C's the day before: Chicago, Cleveland ready

October 24th, 2016

CLEVELAND -- The baseball season ends with someone else celebrating. That's just how it is for fans of the Indians and Cubs. And then winter begins, and, to paraphrase the great meteorologist Phil Connors from "Groundhog Day," it is cold, it is gray and it lasts the rest of your life.

The city of Cleveland has had 68 of those salt-spreading, ice-chopping, snow-shoveling winters between Tribe titles, while Chicagoans with an affinity for the North Siders have all been biding their time in the wintry winds since, in all probability, well before birth. Remarkably, it's been 108 years since the Cubs were last on top of the baseball world.

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So if patience is a virtue, the Cubs and Tribe are as virtuous as they come. And the 2016 World Series that arrives with Monday's Media Day -- the pinch-us, we're-really-here appetizer to Tuesday's intensely anticipated Game 1 at Progressive Field -- is one pitting fan bases of shared circumstances and sentiments against each other. These are two cities, separated by just 350 miles, on the Great Lakes with no great shakes in the realm of baseball background, and that has instilled in their people a common and eventually unmet refrain of "Why not us?" But for one of them, the tide will soon turn and so, too, will the response:

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"Really? Us?"

Yes, you.

Imagine what that would feel like for Norman Rosen. He's 90 years old and wise to the patience required of Cubs fandom. But in 1945, he was young, he was spry and he was skeptical of those crazy people lined up outside of Wrigley Field, waiting for tickets to a World Series game against the Tigers. Norm was walking home from a date with his girlfriend, Sally, and the two thought the sight of all those people literally camped out was pretty silly.

But then, after he continued home, Norm had a thought: "Who knows when this will happen again?"

He didn't know the answer would be 71 years in the making.

Norm doubled back late in the night and got in line. When the ticket window opened in the morning, the people who had set up tents and seats took their sweet time getting to the window, so Norm strolled right up and bought a pair of standing-room ducats. Sally was still in high school, so he showed up at the school and asked her guidance counselor for permission to take her to the afternoon game, and the guidance counselor gave the go-ahead.

The Cubs lost, but Norm won. He and Sally were married for 67 years, and they started a family full of rabid Cubs fans.

When their son, Barry, was studying abroad in Brazil in the summer of 1969, Norm sent him the Chicago Sun-Times sports section every single day. By the time Barry finally received the paper, it was about 30 days old. So when he left Brazil, he was under the impression the Cubs had a comfortable cushion in the NL East. By the time he landed back in Chicago, he learned they had blown it.

Such was life in Cub fandom. Deep dish pizza topped with trauma. That is, until Theo Epstein came to town in the midst of the 2011 World Series (you know, one of many won by the rival Cardinals) and promised to tear it all down and build something better.

The Cubs club Theo constructed would melt even the most hardened hearts, with a quirky, bespectacled skipper named Joe Maddon and an unusually profuse and versatile assortment of young talent supported by some been-there, done-that vets. The Cubs have not once shied from the spotlight or the target or the weighty expectations placed upon them, and they simply don't give a damn about the billy goat or any "woe is me" sentiment that once reigned supreme.

Chicago might be rightly celebrated for its blues scene and heritage, but the Cubs and their fans are profoundly sick of singing them. And now they've got a ballclub worthy of a more happy tune.

Unfortunately, like so many others, Sally didn't live to see this. She passed away in April. And so when Norm watched Saturday's NLCS clincher, he shed a tear, confident his departed bride had a hand in the outcome.

"Through all the so-called curses and things," Norm said, "including the times when it looked like they had it won and then didn't -- the Bartman Game and all those things -- I never gave up hope. And here we are, 71 years later."

And here we are, 68 years after the Indians' last World Series title and 19 years after their last appearance. Game 1, believe it or not, is taking place in Cleveland for the very first time.

It's different in Northeast Ohio, a place where your daily commute will often involve the sight of a beat-up vehicle sporting a "Cleveland: You Gotta Be Tough" bumper sticker.

Here, the tales of the teams have long been intertwined, because their misery was too long collective and all too reflective of a sagging Rust Belt economy that prompted many of the area's college grads to leave for, well, places like Chicago and elsewhere. Dramatic, traumatic twists of fate like The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot or The Jose Mesa carried significance far beyond their own immediate effects. When the Indians saw their 100-win season in a strike-shortened 144-game 1995 go to waste against the Atlanta Braves or frittered away a ninth-inning lead in Game 7 in Miami in '97, they were part of a bigger, blurry, baneful picture.

In Cleveland, you had pierogies, and you had pain.

So you can't tell the story of the 2016 Cleveland Indians without telling the story of the 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers. For 52 years, fans here rooted desperately and fruitlessly for a Cleveland team to win a major sports title, and that made it unmistakably appropriate that when local product LeBron James and his teammates won the NBA Finals in June, they only did so after falling behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven to a Golden State Warriors team coming off the greatest regular season of all time.

For a Cleveland team to win, the script had to be preposterous. And beating the 103-win Cubbies would fit that pattern.

There is something to be said about the pressure that was lifted off the Indians when the Cavs pulled off that miracle run. Because now, no longer was a losing skid or an assault of injury issues viewed as an ominous signal of pending failure but, instead, just a bump on the road to glory.

"I think there was a sigh of relief when they did it," first baseman said. "If they hadn't won, I'm sure our situation now would be a lot crazier. I think it helped ease a lot of people around here."

Despite the home-field edge, the Tribe enters the World Series as the underdog, and, as first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. joked, "I don't ever remember Cleveland being the overdog." The Indians' vaunted rotation took some hard hits to its health late in the year, and piecing it together in the postseason has taken a ton of creativity from manager Terry Francona and his staff. But Francona brought this ballclub his earned experience of two Boston titles along with a passion to make his dad, the former Tribe All-Star Tito Francona, proud.

And so, in Cleveland, it's not just about faith but also about family. It always is.

The downside of this Series is that somebody has to lose it. That frankly doesn't feel fair. Indians fans have endured enough, Cubs fans have endured enough. Neither of them deserves another defeat.

But at least the loser will be able to appreciate what the result means to the victor. Tribe fans and Cubs fans are too similarly aligned in upbringing and environment not to know how sweet such success would be for the other.

And anyway, win or lose, they'll all be breaking out the shovels soon.