As Floridians, we have a very special connection to baseball through spring training, as Florida is now one of only two states to host spring training games. In fact, only a few years removed from their 1908 World Series title, the Chicago Cubs came to Tampa in 1913 for spring training.
In doing so, they became the first team to hold spring training in Florida. In a twist of irony that same year, the Cleveland Indians came to Jacksonville and became the second team to train here.
Like many Floridians, including Tallahassee politicos Dr. Ed Moore, Rich Heffley, and Brad Piepenbrink, to name a few, I am a Chicagoan by birth and Floridian by choice. As Commissioner Adam Putnam is fond of saying, “Midwesterners typically get to move to Florida as a reward for a life well-lived”; we just came early to build our lives in this increasingly dynamic state.
All I remember about my 12th birthday is the Chicago Cubs played their first night game ever at Wrigley Field. Growing up in the 1980s and in the 312 area code, my ideas on life were shaped by Reagan, Bueller and Banks- all of whom had deep ties to the Cubbies.
President Ronald Reagan began his career as a Cubs radio announcer and remained a fan his entire life. Ferris Bueller famously took a day off anchored around a visit to Wrigley Field and observed, “Life moves pretty fast. If you do not stop and look around every once in a while, you might just miss it!” And Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, despite playing for many losing Cubs teams, famously said, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two!”
When the Cubs last won in 1908, Teddy Roosevelt was President, Henry Ford had just produced his first Model T, the U.S. flag only had 46 stars, and the southern half of Florida was a wilderness of mangrove swamps. It is doubtful anyone in Florida knew of the Cubs victory until they read it in the newspaper, as baseball would not be broadcast on radio for another 13 years. The Cubs made it back to the Series in 1945 but lost after being hexed by a Chicago tavern owner who was irate because his guest, a pet goat, was forcibly removed from the stands.
Since the hex was placed, the Cubs are well known for breaking the hearts of their joyful, yet long-suffering fans. I have anguished, but remained ever optimistic, with other Florida Politicos like Karl Rasmussen, Brian Ballard, Tim Stapleton, Dale Brill and Brady Benford.
The black cat was walking onto the field in a 1969 meltdown, a bizarre Gatorade spill leading to a costly error in 1984 and most recently the infamous Steve Bartman incident — the poor soul who was offered political asylum by Governor Jeb Bush as the Marlins beat the Cubs to advance the World Series in 2003. Six years before, the Marlins crushed the hopes of the Indians in the World Series.
This summer, thanks to Tallahassee’s own David Ross, my family and I had the privilege of visiting the friendly confines of Wrigley Field on my 40th birthday. When I heard the organ, saw the emerald green grass surrounded by lush ivy along the brick outfield walls and caught my glimpse of the ancient green scoreboard in centerfield, it brought me back to afternoons in the park with my dad. It also brought me back to my first cold beer at Wrigley- a Bud because that is what Harry Caray drank. To me, Wrigley is like an old song on the radio that transports me back in time.
Tonight the Cubs will play a World Series game for the first time in 71 years as they attempt to do something they have not done in 108 years- win a World Series. Unfortunately for all of us who spent a week this summer better understanding the impressive and vastly underrated City of Cleveland during the RNC Convention, the Cubs face off against another storied franchise with something of a losing streak.
The Indians’ 68-year championship drought is baseball’s second-longest active one behind that of the Cubs. No matter who wins, this World Series promises to be one for the ages. If my beloved Cubbies are able to break the hex, it pains me that so many loyal Cubs fans will not see it. Ernie Banks will not see it. President Reagan will not see it. And Harry Caray will not see it. But Cubs Nation, including many Floridians, will party like it’s 1908. #FlyTheW
Slater Bayliss is a partner at The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners and a gentlemanly Cub fanatic.