There's a fire raging in Chicago.
There has been since 1908. It almost got extinguished in the "Fall" of 2003. Sadly, the flames were "fanned" again on October, Game 6th, 2003 by some poor unfortunate soul: one Steven Bartman (aka - Mrs. O'Leary's 21st Century Cow - or, as Cubs fans would have it, Mrs. O'Leary's 'Goat' - their official team mascot).
Oh, woah, ye who may dare enter here...
Bartman: Guilty as charged of crimes against hum-inanity... and I promise this will be the last word from me on Sports Fanaticism (until the next act of complete and utter stupidity, that is). But, I'm not going to railroad Mr. Bartman like everyone else seems fond of doing; he has a lifetime of that ahead of him.
And that's where I'd like to begin. Albeit more briefly this time...
For the whole sordid tale just Google the poor S.O.B. (Son Of a Baseball fan). Let's just say he did what any other fan would have done at a game when a foul ball was coming his way: he reached out and grabbed for it.
And that's where sense ends and hysteria begins.
In short, Bartman will forever be blamed for disrupting a Moises-Alou-playable-ball and thus undoing the Cubs karma as they went on to lose to Montreal that day.
Unfortunately, that particular game was the cradle in which Chicago Cubs' fans were nursing their World Series Baby New Year, a game so important, it could have potentially lead to ending 99 years of World Series championship drought, misery and "Curses".
We Red Sox fans (could once) totally relate.
But what of Steve Bartman, the man who would be crowned Chicago's Robert Bruce to the Cubs William Wallace? Now vilified for his act of treason Bartman no longer talks to the press, rarely ventures out of doors and, oddly, has never moved out of the state of Illinois. He has been the victim of any manner of degrees of mockery...
...grievous personal violence sworn upon his knee caps, death threats(!), and now having to relive (revile?) his forlorn legacy as the Cubs make yet another charge for the coveted World Series Trophy. As of this writing those bears were just bit by some snakes from Arizona in a pitcher's duel that ended on the wrong side of the bullet for them...
I wish I could meet Steve Bartman; his fate fascinates me. He'd be safe in my company, of course. Like I said, anyone would have done the same thing (in fact, praise him for his instinct as he stopped a speeding projectile from possibly beaming another fellow cave-dweller!).
I'd like to meet him because I want to ask him this one question:
"What is it like to be convicted (by a mob) and then condemned as a fugitive for a non-crime?"
My existential synapses go into unstoppable overdrive whenever I think of the weight on this person and his place in history now. Living out his days as the Excuse (have you gotten a call from one Bill Buckner lately?).
One side of me likes to think of what literary great, Kurt Vonnegut (a baseball fan himself), might have thought about this whole affair: "Listen! Kid, I assure you, we're all here on this earth just to fart around. Don't worry about any of this nonsense. People were wiped out in droves when I was young. I saw factories and school yards bombed into oblivion as young men, with their guts making grand external debuts, screamed for their mothers. You? What did you do? You tried to catch a ball!?"
But, I also look at it this way: If there's any truth to the legend of Babe Ruth's "called shot" promise made to a critically-ill child of hitting a home run during the 1926 World Series (he hit three that game...) I can certainly see how much these mere games can inspire so much hope for so many people. And what are we so dearly lacking in in today's current grand guignol...?
How would I live my life in a similar 'imaginary criminal' state then? I don't know Mr. Bartman, so I can't speak for his character, but I do hope he's a real-real tough guy deep inside and gets the punchline to this whole cosmic joke.
Me? I wouldn't have the stomach for it. Any of it. Nor the discipline of a sturdy enough soul to anchor me against the constant assault of multitude strangers' abuse. I've watched myself in action before at sporting events, too, so I see the "Dark Side" my wife observes with cautionary eyes. The nature of being a fan continues to baffle me. I may, in fact, believe there is 'magic' at play:
Be wary, baseball fans, keep your hands in your pockets the next time a foul ball presents itself as any souvenir opportunity; there just may be a spell on that thing!
But, I can take solace in one last observation made by the great Dresden survivor; Vonnegut also said this shortly before his death in April of 2007:
"When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life; old age is more like a semicolon."
So it goes, Steve Bartman";" assuredly so is sports history...
Happy New Year,