The National League Central champion Cubs are out for a ring other than a wedding band, one that proclaims them World Series champions, and one that has eluded the organization since 1908. They return home to Chicago down, 2-0, in their NL Division Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and much more concerned with remaining in the playoffs than winning a World Series. But whenever that happens, when the "Lovable Losers," as they have come to be known, obtain that elusive title, it will be much like a wedding -- one that unites millions of Cubs fans all over the world.
What does it mean to be a Cubs fan?
"It means that you always have hope, and that your dreams will come true if you keep believing," said Andy Karafotias, 40, a lifelong Cubs fan who grew up on Chicago's North Side. "It's almost like you're born with it. It's a state of mind. I think there are Cubs fans, and people who wish they were Cubs fans, but they don't know how, or they don't know what it would take to be a Cub fan."
The recipe to construct a Cubs fan is not difficult, but like any fine cuisine, it takes time. It takes patience. It takes steadfast support. And it takes faith.
But most importantly, it takes loyalty.
"Cubs fans are unique to just about any other entertainment, not just sports," said Jay Blunk, director of marketing and sales for the Cubs. "Their loyalty is undying, and that's what makes them unique."
To say it has been a while since the Cubs were at the top of baseball's hierarchy is an understatement. When the Cubs won the World Series in 1908, Theodore Roosevelt was still president, the American flag had only 46 stars, and it was the West Side Grounds that the Cubs called home. It was that same year that Jack Norworth wrote "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," the song late broadcaster Harry Caray helped become one of the most iconic Cubs traditions.
It was not until 1916 that the Cubs moved to Weeghman Park, which later become known as Wrigley Field. It is the lore and the history of the classic ballpark -- the manual scoreboard, the ivy on the outfield wall -- that helps make the team so popular.
"When I walk into Wrigley Field, or even when I pass by it, I just get a feeling," Karafotias said. "You walk inside, and it's like the first time you've been in the ballpark all over again, and you're just happy. You forget about everything else when you're watching the game and when you go into that stadium."
Karafotias shared that feeling with a record number of fans this season at Wrigley, where more than 3.25 million people entered the gates to establish a franchise record. It was the fourth straight season the Cubs surpassed the three-million mark at home. Among those millions were a number of celebrity supporters, from actors Bill Murray and Vince Vaughn to writer George Will and former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps, who flocked to Wrigley, either to take in the game as a fan, or to honor the memory of Caray as guest conductor for the seventh-inning stretch.
"You know you're going to have a packed house," Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot said. "You know these guys are coming to watch the Cubs win and root us on. It's a comforting feeling. It's almost like you have an extra player out there that pushes us."
That extra player travels as well, with the team's fan base reaching far beyond the outskirts of the Chicagoland area. The Cubs played before more than 2.9 million fans on the road in 2007, and have fans in all corners of the country.
"The Cubs are such a nationwide team that they're America's team," Karafotias said. "It's like Chevrolet and apple pie. Everyone knows the Cubs, and everyone knows the struggle that they've had over the past 99 years."
Ted Lambros, 78, lives in Los Angeles, but the native of Chicago's North Side proudly wears his Cubs hat whenever he attends Dodgers games. He was 15 years old when he stood in line at 4 a.m. to get a seat in the outfield bleachers for the 1945 World Series in Chicago -- the last time the Cubs appeared in the Series -- and has seen the team's fans spread across the nation over the years.
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"Look how many people were in the stands [Wednesday] night for the Cubs [in Arizona]," said Lambros, who is trying to figure out a way back to Chicago should the Cubs make it back to the World Series. "That happens here in L.A., it happens in San Francisco. There are Chicagoans all over the place rooting for the Cubs."
And no matter whether the team is atop the division standings or at the bottom looking up, the fans are sure to enjoy themselves.
"Ups and downs, highs and lows, always fun," said Tracy McReynolds, 37, who was not ashamed of the "Lovable Losers" nickname. "That's OK, because we stay with our team whether they win or lose. There's a lot of people that bail on other teams. You can watch games on TV, and there's no one there in the stadium. [Wrigley Field] is always packed."
Despite the neverending fan support, the Cubs have not reached the pinnacle of the postseason in nearly a century, causing the adage of "Wait 'till next year" to develop into a common refrain amongst Cubs fans.
Maybe this season is "next year". Maybe it's not. But whether the Cubs win in 2007 or 2057, one thing can be guaranteed.
Cubs fans will be rooting them on.
What is it like to be a Chicago Cubs fan?
"It's like you're a family member," said Ray Brito, 22, of Elmhurst, Ill. "You don't know half the Cub fans, but when you get to the game, or you're around Cubs fans, it's like you're a family. You live and die with the team. When they're hurting, it's like your loved one is hurt, or when they're happy, it's like you're happy for your loved one.
"It's one big family."