Bernstein: A Fan’s Longest Day

By Dan Bernstein

Time plays tricks on days like this, stretching out and slowing in unexpected and frustrating ways. Our respective perceptions of the elapsing minutes and hours depend on our connection to what is going to happen tonight in Cleveland, when the Cubs and Indians play the deciding game seven of the World Series.

Some are able to enjoy the tension better than others, understanding that this is one of the reasons for emotional investment in the first place, the skin in the game that means tonight will be either triumphant or bereft, and having absolutely no control over the outcome. This is why you do sports, and the fight to stave off such agita can warm into its own kind of appreciation.

Others play the distraction games, trying in vain to go about business as usual amid reminders at every turn that shift any attention back to 7:08 CDT. No errand run can avoid confrontation with reality, not with special messages on electronic street signs and in the windows of businesses, pop-up stores hawking merchandise on corners and the front of every pharmacy and grocery chain filled with bins of overpriced t-shirts. There may have been a time where one could opt out of the thrumming rush of information — say 1948 or 1908, perhaps — but not anymore, and certainly not today in either of two Great Lakes cities.

Even a temporarily successful foray into work or school responsibility can build up the delayed stomach-drop upon emerging, that feeling of “Oh, yeah, Game Seven is tonight” that redoubles itself and makes the next attempt to forget it that much more difficult. Many just exist halfway between awarenesses, going through the rote motions by muscle memory: conducting banal conversations that are instantly forgotten, staring blankly at a computer screen and pecking at a keyboard without fully understanding what the eyes and hands are doing, or finding themselves stirring a cup of coffee they don’t remember pouring.

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It is also human to alleviate nervousness via imagination, a common psychological response to fantasize future reality as the brain seeks small, fleeting fulfillments. Images of the ball launched into the stands, the exuberant on-field dogpile of champions donning hats with tags on them, and shaking-camera shots of gleeful chaos in the bars all tantalize, as does putting different words in one’s head that may just happen to resonate in Joe Buck’s baritone.

But then the reverie pops and dissipates, and the clock still hasn’t budged.

It’s wanting the moment to arrive and being terrified of it, knowing that even the start of the game is just the push away from the pier into uncharted and dangerous waters, to be explored over three or four hours before anything is determined. To say a fan lives for this is to not quite express what it means to live in it.

This day is laden with time, both in the sense of history and the seemingly endless interval until something must finally happen. Forces act on fans in this attenuated interim that lurches them from hope to fear and back again, from one thought to another and then a snap to reality. Something is coming.

The past pulls as the future beckons.

Dan Bernstein is senior columnist on CBS Chicago and co-host of “Boers & Bernstein” on Chicago’s 670 The Score.

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