Arnold: Some thoughts from a Chicago Cubs fan before the National League Wild Card game

ISD Engagement Editor Maddy Arnold, third from left, visits Wrigley Field with her family in August. Arnold is a life-long Chicago Cubs fan and discussed what Wednesday’s NL Wild Card game means to her and other Cubs fans. 

Maddy Arnold

This is it.

Today is the day.

The Wild Card game tonight is the start of the era that will make all the years of suffering alongside the Lovable Losers finally worth it. It has been one hell of a journey for me and everyone else in this country who bleeds Cubbie blue.

While I may only be 21 years old — that’s only 21 seasons of heartbreak I have experienced before this one — my generation hasn’t seen a promising Cubs team likely to break the Curse of the Billy Goat ever or at least one when you didn’t have a pit in your stomach and a knot in your throat just waiting for the inevitable postseason collapse.

My generation of Cubs fans is old enough to remember the Steve Bartman game and the cringe-inducing thought of what if Bartman wasn’t there? Moises Alou would’ve made that catch and the Cubs would’ve beat the Marlins and won the pennant in ‘03, right? We can’t be true-blue Cubs fans if at least a little piece of our hearts didn’t believe that might be true.

Whether we like to admit it or not, the ride hasn’t been all bad. We all have those memories — the reasons why we love this frustrating, sad and at-times completely hopeless team. These experiences from our childhoods, for whatever reason, carved a place in our hearts for the Chicago Cubs.

My first vivid memory of the Cubs and the reason why I’m a die-hard hopeless believer of a Cubs fan today, isn’t even actually a memory of the Chicago Cubs at all. I’m not from Chicago and I didn’t frequent Wrigley Field as a kid.

I grew up in the Des Moines area, the land of the future Chicago stars and the home of the Iowa Cubs — the triple A Minor League affiliate of Chicago. My dad had one special tradition for me and my big brother. Each year in April or May, he would let us skip one afternoon of school and go to a day game at what was then Sec Taylor Stadium.

He would buy me a hot dog, get some hot roasted peanuts and sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game with me each and every year. And he would be damned if he didn’t get a ball for each of his kids. I remember my dad harassed the visiting first baseman from our behind-the-dugout seats until he finally made the poor guy crack up with laughter and toss a ball our way in about the 6th or 7th inning.

Those games were the happiest memories of my childhood and they continued all the way through high school. I got to see future Cubs stars and current ones on their way back from injuries. I remember being a part of a sold-out crowd to see Carlos Zambrano pitch for Iowa and watching a young first baseman named Anthony Rizzo play after he was traded from the Padres during my last hooky day with my dad when I was a senior in high school. 

My love of Chicago was only strengthened by my first trip to Wrigley Field when I was 11, as it is with any young Cubbie fan. I saw the good guys lose to the White Sox that day but I still remember the chills I got after I walked up the stairs, out of the concourse and saw the famous bricks and ivy for the first time ever. The Friendly Confines is a living, breathing museum that forces fans to fall in love with the North Siders who play and lose on that field.

Despite the loss, I was hooked. Since that first time at Wrigley, I’ve travelled back to my Mecca of baseball twice. I got to see the North Siders defeat one of my most-hated teams in baseball, the New York Yankees, when I was 17 and then again just this season on Aug. 7 to see Chicago take down San Fran and finally start to break away in the battle for the second National League Wild Card spot.

As Cubs fans, we all have those defining moments in our lives that make us fall in love with our team, no matter how painful it may be. But tonight’s National League Wild Card game may just be the start of a new era, one when the next generation of Cubs fans doesn’t just rely on the sites, sounds and emotions of Chicago Cubs baseball. This next generation can remember the winning, the young stars of our team, the great baseball minds in the Clubhouse and front office but, most of all, they won’t remember the heartbreak.

Baseball fans and players are superstitious people, so I won’t say the Curse of the Billy Goat will be broken or the prophecy told in Back to the Future 2 will come true. But we as Cubs fans finally have hope and, quite frankly, know what it feels like to win.

Today is a defining moment in the history of the Chicago Cubs organization. I can feel it. The Cubs will take on the Pirates in Pittsburgh tonight at 7 p.m. in a winner-take-all Wild Card game. The winner will travel to St. Louis on Friday to play the Cardinals in the NL Division Series on Friday. Win or lose, today is the start of a new era for the Cubs.

With that being said, I have just one question: Hey, Chicago, what do you say?!