it to The Show, Luchsinger has been a big baseball fan and has as many stories about the diamond as he does about his military service, some he can talk about and others, well …

“I was never crazy about them, but I always kinda liked the Cubs,” Luchsinger said. “This year, they’ve got Arrieta and Lester, so they’ve got a chance. But after that, it’s a crapshoot, and I’m not sure about their bullpen. But I think they’ve got a pretty good chance.”

The Cubs have enjoyed plenty of chances over the years, but they’ve always come up short.

Some fans won’t forget 1969, when Chicago held a nine-game lead on Aug. 16 only to finish 17-26 while the “Miracle Mets” went 36-11 to win the inaugural NL East crown by eight games.

And what Cubs fan can forget one of their very own, Steve Bartman?

Oct. 14, 2003, Game 6 of the NL Championship Series, Chicago leading 3 games to 2 and holding a 3-0 advantage in the eighth inning behind Mark Pryor.

Several spectators at Wrigley attempted to catch a foul ball off the bat of Florida second baseman Luis Castillo, one of them Bartman, who deflected it and prevented Chicago left fielder Moises Alou from potentially catching the ball for the second out; umpire Mike Everitt ruled there was no fan interference.

Castillo walked and the Marlins proceeded to score eight runs, which included a couple of Cubs miscues and a two-run double from Derrek Lee, who would join Chicago the next season and play most of the next seven years as one of the league’s best RBI guys.

Security guards escorted Bartman from the stadium, and the Cubs blew a 5-3 lead the next night to send Florida to the World Series, which they won in six games over the New York Yankees.

The Cubs have not won a playoff game since the Bartman incident, suffering 3-0 sweeps to Arizona in 2007 and Los Angeles in 2008.

So, do these Chicago fans believe the Cubs have been cursed since dropping the 1945 Fall Classic, the last of seven consecutive Series defeats since earning their only crowns in 1907 and 1908?

Schole isn’t sure about any curse, but there have been times he and many others definitely may have wondered.

“They had the collapse in ’69, when they might have been the best team, but blew it. Then there was Leon Durham letting the ball go through his legs against the (Padres),” Schole said in reference to the error in the seventh inning that helped San Diego overcome a 3-0 deficit to win 6-3 in the fifth and deciding game of the 1984 NLCS. “There always seemed like a cloud was hanging over the team and it was, ‘Wait until next year.’”

Thostenson doesn’t put much credence into any curses.

“I may be half-goofy, but I don’t buy the whole curse deal,” he said. “I have a friend who’s a big Cardinals’ fan who got me a Steve Bartman plaque. I’m just hoping they get to a World Series before I’m too old to know they’re there.”

Despite their many near misses, Anderson has many fond memories and remains hopeful, but she isn’t sure they have enough pitching to get past the likes of NL Central champion St. Louis.

“My mom grew up not far from Wrigley, and I remember going to my grandma’s house after church all of the time and watching her sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ with Harry Caray,” said Anderson, who attends one or two games in Chicago every year. “I believe they have a good chance in the wild-card game, but I don’t think they will make it to the World Series. But they’ve got a lot of young talent, so maybe next year.”

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