Chicago Cubs fans gather outside of Wrigley Field in Chicago, Il., for Game 6 of the NLCS on October 14, 2003. The cubs led the series 3-2, and led 3-0 in the 8th inning before a fan reached out and prevented Moises Alou from catching a foul ball for an out, opening the door on an eight-run rally and then a Game 7 loss. Photo by Mark Cowan/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK - Eric Hosmer caught some of the video of the Cavaliers return to Cleveland after winning the NBA championship this week. It reminded the Royals first baseman of what it was like last fall when Kansas City defeated the Mets in the World Series to end a 30-year championship drought. The Cavs' first title was Cleveland's first in any major sport in more than a half century.
"The scene was unbelievable," Hosmer said Wednesday, smiling. "It makes it special. Not that it isn't already, but realizing how much joy you've brought to a community? With us every player was proud of that."
This baseball season may bring us the end of the mother of all championship droughts. The Chicago Cubs last won a World Series in 1908. This season's edition has been the best team in baseball.
The 47-23 record is tops in the game. They have the best team ERA, almost a half-run lower than second-best. They are the highest-scoring club in the NL and second in baseball behind only the Red Sox. One of the highest-paid teams in the baseball, this is not inspired play by the lovable loser Cubbies of years past but more a club attacking like a hungry bear that's just awakened after a long hibernation.
The Cubs' dry spell is littered with some excruciating moments.
They led their 2003 NLCS match up with the Marlins, 3 games to 2, and led 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game 6 before fan Steve Bartman reached out and prevented Moises Alou from catching a foul ball for an out, opening the door on an eight-run rally and then a Game 7 loss. They suffered a humiliating sweep by the Mets in the 2015 NLCS. But the fans remain believers.
That wasn't the case for the 2004 Red Sox, who fought the culture around the team to win. New Englanders can be crusty and never more so than the 2004 season. Their team lost its previous three World Series appearances in Game 7s. The Yankees had authored so many of their collapses and beat them in the 2003 ALCS on Aaron Boone's Game 7 walk-off homer. Boston fans had come to expect their team to fail in the end.
One Sox player told me that August, for a story in the New York Daily News, "there should be a sign over this clubhouse door: Believe in yourself - no one else believes in you" and Johnny Damon said "every team goes through stretches where it will lose a few more than it wins. Here, the fans are so intense and want it so bad, a stretch like that becomes tougher for everyone."
Ultimately Sox ringleader Kevin Millar put a line between that team and those before it by saying "we aren't trying to reverse history, just win a World Series."
The 2015 Royals "took on the drought as our own," Hosmer said, "because (GM) Dayton (Moore) drafted us and developed us to win a championship and end it. We knew what we were a part of."
But he said that never created pressure to win. "The pressure for us came from within, because we'd come so close in the World Series the year before and lost Game 7 with the tying run 90 feet away," he explained.
There have been a number of long title famines that have ended since the Red Sox 'reversed the curse.'
The following year the Chicago White Sox won the World Series for the first time in 88 years.
The New Orleans Saints won their first Super Bowl since their 1967 inception in 2010.
The Chicago Blackhawks captured their first Stanley Cup in 49 years at the end of the 2009-10 season. There were the Royals a year ago and now the Cavaliers.
Ending a title drought hasn't lost its charm for us, despite happening so often in recent years. Who doesn't like Cleveland's favorite son LeBron James returning to the organization he once abandoned to fulfill the promise of a title? Who didn't enjoy the Red Sox finally overcoming their long-standing tormentor, the Yankees in another ALCS Game 7, en route to winning the World Series?
If this is the Cubs' turn, storylines will surely come through that will resonate even though they are favorites to win where none of these others was. Foremost among them will be this team's chief architect, president Theo Epstein and righthand man and GM Jed Hoyer, who over saw the Red Sox when they broke the Curse of the Bambino.
In fact, they may be the main reason that Cubs fans are believers. They're invested in someone who has done it before.
One thing is certain if they do, this Cubs team will always savor its place in history. As Royals manager Ned Yost said "that satisfaction never goes away."
"Wherever we go now we see the fans in their Royals gear and we didn't used to see that before," Hosmer said. "It feels special to us because we feel we were the group that ended the drought and re-energized Royals."
The Cubs may feel pressure. They may not. But they have to know those are things that are now in reach.