Okie Cubs fans celebrate their team's win
In the late innings of Game 7 of the World Series, right about the time it looked like the Chicago Cubs' luck was running out, Cal Branum's black cat, Sammy, strolled into his living room, walking in front of Branum's wife and son.
Worried about the effect a black cat would have on the already tenuous game, Branum's son, Philip, tried to shoo him out of the room. But instead of leaving, Sammy — named for the Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa — climbed up in Branum's lap, settled in and fell asleep.
But Sammy's nap didn't last. The Cubs regained their lead in the top of the 10th inning. In the bottom of the 10th inning, as Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant scooped up a grounder and tossed it to first baseman Anthony Rizzo for the final out, the Branums' living room erupted, sending Sammy scampering out of the room and under a bed.
"It exploded around here," Branum said.
Branum, 77, is part of a small but active community of Chicago Cubs fans living in the Oklahoma City area. Some, like Branum, are transplants from the Chicago area. Others grew up watching the club after WGN-TV began airing Cubs games in Oklahoma. Still others inherited the team from relatives who were fans.
A Chicago native, Branum grew up on the corner of W Addison Street and N Kedvale Avenue, about 3 1/2 miles west of Wrigley Field. As a boy, Branum had a paper route, which gave him enough pocket money to take the bus to the stadium on summer afternoons.
Because many of their home games were on weekday afternoons — night baseball wouldn't come to Wrigley Field until 1988 — Cubs games were rarely full, Branum said. So, at about the fifth inning, ushers would throw the turnstiles open, letting fans in for free. Branum and his friends would walk in and help themselves to box seats behind home plate.
“The ushers didn't roust us too many times, and there was always a good seat available," Branum said. "Nobody cared.”
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Branum and his friends saw a parade of future Hall of Famers pass through Wrigley Field. He saw Brooklyn Dodgers greats Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges take the field against the Cubs. Once, in the early 1960s, he was in the stands when Cubs legend Ernie Banks knocked two home runs off of Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax.
Until Wednesday night, Branum never saw his team win a championship. The Cubs' last World Series title came in 1908, and the team's last National League pennant was in 1945.
Branum watched Wednesday night's game at home with his wife, Karen, and their son Philip. After a game-tying home run in the bottom of the 8th inning by Cleveland Indians outfielder Rajai Davis, Branum's living room got awfully quiet, he said. It stayed that way through the 9th inning and a 17-minute rain delay before the Cubs regained the lead in the top of the 10th inning. After that, the family was elated, he said.
Despite more than a century of misery, Branum said he wasn't surprised to see this Cubs team take the title. Rather than a collection of star players, this year's team was made up of role players who each did their jobs well, he said.
“The players fit like a machine," Branum said. "They just fit."
For Cubs fan Sara Sweet, the win was a poignant occasion. Sweet inherited her love for the team from her father, Stephen Williams, who was a lifelong fan. Williams was killed in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995.
On Thursday morning, Sweet stopped by the Oklahoma City National Memorial to drape a Cubs jersey over the back of the empty chair that memorializes her father's death.
Williams started following the Cubs in the late 1970s, when the family moved to Springfield, Ill., about 200 miles southwest of Chicago. Sweet remembers her family gathering around the television during Cubs games when she was a girl.
But during games that made him nervous, Williams made a point to listen on the radio rather than watching them on television. That way, he could busy himself with something else while he listened. But for a game like the one Wednesday evening, she's sure he would have been on the couch watching it with the rest of the family.
“Last night, when they won, I just immediately thought of him," she said.
In Edmond, cousins Wes Jameson and Chad Parsons gathered with a group of Cubs fans at Humble Pie, a Chicago-style pizzeria.
Parsons, of Yukon, said some of his earliest memories are of Cubs games — losses, mostly, like in 1989, when the Cubs lost the National League Championship Series to the San Francisco Giants in five games.
This year, though, Parsons, 37, knew going into the playoffs that the Cubs stood a strong chance of winning the World Series. In fact, he expected them to be more dominant than they were, rather than eking out a Game 7 victory in extra innings.
“I knew Cleveland was a good ball team, but I just thought the Cubs were a whole lot better than Cleveland," he said.
Jameson, of Newcastle, was in Chicago last weekend for Game 5. He's been to Wrigley Field about 30 times, but it's never been louder than it was on Sunday, he said.
For decades, the phrase "Wait till next year" has served as a rallying cry among long-suffering Cubs fans. But Jameson, 34, said that phrase takes on new meaning after a World Series win.
"I just want to do it again now," he said.
So much better
Tara Henson, of Oklahoma City, said she spent most of Wednesday night's game terrifying her new puppy, Wrigley. Depending on how the Cubs were faring, Henson was either silently staring at her television or screaming. Wrigley didn't seem to know what to make of it, she said.
Henson, 54, inherited her Cubs fandom from her grandfather. After years of mishaps and misery, it seems surreal to see the team win the World Series.
“Win or lose, they're my team," Henson said, “ … but man, winning is so much better than losing.”