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102 years and counting…and counting

"Year 1." That's the motto adopted by the 2010 Chicago Cubs. I take this to mean the team intends to start from square one this year, to forget that the century-long World Series drought ever existed.

There's a problem with this line of thinking. Two, actually. First, "Year 1" is not the most inspiring catch phrase to motivate a team with glaring problems up and down the lineup. Two, the previous 101 years are very, very much a reality, and no Cubs fan is going to be able to put them aside so easily.

Regardless, baseball season is right around the corner, and I couldn't be happier, despite the burden my family has carried for generations.

Baseball's beginning marks the end of what I call the sports doldrums of late winter. Sure, you have March Madness in there, but for the most part there's not much to root for in the months of February and March — unless you're a hockey fan, in which case you can revel in NHL glory along with the four other hockey fans in the Rogue Valley.

Yeah, there's the NBA, too, but I'm sure most of my readers are Trailblazers fans who have grown weary of watching the Los Angeles Lakers win championships, so I won't discuss professional basketball in these pages.

To celebrate the coming of the baseball season, I will narrate my all-time lowest experience with America's game.

When I am dead and the good Lord has tossed my soul into the pit of torment it will look like this:

It's October 2003, and I'm sitting in Squirrel's Tavern in Corvallis. It's Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. The Cubs have already taken three games from the Florida Marlins in this best-of-seven series.

The Cubbies are up 3-zip, and I'm feeling good. Cubs ace Mark Prior is taking a three-hit shutout into the eighth inning. We are five outs away from the Series, and there's no way, no possible way in hell, we are letting this one slip away.

Minutes later the Marlins' Luis Castillo fouls off a fastball that drifts over the left field foul line toward the stands. Left-fielder Moises Alou has a bead on it and reaches into the stands.

And with that, I meet Chicago-area native and lifelong Cubs fan Steve Bartman. The bespectacled Bartman makes a stab for the ball, causing Alou to lose track of it. Alou throws a fit and is nearly responsible for Bartman's death.

Bartman is taken from Wrigley Field under police protection. The Cubs go on to give up eight runs, and then lose the decisive Game 7.

A friend of mine bought me a pint of Smithwick's after the game. I took one sip and left the rest on the table. I went home and sat in the dark for a while, like some Dostoevsky narrator contemplating the meaninglessness of the universe.

Five outs away. Let me say that I've never blamed Bartman for what happened that chilly evening on Chicago's north side. Any other fan would have likely done the same thing. Despite the lost chance to make the out, the Cubs had plenty of opportunities to finish out the game and go on to face an infinitely beatable New York Yankees team in the Series. The Marlins did just that, in six games.

I hope that reality exists in some parallel universe, where I'm sitting in a coffee shop similar to this one wearing a T-shirt reading "Chicago Cubs 2003 World Champions."

Unfortunately, the refrain so often heard surrouding Cubs fans is "Wait 'til next year." Or maybe next century.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.