CHICAGO — To understand the psyche of Chicago Cubs fans is not to be a team historian.

Steve Bartman and the Curse of the Billy Goat are integral events in the long-suffering organization’s history. As are countless postseason disappointments.

But almost universally, fans of the team are not a group that dwells on its heartbreak. Cubs nation is not depressed, like a person in mourning. The World Series-starved fanbase is more giddy, like expecting parents.

The tenor around Wrigleyville, the appropriately named area that is home to Wrigley Field, is somewhat a result of the group of young players president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has brought to the club.

Even in previous years, however, there was an eternal optimism that permeated the neighborhood.

“The Cubs’ greatest thing is Theo and [manager] Joe Maddon,” said Freddy Fagenholz, who has been the general manager of the world famous sports bar Murphy’s Bleachers for the past seven years. “I think they’re going to have these guys ready for the game.

“They’ve been there before, and they haven’t done it. I think this is the best team that they’ve had that I can remember.”

Fagenholz spoke to Bleacher Report as members of the Cubs grounds crew were relaxing inside the bar, which is located at Clark Street and Sheffield Avenue, directly across from the entrance to Wrigley Field’s bleachers.

In his time, Fagenholz has seen more losing than winning. But pressed, he would not waver from his optimism, even though he is well acquainted with the team’s history of futility.

He is aware that on Tuesday, October 14, 2003, Bartman deflected a foul ball in the eighth inning of a potential NLCS-clinching Game 6, preventing right fielder Moises Alou from recording the inning’s second out.

At the time, Chicago led 3-0. What ensued was an eight-run eighth inning that forced a Game 7, which the Cubs lost.

Fagenholz was at Murphy’s Bleachers, as a patron, drinking and watching the game.

See, Wrigley Field is the epicenter of the neighborhood. It tells the story. But the surrounding bars serve to write the team’s prologue and epilogue.

Long before games start, fans pack bars that line Wrigley Field’s bordering streets—Addison, Clark, Sheffield and Waveland. Win or lose, they pile back in and party into the next day’s early hours.

Zach Strauss, whose family owns Sluggers, a bar on Clark Street, a little more than a Hail Mary throw from the Wrigley Field marquee, remembers his venue being packed to the brim for that 2003 NLCS game.

Kegs were tapped, liquor was being poured and eyes were glued to Sluggers’ numerous television screens. By the time the game ended, the place had flatlined.

“People left this place, [and] it was supposed to be a huge celebration, and it was like a 180,” Strauss said. “It was like a funeral.

“Everyone started crying. It was terrible.” 

Because Cubs games have been televised on WGN nationally for decades, the organization is one of the few entities in sports, such as the New York Yankees and Notre Dame football, that transcends geography.

Fans of the team dot the map.

All MLB teams are now on national television, and the package provides access to every game. But people from a previous generation still pass the fandom down to their offspring, almost like religion.

Justin Wollmershauser’s grandfather is from Chicago and was a Cubs fan. Wollmershauser is a Tulsa, Oklahoma, native but caught the bug. So much so that the 23-year-old moved to Chicago and lives above Merkle’s Bar and Grill, another Wrigleyville staple on Clark Street.

He said he made the move for the Cubs, to be there when the team finally wins a World Series.

Wollmershauser moved the same night in 2015 when the Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game.

“They had to lift my mattress over fans that were jumping on cars and running up and down the streets just to get me moved in,” he said. “I was pretty excited for what was to come and going into the playoffs, the way the Cubs’ postseason has been, is twice as exciting.”

Robert Schweikher, 23, watched the Bartman game over his railing as a 10-year old in his West Lafayette, Indiana, home because, then 10, he was supposed to be asleep. When his parents found him crying after the game, they explained to him he’d have more heartbreak as a Cubs fan.

Later in his life, they suggested he move to Chicago. They lived there at one time. So Schweikher moved to Wrigleyville.

Today, not many people, the aforementioned proprietors included, blame Bartman. Thirteen years after the incident, it is widely understood he was one of many reaching for that baseball.

Bartman was just the unfortunate one to have touched it. That Alou immediately reacted negatively was no fault of Bartman’s. Nor was the error shortstop Alex Gonzalez made two batters later.

A strange phenomenon among Cubs fans is the group’s ability to get over heartbreak.

Rahsell Gordin is a bartender at Dark Horse on Sheffield Ave. She’s a Boston native and Red Sox fan but has worked at the Wrigleyville bar for the past 12 years. Her first was 2004, when the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918.

She said she wasn’t made to feel bad about gloating that year, even though it was only a year removed from the ill-fated Bartman game.

Last year, she said grown men left the bar crying after the Cubs were swept out of the NLCS by the New York Mets.

“It’s just been like a roller coaster,” Gordin said. “Everybody has been waiting. Everyone’s hopes are up and up, and everyone is in a great emotional state.”

Good vibes are running rampant around Chicago’s north side. Cubs fans can’t get enough of it. It’s like dessert to someone with a sweet tooth.

Cubs superstar Addison Russell agreed, as he told Bleacher Report’s Zach Rymer he “can definitely see that Chicago is ready for something big to happen here.”

And no one can run away from it. Not even the Chicago Police Department.

The city is so optimistic about the team that the police department already has plans for street closures for potential series-clinching games, according to Al Rothlisberger, who is the general manager of HVAC Pub on Clark—a newer Wrigleyville watering hole.

Rothlisberger said police have already had meetings with the area’s proprietors, asking for their cooperation as it pertains to crowd management inside each establishment. Rothlisberger said he was holding a staff meeting after his interview with Bleacher Report in order to prepare for the playoffs.

But Cubs fans don’t even feel as though they are setting themselves up for disappointment. The group’s optimism lasts in perpetuity. Wollmershauser summed it up best: “If they don’t [win the World Series], I just know that the Cubs are going to be such a good contender for the World Series for years to come. There’s no point in even giving up on the Cubs.

“If not this year, then we learn something new and it’s next year.”


Seth Gruen is a national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.

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