Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Where were you 10 years ago?

On this day 10 years ago, Cubs fans had a reason to cheer when young pitching phenom Kerry Wood did the seemingly impossible. By mystifying the high-powered Houston Astros for 20 strikeouts, he tied the Major League single-game strikeout record, earning a special place in the hearts of all Cubs fans as well as an annual page in Cubs trivia desk calendars.

This happened a decade ago? It sure doesn't feel like it, as I vividly remember that rainy day in May. It was such a quick game that I actually didn't see a single strike, but I remember driving home from high school and listening to the postgame show in disbelief. The Cubs continued to stun their fans that season when they went on to win the Wild Card and reached the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

This kind of stuff simply didn't happen to the Cubs back then. My favorite line in today's Tribune story about Wood's anniversary is the attendance figure from that fateful game. 15,758? That's less than half of a typical Wrigley crowd these days, and it's a telling reality that more "recent" Cubs fans probably can't wrap their minds around.

I remember attending games throughout the 1990s when the upper deck was an empty sea of green seats and unclaimed foul balls. Ten years later I find myself sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in those very seats because they are the only tickets I can afford in the only section that didn't immediately sell out.

Yes, the fortunes and popularity of the Cubs have changed significantly, but I take a certain pride in the fact that I was tuned into the team 10 years ago when it wasn't nearly so trendy. It's days like today that lifelong Cubs fans can bask in the longevity of their love affair with the Lovable Losers.

Ten years later, an older, wiser and surgically repaired Kerry Wood took the mound in the ninth inning for the Cubs tonight in his new role as a closer. Against all odds and every arm injury imaginable, Wood has largely silenced the critics and returned as a positive force in the Cubs lineup.

Perhaps Wood's up-and-down-and-up career can serve as a metaphor for the Cubs as a whole. Who doesn't love happy endings?

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