BY ABBY BITTERMAN, JMC3023
My team was hot and I was homesick.
The Cubs had a chance to do something they hadn’t in over a century: Win the World Series.
In the fall of 2015, I was a freshman in college and more than 800 miles from my Chicago home, and while some in Norman, Oklahoma, cared about the Cubs, none cared as much as my grandma. So, one night after the Cubs won the National League Wild Card game I called my grandma, an old Irish Catholic mother of seven sons, who is strong, smiling and sassy.
We talked about the game. We talked about school. We talked about life.
Sports have been an important part of my family for as long as I can remember. My entire extended family plays sports. We watch sports at holidays and play each other when we get together for celebrations.
Three nights later, in the next series and after another victory, I called again and told her I’d do so after every win the rest of that postseason. Lucky for us, the Cubs won a couple more and advanced to the National League Championship Series. There, our loveable losers promptly got swept. Every night they played that series I cheered for a win — not just for the Cubs, but for me. So I could talk to my grandma.
My grandma can be heard yelling at the Cubs through the TV all throughout her house regularly from Opening Day in April to whenever their season ends in the fall.
It happened when I was a kid, spending time there in her always-tidy one story house after school while my parents worked. It happened in high school when I’d drive the less than two miles to hang out and get food. It happens today when I’m back to visit or make one of my calls.
She was one of my biggest influences when it came to my love for sports. Driving me to my games — softball, volleyball and more — when my parents couldn’t. Playing catch when I was just starting to play and was terrible. Best of all, playing wiffle ball with me, my brother, the other girls she watched and our friends from her block.
Those games took place in her backyard where the pitcher’s mound was a hole worn, home plate was next to the vegetable garden and we were always the Cubs vs. anyone else. When we were younger, she would bat and be the all-time pitcher. As we aged, she’d sit and ump — making calls of a different sort.
A year after our victory calls began, we resumed the tradition.
I called my grandma as the Cubs progressed through the 2016 postseason.
Three wins over San Francisco in the National League Division Series. Four wins over Los Angeles in the National League Championship Series. After wins over Cleveland in Games 2, 5 and 6 of the World Series.
Each time, we talked about the game. We talked about school. We talked about life.
And then — finally, miraculously, in extra innings of Game 7, for the first time since 1908, 34 years before my grandma was born — it happened. Those loveable losers weren’t losers anymore.
The Cubs won the World Series.
Without even a pause for celebration, minutes before midnight, I immediately dialed my grandma’s phone number — one of few I know by heart.
My grandma gets excited. She yells and screams and cheers, but, when a big moment happens, she’s not one to go crazy or cry. And she didn’t do that when I talked to her, but I could tell in her voice how happy she was.
I knew she was proud of this ball club she’d watched for so long, proud they’d finally done it. And I was proud too. And I was so happy. Happy for my city, Chicago, a place I missed. And for my grandma, that she’d lived to see this moment and been healthy enough to appreciate it.
I couldn’t see her, but I knew she was smiling from ear to ear.
A few months after the joy of the World Series, my grandma had a stumble in a parking lot that scared her and the family. It also scared me, in particular. When I’m back over winter break, I’m a relief pitcher of sorts. In the late innings of my grandma’s life, it’s my time to help take care of the woman who for so long took care of me.
I took her to an urgent care and a specialist. A cyst in the back of her knee had popped. Nothing, the specialist said, could be done to prevent it from possibly happening again. So my grandma stopped going on regular walks, soon fell out shape and now has trouble walking short distances without becoming winded.
Not only are her wiffle ball days done, she’s got to save her breath for yelling at the Cubs.
She’s still got her arm, though. Recently, we gathered to celebrate our matriarch’s 75th birthday.
There, at a park in Wisconsin, I got to do something I hadn’t in awhile — play catch with my grandma. And she didn’t miss a beat.
She caught every thing I threw.
She returned them better than most grandmas ever could.
And as the ball whipped back and forth, I thought of the calls I hope to make to her back in Elmwood Park late in many Octobers to come.