Steve Bartman loved the Cubs so much that he'd often save his vacation time from work for March, just so he could travel to Arizona to see his beloved team in spring training.
Little did he know what would happen when got a front-row seat down left-field line at Wrigley Field for Game 6 of the National League Championship Series in 2003.
October 15, 2003, Wrigley Field, Chicago. The Cubs and their fans can smell the World Series, leading the Florida Marlins 3-0 in the eighth inning behind their brilliant young pitcher, Mark Prior.
Prior stands on the mound and looks toward home plate at Mike Mordecai of the Florida Marlins. Prior has been terrific, allowing just three hits. Mordecai lifts a fly ball to left field. Left fielder Moises Alou gracefully runs in and makes an easy catch.
Five outs to go ... just five outs and they're there in the World Series for the first time since 1945 ... with a chance to win their first World Series since 1908 ... 95 years ...
Prior, with 12 wins in his previous 13 appearances, faces pesky Juan Pierre, who doubles down the left-field line. No problem, Cubs fans think. No problem at all. Prior is dominant, we have a 3-0 lead, and we have Kyle Farnsworth and Joe Borowski in the bullpen to close it out and begin the celebration.
Prior works the count on the next hitter, Luis Castillo, to 3-and-2. Castillo lifts a fly ball down the left-field line. The ball veers toward the stands. Alou races over, extending his glove, preparing to catch it for the second out, leaving the Cubs four outs away from nirvana.
Alou glides up against the brick wall in foul territory, his glove raised high in air, his eyes bulging, preparing to catch the ball. A cluster of fans see that the ball is descending right toward them. Some lean backwards. Some move away. Some, like Steve Bartman, are unable to judge exactly where they are in relation to where the ball is, and where Alou is.
Then, as the ball falls from the heavens, just as Alou is about to snag it, Bartman's outstretched hand is among the cluster of hands going for the ball. Alou's glove is bumped and the ball falls into the stands. Wrigley is stunned, speechless.
Alou angrily shouts and slams his glove to the ground in anger. Bartman, wearing headphones, turns pale. You can read his face: "Oh God," it says. "What did I do?"
Alou is dumbfounded, later saying he was 100 percent certain he was going to catch the ball. "I had a clean shot to catch the ball," he would say in the doom and gloom of the Cubs' clubhouse, after the Marlins go on to score eight runs in the inning for an 8-3 victory. "I timed it perfectly. I kept my eye on the ball, and all of a sudden there's a hand on the glove and a hand on the ball."
Prior walks Castillo. People in the crowd begin heckling Bartman. In a surreal sequence of events that conjures up horrid events of the past half century, Prior throws a wild pitch, advancing Pierra to third, then relinquishes a single to Ivan Rodriguez that scores Pierre to make it 3-1. Then dependable shortstop Alex Gonzalez boots Miguel Cabrera's grounder. More fans shout obscenities at Bartman.
As the TV cameras zoom in on the disconsolate Bartman, Derrek Lee rips a game-tying double down the left-field line. Fans stare at Bartman and taunt him. Prior is replaced and soon it's 8-3. As the disastrous half-inning ends, the Cubs walk to their dugout, their heads down. Cubs' security escort Bartman away from the stands, fearing a riot. Fans throw beer cans and epithets at Bartman.
After the game, the only thing people talk about, the only thing you hear is, "That guy Bartman."
The Cubs still have Game 7, of course, but they blow a lead in that game as well, linking Bartman forever as a dark new chapter in the plight of the Cubs.