Long-suffering fans savor Chicago-Cleveland World Series matchup

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Oct 22, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (44), third baseman Kris Bryant (17), shortstop Addison Russell (27), and second baseman Javier Baez (9) celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in game six of the 2016 NLCS playoff baseball series at Wrigley Field. Cubs win 5-0 to advance to the World Series. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports - RTX2Q1I5

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JUDY WOODRUFF: After all of these years, it’s hard to believe this next sentence, but fans know it’s true: The Chicago Cubs will face off against the Cleveland Indians starting tomorrow night in the World Series.

Life is about to change in one of these cities, whose fans have long suffered and waited decades for a baseball championship.

John Yang, who has Chicago and Cleveland roots of his own, is our guide.

MAN: The Cubs have won the pennant!

JOHN YANG: It’s a call that hasn’t been made in 71 years. The Chicago Cubs and their long-suffering fans are finally going back to World Series.

WOMAN: Oh, my gosh, I was crying the whole game. I’m out of tears.

WOMAN: It’s unbelievable. Like, all you think is, are they really going to do it and am I going to be there? And we were. We were here to watch them win.

JOHN YANG: Cubs fans have seen their share of heartbreak, including losing 101 games just four years ago. The last time the Cubs actually won the World Series, 1908. The last time they won a pennant, a local tavern owner and his goat were kicked out of World Series game four at Wrigley Field. Ever since, the curse of the billy goat, and some notorious blunders on field and off, have kept them on the outside looking in.

But the Cubs aren’t the only team hoping to end a World Series drought this year. They’re set to face the Cleveland Indians, who haven’t won the fall classic since 1948. They have made it three times since, but lost each time, most recently in 1995 and 1997.

WOMAN: Just amazing. They’re doing great, and I know they’re going to bring that World Series home.

JOHN YANG: Game one is set for Tuesday in Cleveland, and the excitement in both cities is running high. According to tracking site TicketIQ, standing room for Tuesday’s start at $860. And for Friday’s game in Chicago, $2,000.

More on this moment, the history and the mood from a pair of sports reporters covering these teams.

Al Pawlowski is host of “Indians Live,” the Cleveland pre- and post-game shows on Fox SportsTime Ohio. And Rick Telander is the senior sports columnist for The Chicago Sun-Times.

Al, Rick, thanks a lot for joining us.

Rick, let me start with you.

Your column this morning, you said it’s still hard to conceive of the Cubs in the World Series after 71 years away. Were there ever moments you doubted this or you questioned Saturday night that this was actually going to happen?

RICK TELANDER, Chicago Sun-Times: Oh, absolutely. You doubt everything all the way.

I mean, 71 years ago, I wasn’t even born. And so everybody — you heard in the setup piece the young women speaking, people weeping openly when the Cubs won that game. And when they got to five outs — you know, five outs is that critical amount that they missed in 2003, the notorious game where Moises Alou slapped his glove on his leg because he missed a foul ball because fan were reaching for it.

So, there’s always been doubt. And it’s hard even now I think in Chicago for people to believe this, because they — they don’t anybody alive — there is no one alive who’ve seen the Cubs win the World Series, and there’s very few people alive who saw them even get into a World Series.

JOHN YANG: Al, so much attention is being given to the Ind — to the — I’m sorry — to Cubs and about their sort of reputation as lovable losers.

But there’s a lot of history with the Indians too over the years. What does this mean to Cleveland?

AL PAWLOWSKI, Fox SportsTime Ohio: Well, it goes back to so many generations, similar to Chicago.

The Cubs have been around there forever, and same thing here with the Indians. They played professional baseball here since the late 1800s. The Indians have been around since 1901. So, something that the Indians bring even more than the Cavaliers that won the championship this summer — and it was Cleveland’s first major sports championship since 1964 — baseball and the Indians kind of connect the generations.

I remember my grandparents talking about Larry Doby and Lou Boudreau and some of those guys, and my parents talking about what they saw when they were kids in the ’54 World Series. And there hasn’t been a winner since ’48. I have never seen this team win a World Series. I have seen them in it for a couple of years in the ’90s.

But that’s kind of what this baseball team brings to this community. It’s a sports team that really connects the generations over time.

JOHN YANG: Over the weekend, Bernie Lincicome, who writes for The Chicago Tribune, and grew up an Indians fan, your cross-river rival there, Rick, he said: “This series matchup invites the question of who has suffered more, as if pain decides who is more deserving, as if agony is a critical benefit.”

Rick, talk about some of that pain over the years. You mentioned the five-out championship a few years back. But talk about some of that pain over the years for Cubs fans.

RICK TELANDER: Well, it’s very similar to Cleveland. Only, I think it’s more extreme because it goes back farther.

People in Chicago don’t hate the city of Cleveland. Cleveland’s been through a lot of troubles as a city. Chicago has, too. We have got a lot of financial problems.

But the thing that connects everybody, and the suffering is especially for the Cubs, because, don’t forget, we have a South Side team called the White Sox, and they won the World Series in 2005. So, that appeased a lot of people who are Sox fans.

But Cubs fans, you can go back. I mean, my grandson, well, they live — I go to visit them in Columbus, and he’s being raised, I’m afraid, an Indians fan by my son-in-law, Mike Edmonds (ph), and my daughter, who’s a die-hard Cubs fan.

But, at any rate, there are fans who go back grandchild, child, father, my father, and then my grandfather. None of us saw the Cubs win the World Series. So, that bonding, that suffering is always there. And you build kind of a hard shell to prevent yourself from suffering more.

When the Cubs get close, people say, oh, no, I know they are going to blow it. I know it’s going to happen. And they just say that just because they can’t take their heart and rip it apart again.

I can list the years that I have been alive for the heartbreak. That’s 1969, those Cubs, the ’84 Cubs, when the ball went through Leon Durham’s legs and they lost to the Padres; ’89, they were in the playoffs and lost, ’98; 2003 was perhaps the biggest heartbreaker of them all.

And 2007 and 2008, they had outstanding teams and they got swept each year in the first round of the playoffs. And people were like, what? They have no idea. So, believe me, you build up that defense system just to protect yourself.

JOHN YANG: Al, what about Tribe fans? Go back to ’97. It’s a little fresher, the 1997 World Series. Talk about some of that pain.

AL PAWLOWSKI: Well, I’ll tell you what. I still remember where I was the moment that the ’97 World Series was happening, and we’re watching game seven, and they’re playing the Marlins.

And the Indians have this 3-2 lead heading into the ninth inning. And I still didn’t feel like, oh, they are going to win it, it’s going to be fine, because a lot of what Rick just said, we have that here too in Cleveland.

And in Chicago, they have champions. You mentioned the White Sox. They have them. They have had the Blackhawks with what they have won. The Bulls won all those titles. Up until the Cavaliers won this summer, no Cleveland major professional sports franchise had won a championship.

So, similar to what the Cubs go through, Indians go through, too. It’s that feeling of, boy, is something going to go wrong, is something going to happen this year like it always has in years past?

Now, the good news is, and the big difference, with the Cavaliers winning a championship in June, you really can see a change in attitude here in the city, in the fans. Instead of feeling, boy, how are the Cubs going to beat the Indians now in the World Series, now it’s more like — and we saw this throughout October — how does this baseball team find a way to win?

Because they always seem to find a way to win. Now there is a confidence here that maybe wasn’t here back in the ’90s, when the Indians played the Braves in ’95 and then the Marlins in ’97.

JOHN YANG: Al, you talk about the Cavs. Tomorrow is not just game one of the World Series, the season opener for the Cavaliers, raising the championship banner.

This morning in The Sun-Times, Rick wrote that may be another — it’s already a lot of success for Cleveland. He wrote: “Dare I say this? Cleveland, city of solid Midwestern folks, take a knee.”

Al, you got Rick here. What do you say to that?

(LAUGHTER)

AL PAWLOWSKI: Well, there’s no way we’re taking a knee now, because this might be the only year that Cleveland can win multiple sports championships.

I mean, it hasn’t happened since 1948. The Browns did. The Indians did. If Cleveland has a chance to win a couple, they are going to go for it. And I understand what he is saying. Hey, the Cubs, it’s been a while for them.

But to see this town, and you talked about it, right now — I was just outside a few moments ago, and all the stages set up. All the networks are here. They’re here to cover the Cavaliers. They’re here to cover the Indians. We had the Republican National Convention in July. Same type of deal.

Suddenly, Cleveland is the big media center of the world when it comes to sports, at least for Tuesday night for game one, and then also for the Cavaliers opening up and getting their rings when they take on the Knicks.

It’s really a magical time. And if you have been a lifelong Clevelander, or at least a Cleveland sports fan, you never thought you would experience something like this. And now that it’s here, it’s just truly wonderful to be a part of it.

JOHN YANG: Al, Rick, two great cities, two great teams. Let’s hope for a great series. Thanks for being with us.

AL PAWLOWSKI: You got it. Sounds good.

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