ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Tonight in Cleveland, the Chicago Cubs take on the Cleveland Indians in Game 2 of the World Series. It's the Cubs' first trip to the World Series in 71 years, and they haven't won it since 1908, a drought so long that generations of fans have bonded over the many heartbreaking losses. That means that this year's pennant is a bittersweet one for many Cubs fans who are remembering loved ones who didn't live long enough to see this day. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: At cemeteries all across the Chicago area, there are Cubs flags, pennants, flowers, balloons and little stuffed cubby bears laid with care alongside the headstones of Cubs fans who are no longer with us. Here at the Bohemian National Cemetery on the city's northwest side, there is a Cubs Fans Forever wall built with Wrigley Field bricks and adorned with the iconic ballpark's ivy and containing the ashes of several diehard Cubs fans.
LINDA MARANO: Feeling bad that he's not here with us to see Cubs winning.
SCHAPER: Linda Marano is kneeling down, arranging flowers and Cubs flags and lighting candles and incense in front of her brother-in-law Johnny's headstone.
MARANO: I mean to get to this point, you know? Since long time ago, the Cubs didn't get to this point, so we were saying, oh, we wish Johnny was here.
SCHAPER: Marano says Johnny and the Cubs helped bring her family together to watch the games, celebrate the wins and brood after losses. And there just seems to be something about the game of baseball that brings people together.
Maybe it's the slower pace of the game and the pauses in between pitches and innings that allow us to talk, to analyze, to listen and to connect. Maybe it's the long seasons that can mirror the ups and downs of life. And with the Cubs in particular, when a team goes a century without winning, the game helps us understand that life does go on, and there's always next year.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ladies, two outs - any base, any base.
SCHAPER: Now that next year is finally here, even though Juan Gonzalez is coaching his daughter's softball team, he's thinking of his dad.
GONZALEZ: My father was a big Cubs fan when he came over here. So yeah, it's - I've been a Cub fan since as long as I can remember.
SCHAPER: So the first thing Sunday morning after his Cubs won the National League pennant for the first time in his lifetime and advanced to the World Series, Gonzalez paid his late father a visit.
GONZALEZ: You know, this morning I stopped by his grave over at Maryhill, and I put a little W right next to his grave and said, hey, we're four wins away, Pop, four wins away.
SCHAPER: Gonzalez is thrilled to see the Cubs in the World Series even though it makes him miss his dad a little bit more.
GONZALEZ: I wish he was here to share it with us because he's - I remember he'd - you know, truth be told, he'd take me out of school sometimes, and we'd sneak over and catch a Cubs game. So it's a little bittersweet that he's not here with us.
SCHAPER: The 45-year-old Gonzalez is now bonding with his children over this rare Cubs success the way he and his father bonded over one frustrating season after another. Speaking of frustration, the Indians haven't won a championship in generations either. And there's no doubt that many Cleveland fans are coping with the same bitter-sweetness of finally coming close to winning it all while missing family and friends who are no longer around to share the experience. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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