Thoughts on ESPN’s 30 for 30: Catching Hell

I thought last night’s 30 for 30, Catching Hell focused on the Steve Bartman incident at Wrigley Field in 2004 was incredibly well done, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was two hours long.

The documentary left me thinking about a few things, but mainly just how sad I am for Steve Bartman.

I thought Will Leitch said it how I would like to say it in his book Are We Winning? Bartman was like you and I. Especially if you’re a baseball fan that writes on a blog. Or visits a ballpark by yourself. Or a guy who lives and dies with every pitch. Check, check, check. All me.

Yet he seems so innocent in so many ways. It isn’t like he was pounding beers and partying at the park that night like so many Cubs fans make a habit of. The guy was listening to his headphones and trying to see some history made by his favorite thing in the world, his beloved Cubs. Bartman was 26 years old when that happened. A few years out of college–just starting his life.

I remember that night just a little bit. I remember seeing that unfold live on FOX. I was pounding beers carelessly at my frat house with a few of my teammates just watching it from the comfort of my old musty futon underneath my bunk. I had no idea when it happened it would be one of the largest pieces of modern day baseball history that documentaries have been focused around. There I was–a fellow die hard baseball fan like Bartman–and I’m getting sloppy drunk while the sport we share a love for ruins his life. It’s not fair. It could have been me. It could have been any of us.

If Steve Bartman is out there and he ever stumbles across this post, I hope he’s alright with his life. But I imagine he’s not. It became clear to me last night that the only way we hear from Steve Bartman again in our lifetime is if the Cubs win the World Series. I don’t think he comes out of hiding for them even making a World Series, which I have my doubts on ever seeing in my lifetime.

The Cubs, they’re baseball’s equivalent of the Cleveland Browns. And I know first-hand how ugly a fan base can be if they’re similar to the Cleveland Browns. My wife has been cussed at Cleveland Browns games when her team she watched growing up–the New York Giants–came to town to play them. The losing generates more misery and scapegoats and less patience, and it’s all a bitter, vile, never-ending cycle of hate and misery.

I realize that because of all this, I’m pulling for the Cubs to win it all one year soon. I want to see Steve Bartman come out from wherever he’s hiding and after some doubt and much speculation of whether he’ll do it or not; he appears at Wrigley to a roar of cheers from the now happy Chicago fans who are still hung over from celebrating their World Series title. I want to see it happen on the following Opening Day after the Cubs when the series. I really can visualize it now. The buzz will begin in March and it will be the biggest story in the month leading up to the new season. Will Steve Bartman show his face. Will he look like the man we all ‘know’ from that fateful night in October of 2003?

It’s all going to be dependent on if the Cubs can somehow lift this curse, and win the big one. Starlin Castro is going to need a lot of help.

I realize I’m very fascinated by this story. It’s a piece of history that I want to somehow dive into, but there’s nowhere to really dive.

I’d like to spend a week in Chicago just hunting for Bartman. I’d like to talk to people who know him. I’d like to visit the little league field behind his parents home. Take a look at the house that he watched NLCS Game 7 from. And can you imagine the feelings he had during that game seven? The panic and fear. The dread of betting your mortgage multiple times over. You know he had to be watching it like his life was on the line. And his Cubs didn’t deliver.

I want to visit the Bartman seat. It’s probably number one on my baseball bucket list. Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113. I’ll be going there soon. But after that, there’s nowhere to really go with my hunt of Bartman. Where could the guy be hiding out? Why do I even care about where he is or how he is so much? To think he still lives in Chicago and goes unnoticed is probably the most amazing part of this entire story to me.

I thought the film did an excellent job depicting the climax of the moment with the shift of energy that caused the collapse. It was a collective collapse, and the Cubs fans should blame themselves and a roster built of mentally shaky guys rather than the man who ended up being the focus of this story.

Someday I think there will be a conclusion of some type on this story. I haven’t made up my mind on whether it’s a happy ending or sad. But we haven’t heard all of it yet. Every year the Cubs embark on a chance to free this guy from the abyss. It’s just now that I realize I’m pulling for them a little bit–but only because of Steve Bartman. I think most of America will agree with me when the time comes.