You are a Chicago Cub fan, and for a short time you thought you were free. The habit of a lifetime had been kicked. You no longer were the long-suffering, forever-doomed, excuse-me-while-I-kill-myself sad sack in the far corner of the banquet hall of American sport. No more heartache. No more disappointment. Free.
"The baseball strike was the best thing that ever happened," you said. "It was an eight-month, all-expenses-paid trip to the Betty Ford Clinic for the Diamond Addicted. Eight months of cold turkey. I do not need baseball in general, and I certainly do not need the Cubs in particular."
The eight months of inactivity followed a shortened 1994 season that was a low point even for this team that specializes in low points, this team that hasn't won a World Series in 87 years and hasn't even appeared in one in 50. Was there ever a better time to make a break? You suffered through that terrible losing streak at the start of '94, 12 straight losses at Wrigley Field. You winced when the manager, what's-his-name, Tom Trebelhorn, went to the firehouse on Waveland Avenue after the ninth loss and talked baseball with the fans. You went to the firehouse. You listened to him talk.
There was so much animosity, so much discord, everyone on that team hating everything, that the best player, second baseman Ryne Sandberg, a Hall of Famer for sure, walked away in the middle of June. Walked away. Gave back $16 million in future contracts! Was there a team in worse shape than the 49-64 Cubs?
"I am with Ryno," you said. "I'm walking away. I have better ways to spend my time and my emotions."
You lasted 25 regular-season games.
The 25th game was the killer. Who could resist? Who could hold strong? In the ninth inning of the last game of a nine-game road trip, on May 24, Shawon Dunston rolled home from third with the goahead run in a 5-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies. It was a crazy play that started with a ground ball hit to Colorado second baseman Roberto Mejia by pinch hitter Brian McRae. Mejia tired high toward home. Rocky catcher Jorge Brito had to jump to catch the ball. Dunston slid underneath, missing the plate, and then crawled back to tag the plate with his hand, Then he lay on the ground. dizzy from the collision between his head and Brito's right knee. No team in baseball felt better about itself than the Cubs. When he finally returned to the dugout, Dunston was greeted as if he were Lindbergh newly arrived in Paris.
"This is the best I've felt with this team since 1989," first baseman Mark Grace said in the clubhouse after game number 25. "This might even feel better. This might be the highest I've ever been as a Cub. To compare it to last year...not even in the same zip code."