History, Literally

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Anthony Rizzo, First baseman / Chicago Cubs - The Players' Tribune

I think I got maybe an hour of sleep the night before Game 7 of the World Series. Right before I went to bed, I was so confident. So foolishly confident. I really thought I was going to lie down and sleep like a baby.

Yeah … no.  

I remember lying down in bed next to my girlfriend, pulling the covers up and staring up at the ceiling. And as soon as I closed my eyes, hundreds of scenarios started running through my head. Some good … most of them bad.

What if I let a ball go through my legs?

What if I strike out with the game on the line?

What if I drop the ball on the last out of the World Series?

The self-doubt naturally creeps in a little bit more before big moments. I wrestled with it most of the night. I just couldn’t get my mind to shut up and rest.

The next morning, I wanted to go straight to the field. But I couldn’t. Because if I learned anything from our 2015 postseason run, it was the importance of routine. Treat every game like it’s just another game.

Even if it’s Game 7 of the World Series.

One of the questions I’ve been asked most this off-season is whether or not I was nervous before or during Game 7. I don’t think I was really nervous. I think a lot of things were slightly different, or even amplified a little — like how much I thought about the game the night before.

We knew the Indians were going to have an incredible pitcher on the mound, but it didn’t matter to us. In the clubhouse before the game, we kept saying to one another, “It doesn’t matter if he’s the best. We’ll be better than him tonight.”

It was like.…

“Bro, Kluber’s nasty.”

“Yeah. We’re nastier.”

We were confident. It wasn’t about 108 years. It was about nine innings. We came out and it seemed like everything was going right. For eight innings, it was perfect.

Then Rajai Davis stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the eighth. You know the story. Rajai crushed a two-run homer to tie the game. Normally, if that would have happened in any other game I would have thought, O.K. Tie game. We need to shut them down now and go back to work with the bats in the ninth.

It wasn’t about 108 years. It was about nine innings.

But when that ball left the yard, I was more like….

No way.

I mean, we were four outs away from winning the World Series. Four outs. I couldn’t react like it was just another two-run homer. It had been a back-and-forth game, and that was such a huge momentum swing for them.

But the way our team reacted on the field was exactly how we would have in any other game. We didn’t let it faze us. Aroldis Chapman bounced back and got us out of the inning, and then we shut the Indians down in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extras.

Then came the rain delay.

That was another “Were you nervous?” moment.

The funny thing about that was that normally, when there’s a rain delay, guys will check out. They’ll go into the clubhouse and unwind, and then try to turn it back on when, or if, play resumes.

We didn’t know if the delay was going to last 10 minutes or two hours. But I don’t think any of us checked out. I know I didn’t. I went in and hit the stationary bike. I wanted to stay ready. And after 17 minutes, when they pulled the tarp off the field and Jason Heyward came into the weight room and gave his now-famous pep talk, we were ready to go.

We didn’t have to turn it back on.

We had never turned it off.

The ultimate moment, though, was catching the final out at first base.

And no, I wasn’t nervous — even though the night before, lying in bed, I had literally thought, What if I drop the ball on the last out of the World Series?

Everybody asks me what I was thinking at that moment. And the truth is: I wasn’t really thinking anything. It was pure emotion and happiness. My exact thinking when the ball hit my mitt was just kind of jumbled nonsense.

Oh, my God.

Then.…

Oh, my God.

Then.…

We just won.

We just won the World Series?

Oh, my God. Put the ball in your pocket.

Game 7. World Series. Cubs. Curse. 108. We won.

Oh, my God!

Then I ran to my guys.

I remember that one thing Rossy had talked about all season long was the bond he had with the guys from the 2013 championship team in Boston. He talked about it a lot, and he said that it was the reason he really wanted to win one with us — because if we won a World Series together, then we’d be connected forever. We all bought into that. So as the season went on, and we got closer and closer to winning it all, it started to feel almost like we were a Little League team. You know, where you’re out there just trying to win for your buddies. It never felt like we had the city of Chicago on our backs. Or that we were up against history. It wasn’t about droughts or curses. It was just about the guys in that dugout.

Oh, my God. Put the ball in your pocket.

It didn’t matter how we won. It didn’t matter who the hero was. All that mattered was that we won, and that we played for each other along the way.

That all came together when I put that ball in my pocket, jumped into KB’s arms and started celebrating.

I still don’t think the magnitude of the whole thing has really set in. I don’t know that it ever will. I think as time goes on, it will start to feel bigger and bigger. It feels bigger every time I meet a Cubs fan who tells me a story about their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents — the previous generations of Cubs fans — and how they wished they were here to experience this with them.

The ultimate was when we visited the White House and Michelle Obama told us a story about how when she would come home from school in the afternoon, she’d often find her father watching a Cubs game, and she’d sit on his lap and watch with him. She talked about how the Cubs were an important part of her connection with her father, and how she wishes he had still been alive to see his Cubs finally win the World Series.

The First Lady of the United States thanked us for what we had done.

Moments like those … that’s when the magnitude of it all really hits me.

The questions that I have answered all winter have changed a little now that it’s the spring and we’re back on the field. Fewer people ask about the World Series and the off-season, and more ask me about 2017. Things like how you replace a guy like Rossy.

The short answer to that one is: You don’t.

Guys like Rossy are one in a million. The way you compensate for losing a guy like him is that you remember everything he taught you — about the game and about being a professional. And that doesn’t fall just on me or any one guy. It falls on every guy in our clubhouse.

And Grandpa Rossy is still going to be around, anyway. When he’s not off being a reality TV star or shopping for a new walking cane, he’ll be in Chicago working in the front office. And he promised me last year that he was going to come to some games and sit on the first base line and heckle me. So something tells me we’re stuck with him.

I know the questions are going to keep coming — about Rossy, about history, about everything. But at the end of the day, I think there’s only one question that really matters, and it’s not one that we can answer in an interview. It’s a question that we can only answer on the field:

Can we do it again?

It’s a new season. A clean slate. Last year is history — literally. The only thing we’re focused on now is avoiding the hangover and figuring out how we can go win it all again.

And we believe we can.

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