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For These Cubs, It’s Time to Act like You’ve Been There Before

Don’t think, just play.

These guys!   Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

They’ll tell reporters the same things they always do.

We just have to stay focused. Execute. Leave it all out on the field. The pressure’s on them, not us.

And because they’re professionals, they’ll say it with the familiar blank, unruffled expressions they’ve perfected over the years. But this time, the questions are different. Or at least, they ought to be.

You were born in 1992, Kris Bryant. Do you have any idea what this means to Chicago?

We’ve got a good ball club here. Great bunch of guys. If we can get to Kluber early and manufacture some runs…

Javy Baez. You are 22. Will you be the one who hits the clutch two-out double that ties the game in the fifth when all hope seems lost? Or the guy who boots the ground ball in the eighth—the easy one that you have fielded cleanly since you were six?

I’m not interested in stats or personal glory. I just want to stay focused and get the W…

Addison Russell, your brain has not fully developed and you still get acne. Are you ready for the moment that will determine how you are remembered for the rest of your life?

I’ve been swinging the bat well. Just hope I can continue to get some good looks at the plate…

 

Ballplayers, like sharks and airline pilots, cannot allow anything to penetrate their armor of coolness. No vulnerability, no weakness. To let their teammates see it—or, God forbid, their opponents—would be suicide. Any opening, no matter how small, leaves room for doubt to creep in. And doubt is what destroys ballplayers, especially in the World Series. So they fall back on God-given talent, hard work, and muscle memory. And they play the game.

Yes, these Cubs have slumped at moments, but they seem impervious to nerves, to choking, to curses, the yips, whatever you want to call it when supermen become mortals like the rest of us. Imagine if you saw Anthony Rizzo trembling in the on-deck circle before a big at-bat. The very idea is laughable.

None of these players will insult us all by insisting it’s just another game, but neither can they afford to stop and think about the gravity of it all. Let the writers worry about that. Let the beer-bellied guy on the Northwest side who’s been wearing the Santo jersey for decades worry about that. We’re just going to play our game.

But every member of the Chicago Cubs laid his head on a pillow somewhere last night with the knowledge that tomorrow would be the biggest day of their lives—and of the lives of millions of people in two major American cities. All 25 Cubs, from ice-cold Aroldis to jolly Grandpa Rossy, surely woke up this morning, maybe not with butterflies but with a voice deep inside that this was, you know, kind of important.

Kyle Hendricks knows the weight of the city rests on his right arm. He has to be silently praying that his sinker gets some movement, because if he goes out there and pitches a dud, no matter what happens with the rest of his career, that will be his legacy in Chicago. He lost Game 7. If he wins, he becomes the answer to a trivia question 108 years in the making.

While you’re watching the game tonight, look for shots of the Cubs dugout. That’s where they’re allowed to show the kind of emotion so often forbidden in everywhere else in baseball. You’ll see hints that they’re having fun. That they’re suffering. That they like each other. And most of all, you’ll see that they damn well understand what’s happening here, and their place in it. And if you look closely, you’ll see that each one of them is dying to be the guy remembered forever as a hero in a city where no one ever forgets.

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