From Curses to Recluses: World Series Features Captivating Characters

Jack Brewster, Columnist

Editor’s Note: The Oberlin Review’s policy is to avoid calling the Cleveland baseball team by its name due to its derogatory nature and racist caricature.

Towards the end of the beloved baseball movie Field of Dreams, Terence Mann, played by actor James Earl Jones, delivers a poignant soliloquy on the game’s enduring appeal.

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball,” intones Jones in his signature baritone. “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray.”

Baseball fans everywhere recite this quote the way literature scholars recount Shakespeare and the devout cite the gospel. “The one constant through all the years…”

But baseball’s constancy can also be to its detriment. Critics of the sport say baseball is too old-fashioned. Many young people prefer glitzier sports like football and basketball. Even the World Series, baseball’s biggest stage, has lulled fans in recent years. Some have grown tired of watching the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals or San Francisco Giants play deep into October.

Enter the 2016 World Series. This year, as the cold moves in and fall dips into its twilight, the two unlikeliest teams are the last ones standing.

Cleveland? Chicago? In the World Series? By this time of year, fans in both cities have usually retired to their dens to cheer on the Bears and the Browns, two other teams with a painful history of ineptitude.

When the World Series opened Tuesday night, the lights at Progressive Field shone upon the first Cleveland World Series since 1997. The last time the team won it all was 1948. Chicago’s drought is even worse. The most “recent” appearance in the game’s grand finale was 1945. The last time they carried the trophy home? 1908. Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House and the car had yet to replace the horse and buggy.

But there are other aspects to this World Series that break the mold.

In addition to featuring two unlikely foes, the 2016 World Series brings other drama, too. Rivalry is brewing. Terry Francona, Cleveland’s manager, previously managed the Boston Red Sox and was at the helm when the Red Sox overcame their 84-year championship drought in 2004. Theo Epstein, Boston’s general manager at that time, is now the president of baseball operations for the Cubs. These former comrades in the battle to shed Boston’s “Curse of the Bambino” now face different demons. Francona is on a quest to bring the Indians a rare championship and faces the pressure to follow in the Cavaliers’ footsteps. Epstein is up against another hex — the so-called “Curse of the Billy Goat,” which has hung over the Cubs since the 1945 World Series in Game 4 when Cubs management removed Chicago tavern owner Billy Sianis and his pet goat from the Wrigley Field stands.

And what would any plot be without the “comeback kid”? On the third day of the 2016 regular season, Cubs left fielder and Ohio native Kyle Schwarber tore his ACL and LCL in his left knee in a collision with center fielder Dexter Fowler. Doctors told Schwarber he would almost certainly miss the remainder of the season. But Schwarber, one of the Cubs’ brightest young stars, refused to sit back and watch while his team chased the glory that has eluded them for decades. He rehabbed relentlessly, and when the Series opened Tuesday he returned, batting fifth for the Cubs as their designated hitter.

Finally, there’s “the exile.” Steve Bartman may well be the most famous (or “infamous”) fan in all of sports. Bartman injected himself into Cubs’ history 13 years ago in a way that has made him a target for abuse ever since. In the sixth game of the 2003 National League Championship Series, the Cubs were only five outs away from heading to the World Series. Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo hit a foul ball over toward the left field bleachers. Cubs left fielder Moises Alou glided over to make the catch, but instead encountered the outstretched hand of a fan – Bartman – looking to capture a memento from his beloved team. Bartman’s interference prevented Alou from completing the play. If Bartman had not reached for the ball, it is likely that Alou would have caught the ball and the Cubs would have advanced to the Fall Classic. Instead, they went on to blow the game, surrendering eight runs in that inning and eventually losing the NLCS. Bartman has been a scapegoat for irate Cubs fans holed up in North Side bars ever since. With the Cubs now in the World Series, many have wondered if Bartman will end his decade-long seclusion. Some players and fans have even called for Bartman to throw out the first pitch when Wrigley Field hosts game three. But most Cubs fans, fearing that even this year will end in disappointment, are not so sure.

Even the critics who say baseball is boring and monotonous would be foolish not to call this Fall Classic must-watch television. For all the talk of baseball’s constancy, 2016 stands apart as a special year. Sorry baseball fans. This one time, Terence Mann was wrong.