Perhaps the hardest part of being a Cub is having to hear about the team's woeful history from the start of spring training until the end of the season.
Constant reminders of past failures ring in their ears, as though they're doomed to repeat the sins of their predecessors before the first pitch is even thrown.
But Dusty Baker's 2003 Cubs threw the history books out the window, clinching the Central Division title on Saturday with a doubleheader sweep of Pittsburgh while Houston was losing to Milwaukee, setting up a division series showdown with Atlanta.
Kerry Wood will face the Braves' Russ Ortiz in Tuesday night's opener at Turner Field as the Cubs continue their storybook season.
"The first thing Dusty told us this year was you have to respect the history, but it has no bearing on what happens this year," first baseman Eric Karros said. "We've approached the season like that and there's no reason to change that now."
The Cubs won their first division title since "the Boys of Zimmer" in 1989 and will try to end the 95-year drought since their last World Series title.
"History is great," reliever Mike Remlinger said. "But we're here to make some new history."
The Cubs pulled off the improbable dream on Saturday with standout performances by starters Mark Prior and Matt Clement, who led them to 4-2 and 7-2 wins before a raucous crowd of 40,121 at Wrigley Field.
After Houston lost to Milwaukee before the first game had ended, the Cubs knew the party was in their hands. When Dave Veres induced Jose Hernandez to ground into a ninth-inning double play to end Game 2, the party started in short center field, where the players did their own version of "the Bounce," a celebratory group dance borrowed from the Reds.
It made perfect sense, for this was a team full of outcasts, misfits and mercenaries, many of whom were left on the doorstep by teams that no longer required their services. They banded together under a toothpick-chewing leader who was also let go by his bosses after guiding his team into the seventh game of the World Series.
"When the season ended last year I prayed on where to go," Baker said. "The Lord told me to go to Chicago. Two years ago my mother-in-law was deathly ill and ended up dying, and she wanted me to go to Chicago. I think about my wife and my family and all the people who have been behind us. I just feel tremendous and grateful for everything.
"This is the first step in a four-step process ... and we've got three more steps to climb. They're big steps, but I think this club is capable, willing and able to make those steps."
Sammy Sosa was involved in another cork-related incident, but this time he was popping it from champagne bottles and spraying fans in the right-field bleachers. During a season filled with so much pain and pleasure, Sosa was rewarding those who stuck with him through the tough times.
"It was a way to say thank you to the right-field bleachers, for the fans who have always been there for me," Sosa said. "They helped me through my whole career here in Chicago. The city of Chicago has to be happy now. You have to celebrate, especially after so many things that have happened this year. I'd also like to say thank you to the Milwaukee Brewers."
After a daylong rain on Friday, Saturday began with bright sunshine and a renewed sense of hope in the Cubs' clubhouse.
"Maybe this is how it's supposed to be," Baker said before the first game. "Maybe this is Ernie Banks' prediction for the last 50 years'a good day for two.' He's been predicting this forever and ever and ever. I thought he was crazy for years for saying it. Now I agree with him. I wish Ernie was here to experience this in person."
Prior ruled in the opener to put the Cubs on the brink of the division title. Catcher Damian Miller hit a big home run in the fifth inning to give the Cubs a 3-1 lead.
"Dusty took my bat and was caressing my bat before that at-bat," Miller said. "He told me there was a home run in there. So I was trying to get around the bases as fast as possible so I could hug him in the dugout and sincerely thank him, because I really needed it."
Sosa homered in the first inning of the second game, and Clement was in vintage form throughout, setting the table for the postgame party. Baker celebrated with a bottle of Cristal he'd kept in his office since July, a gift from former Cubs outfielder Rondell White for selecting him to the National League All-Star squad.
"I don't really like champagne," Baker said. "I'm thinking scotch."
Baker and his players had reason to celebrate. Few gave them a chance to get to this point, but now the bandwagon is filled to capacity from Wrigleyville to Venezuela, and from the Dominican Republic to South Korea.
"Everybody is into it," Baker said. "My phone is ringing off the hook. I've got messages from all over. A lot of people in the country are rooting for the Cubs, not only Cub fans but fans from all over."
In the end, the players' message was clear and to the point: Forget about history and enjoy the accomplishments of a team that never lost faith in itself.
"One of the biggest things we're trying to get through to our fans is 'Feel free to believe in us,'" Remlinger said. "Don't worry about getting hurt. Just enjoy it, because the fun is just starting."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times