I must have rented it 50 times.
Any time my parents would pack me and my three brothers into the minivan for a trip to BlockBuster, it was an adventure. We knew the rules. Each kid was allowed one rental. We had to be ready with our selection within 20 minutes. (Though that rarely was the case) There was the constant inner-battle of "do I go for a movie or a video game?" These were big decisions for a 7-year old. But then came the answer. Perched on the 2nd shelf of the "Sports" section was a title called The Boys of Zimmer. Immediately, I looked behind the box to confirm that was in stock. Yessir...I had found my rental. For the next million visits.
Looking back, it was probably the most influential piece of cinema of all-time. I would spend the week with Boys of Zimmer watching it over and over again. I could not get enough. Jerome Walton seemed like a superhero when they played the montage of his 30-game hitting streak. Les Lancaster was made to look like a modern-day Christy Mathewson. I learned that Shawon Dunston had an arm on the left side of his body and an actual bazooka on the right. And then there was the skipper, Don Zimmer, the only man on Earth gutsy enough to call for the hit-and-run with the bases loaded. If all that wasn't enough to make a little 45-pound kid a Cubs fan for life, they hit you with the marvelous tune, "Cubbies Are Rockin." It's been about 18 years since that first rental, but the lyrics are still fresh as ever in my mind.
Walton and Smith, man they got speed,
With Sandberg and Grace, what more do we need?!?
The end of that video never changed, though. Much like the Dodgers did a week ago, the Giants stormed into Wrigley Field for that 1989 NLCS and stole Game 1. I grew up associating Will Clark with all that is evil. I knew that there was a special place reserved in Hell for those people that dared mess with my heroes. Master Shredder for trying to defeat the Ninja Turtles...Andre the Giant and anyone else who did bodily harm to Hulk Hogan...and Will Clark, for becoming the first player in baseball history to knock in over 40 runs in one playoff series. (Or at least the video made it seem that way) The music that accompanied Robby Thompson's backbreaking home run in game 3 was enough to make the strongest Cubs fan cry.
(On a sidenote, the similarities are eerie in regard to those playoff openers. In '89, the Cubs trailed by one run in the 4th when SF first sacker Will Clark came up with the bases loaded and 2 outs. If Maddux retires him, who knows how that game unfolds? And for that matter, the series as well. All Cub fans know, however, that Clark was most definitely not retired. Instead, he hit a ball so high and so far that even today when I go outside to get the paper in the morning, I worry that the ball will return to orbit and smack me in the head. Almost two decades later, and the script remains the same. The Cubs are in control of the opener, leading by two, when LA first sacker James Loney sauntered up to the plate in the 5th with the bases loaded and 2 outs. Dempster delivers, Loney deposits...game, set, and match.)
But one thing I will never shake is the feeling that would come over me when "The Boys of Zimmer" was winding down to its final moments. I'd seen the video countless times before and knew exactly how it was going to end. But somehow, when the Cubs began making a little charge in the 9th inning of that last game, I found myself hoping it would end differently. After all, the narrator even seemed to be getting excited with Ryno coming to bat and the tying run in scoring position. But it wasn't to be. Sandberg rolled one over to second and the season was over. I've still never seen a player run harder on a routine ground ball than Sandberg did on that bouncer to Thompson.
I guess that blind hope is what keeps us Cubs fans coming back each day and each year wishing the final result will be different this time around. There is a reason I continued to rent that worn out videotape time after time. (And eventually just bought for $5.00 from the store, since the fine folks at BlockBuster acknowledged that not one other soul had ever rented the masterpiece in 10 years.) I knew those '89 Cubbies were not going to wind up as World Series champions, but I still found myself on the edge of my seat when Sanderg strode to the dish in that fateful 9th. It's the same old story today. With each new year, it remains highly unlikely that the Cubs will finally break through and hoist that trophy. After all it has been 100 (soon to be 101) years. My allegiances aren't going anywhere, though. I'm a Cubs fan. I'm the guy who once told all my buddies at elementary school that Rick Wilkins will go on to become the best catcher in history and shatter all of Johnny Bench's records. I convinced myself after watching Amaury Telemaco's first start that we had the next Juan Marichal on our hands. I am still confident these predictions will one day come to fruition.
Our time will come. As Cubs fans, there is something inside all of us that will not allow us to stop believing. As for me, I'm gonna go pop in 'Boys of Zimmer'...maybe Sandberg will hit a homer this time.
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