-- A version of this story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 26 / Jan. 2 Issue. Subscribe today!
"THIS WAS NOT A ONE-TIME THING"
CUBS GENERAL MANAGER
"This is what I'll always remember," Hoyer says from the MLB winter meetings in National Harbor, Maryland. "After Game 7 was over, it was finally time to get on the bus to the airport. And I had the honor ?of carrying the World Series trophy from the visitors clubhouse. So there I was, walking with my wife and the trophy, then climbing up the steps and handing it to the players who really won it."
The walk was some 1,500 yards, and the trophy is 30 pounds. But the weight that really mattered was the 108 years since the Cubs' last World Series title.
Hoyer knows about that burden -- he was part of the Theo Epstein brain trust that had finally delivered the trophy to Red Sox fans in 2004 after 86 years.
"That celebration was different for me," he says. "I grew up in New Hampshire, so I was still as much a fan as I was an employee. This time there was more personal satisfaction. We had rebuilt another great franchise."
Two days after the victory parade in Chicago, Hoyer and Epstein boarded a plane for the GM meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona. "That's when we pivoted from 2016 to 2017 to make sure this was not ?a one-time thing."
They targeted free agent Jon Jay, a left-handed hitter and a superior defender, to replace free agent Dexter Fowler in center field. In Maryland, they began talks with the Royals about their relief ace, Wade Davis, to replace Aroldis Chapman. On Dec. 7, Hoyer's birthday, the deal -- Davis for promising slugger Jorge Soler -- was done.
Even then, the Cubs kept going. After the Brewers selected reliever Caleb Smith in the Rule 5 draft, the Cubs made a trade for him. "Caleb is a guy we're excited about," Hoyer says.
Title or no, the Cubs can never be accused of resting on their laurels. -- STEVE WULF
"IT STILL HASN'T SUNK IN"
Hendricks has already begun planning for a 2017 Fall Classic.
This time, though, it's not a World Series. The Game 7 starter and MLB ERA leader has spent his offseason in Newport Beach, California, with fianc?e Emma Cain and their cat, Max, preparing for their November wedding. "I can't believe how much stuff is involved in getting married," he says. "All the details -- the venue, food, music, clothes."
Fortunately, Hendricks has some experience with a big moment. When America last saw him, he was sailing along with a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth of Game 7. But after retiring the first two Indians batters, he walked Carlos Santana on a 3-2 pitch that could have been a strike. With left-hander Jason Kipnis coming up, Joe Maddon decided to bring in southpaw Jon Lester, denying Hendricks a chance at the win.
The next few innings were agony. "I spent the rest of the game pacing, first in the clubhouse, then in the dugout," he says. "I'm much calmer when I have the ball in my hand." Of course, the rest of the game -- the blown lead, the rain delay, the comeback -- is history.
"After the parade, we hung around Chicago for a few weeks, and ... total strangers kept coming up to me, telling me how much the World Series meant to them."
Now, back in Newport Beach, it's hard to comprehend the enormity of the moment.
"I'm back to working out in the afternoon, having dinner with my mom at night, thinking about next season and figuring out how I can get better," he says. But the truth is, "it still hasn't sunk in." -- STEVE WULF
"IT'LL NEVER AGAIN BE LIKE RIGHT NOW"
KATHLEEN AND CASEY O'NEILL
Baseball is filled with poetry about fathers and sons, but the happiest, loudest Cubs fans at O'Donovan's Bar, a few blocks from Wrigley Field, are a mother and daughter. It's a Wednesday night in early December, and Casey O'Neill, a cop and single mother of two, is eating dinner with her mom, Kathleen, a retired United flight attendant.
They are both wearing blue Cubs sweaters with Cubs T-shirts underneath, and reliving memories. In the mid-1990s, Kathleen worked her only Cubs charter, about as close as any fan could get to heaven. She stood by Harry Caray, chatting in the aisle. He even offered her some advice on her impending second divorce: "Third time's a charm." He was right.
Casey and Kathleen went to every World Series game at Wrigley, even with Casey working 12-hour shifts before each game. Kathleen spent the equivalent of five years of her pension on tickets.
"This is our life," Kathleen says. "The Cubs are something to share."
Casey watched Game 7 at the station sitting in her deputy's office. Kathleen watched from her basement as her granddaughters slept upstairs. "My husband won't even watch the game with me because I'm too loud. This is the one that meant the most to me" -- she sounds almost breathless -- "Oh, I had a lot of mimosas that night. In typical Cubs fashion, you can't win easily."
Casey worked the victory parade in the afterglow, guiding team buses as they snaked toward Grant Park. "I could've died happy right there," she says. "We started at 4 in the morning. It's pitch-black, all the buildings still say, 'Go Cubs; Cubs win.'"
"This was a life event," Kathleen says. "Even if they win next year, or every year for the next five -- it'll never again be like right now."?-- JUSTIN HECKERT
"LET'S ENJOY BEING GOOD"
OWNER, MURPHY'S BLEACHERS
Wrigleyville was empty on the first day of December, almost a month since the stadium marquee first read "World Series Champions." Two men carried crates of beer through a side door of Murphy's Bleachers as the train rattled the rusty L tracks above the roof.
Beth Murphy walked in at 11:30 a.m., leading her dog, Ivy, a poodle-and-Australian shepherd mix. Beth is the owner of the famous bar across from Wrigley Field -- she has owned the bar (with her husband, Jim, until his death in 2003) since 1980, when it was the size of a cigar box, "When we used to make hot dogs on a stove in a pan like your mom," she says.
During the World Series, Beth, a devout but forlorn Cubs fan, had been stressed. When the games came to Wrigley, she took the tables out so there was more standing room, and an amalgam of celebrities filled the apartment above the bar after each game. John and Joan Cusack. Eddie Vedder, taking a selfie with her. Bill Murray, who long ago wore a Murphy's hat in his still photograph as a player on "Saturday Night Live." After Game 5, she found Jon Hamm in the alley behind the bar. Hamm had worn a Cardinals cap -- he told Beth that it was his father's -- and Murray yanked it off his head and threw it outside. So, she helped Hamm look, saying, "You've got to admit, it was a little dickish to wear to the World Series."
Beth knew the Cubs were going to go to the World Series in 1969. She knew for sure in 1984. And in 2003, with Mark Prior on the mound against the Marlins in Game 6 of the NLCS. "I've gone through this a lot with the Cubs, where it looks like a sure thing," she says. "We're sure that this is the year, and I'm like, Oh. My. God. They're going to do it again."
When the Cubs won, she took what she describes as a single moment -- a personal moment, with the only tear her general manager Freddy had ever seen roll down her cheek -- to think of her husband, and how she wished he could be there to see it, everything bright and alive in the night. She thought of how long those five years had seemed after Theo took over -- the graveyard of Wrigleyville, the trickle into the bar: "The place was like a morgue."
She closed the bar at midnight. Outside people were singing in the streets. The staff had a round of vodka sodas to celebrate. "I mean, you never know what's going to happen," she said. "I can tell you as a Cubs fan, I never do. We don't know what it means to be successful like that. Let's just see what happens. Let's enjoy being good."
It was a strange new world, one where a bear -- someone dressed in a bear costume -- came up to her in the bar, wobbling around, drinking beer through one of the eyeholes of the mask. It asked: "You know who this is?" Then the mask came off: "You didn't know it was me?"
It was Theo Epstein. That was the life now, really.?-- JUSTIN HECKERT
"WHO AM I NOW?"
It was never easy to love them. Before they won, he remembered that it often felt like a commitment to torture. When Matt Paolelli was a kid, he owned a pair of Chicago Cubs sneakers. He quit wearing them because kids in fourth grade would remind him that the team was full of losers, and to put on the shoes meant that he was a loser, too.
Nonetheless, over the years, Paolelli stopped hiding his love. He identified with the Cubs and their losing the older he got. Posters of Mark Grace layered the wall of his childhood bedroom -- Paolelli is left-handed, too. After college he painted his condo in Evanston entirely and unapologetically blue. His wife, Theresa, allowed him to put pictures, pennants and other trinkets in the guest bathroom of their suburban home. He started a Cubs meme Instagram account with his three younger brothers, including a spoof of the opening song from "Hamilton" that has over 121,000 views on YouTube.
"I'm a die-hard Cubs fan. It's generational," Paolelli said. It's early December, he's sitting on a bench across from a fake snowman in the lobby of an office building on South Wacker Drive. "I'm still reeling," he said. "I just stare down at my World Series T-shirts in disbelief. I plan to wear them forever." Outside it was cold and windy, the blue W flags still visible in the high-rise windows above.
He watched Game 7 at his parents' house north of the city, the same place he watched games as a kid. His brothers were there, as was his wife. He held Maddie, his 3-month-old daughter, in an I've Waited My Whole Life For This onesie. The family began to count the outs with 10 to go, muting Joe Buck and cranking the radio: Pat Hughes.
In the bottom of the 10th, the family leaned in toward the TV, listening to Hughes' voice crack in real time, before they actually saw Kris Bryant flash the smile and Anthony Rizzo throw his glove onto the ground.
He remembers fireworks that night driving home. Being too stoked to sleep, watching highlights in the dark on his phone. The next day crying in his cubicle. How he had called the Cubs the Flubs.
"How do you now exist in this world where you got the one thing that you always really wanted?" he asked. "What do you do with that, how do you wrap your mind around the fact? The Cubs' identity has been lovable losers, and I have embraced that. So, who am I now?"?-- JUSTIN HECKERT