Pro Baseball

Area Cubs fans can't believe it's been 10 years since 'The Bartman Game'

2013-03-30T18:00:00Z 2013-04-09T23:28:06Z Area Cubs fans can't believe it's been 10 years since 'The Bartman Game'Steve Hanlon steve.hanlon@nwi.com, (219) 933-4198 nwitimes.com

It was a beautiful autumn eve on the north side of Chicago. Dave Pishkur and his son, Ryne, were taking it all in. The buzz in the air was intense, historic.

The two Crown Point residents pulled out a camera and took a picture. There was one out in the eighth inning. The Andrean baseball coach wanted to savor every out with his boy.

"We took one picture with one out in the eighth," Dave Pishkur said. "We never took another one."

It was October 14, 2003. The Pishkurs and the eyes of America were watching the Chicago Cubs play the Florida Marlins in the National League Championship Series. The Cubs were up 3-2 in the series.

They were up 3-0 with one out in the eighth inning.

"Just five outs from the World Series," said Merrillville resident Phil Kambouris, who was also at the game.

"We were that close," said Crown Point resident Mike Sakaleros, who was the game with his brother, Taso Sakaleros, and Kambouris.

"And then all hell broke lose," Dave Pishkur remembered.

Cubs pitcher Mark Prior was in cruise control. With one out Luis Castillo hit a lazy fly down the left-field line. Moises Alou drifted to the wall and went up for the ball. The hand of fan Steve Bartman knocked it away.

Florida scored eight runs in the inning, went on to win the National League pennant and the World Series. Cubs fans stared dead-eyed into the cold night, and many still are.

As the Cubs open the 2013 season at Pittsburgh on Monday, shaky optimism surrounds Cubs fans all over. But one thing stands steady in their minds. They can't believe it's been a decade since the Bartman season.

"It's been how long?" Dave Pishkur said. "Ten years? Wow."

"It seems like two weeks ago," Mike Sakaleros added.

"It seems like yesterday," Kambouris said. "And a lifetime ago, too."

The game, the play, the inning, that confirmed "The Curse of the Billy Goat" to many Cubs fans started with thrills and tingling up the spine for these region Cubs fans. It seemed like a mathematical surety that the Cubs would beat the Marlins and get to their first World Series since 1945.

And maybe, OK likely, win their first World Series since 1908.

The Pishkurs were sitting next to the foul pole in left field. Dave, who has won two Indiana state champions at Andrean, said that Prior was coasting. His life-long dream seemed immanent.

They looked outside and saw about 10,000 fans dancing outside. An inning later the party had died.

"There wasn't a soul on Waveland Avenue," Dave Pishkur said.

"It was like a funeral," Ryne said.

Ryne Pishkur had just sent a text to a high school buddy with four crucial words -- "Five outs to go!"

They could not see Bartman's hand inches above Alou's glove from their vantage point. The commotion, though, was clear.

"We didn't see what happened but we saw all the stuff being thrown at him," Ryne said. "So security took him out and that was the first time we saw him. He got hit in the face with a beer and he put his coat over his face like someone being arrested."

Both Pishkurs believe the rap Bartman took was unfair. Going for a foul ball is natural. Rooting for a foul baseball team is getting impossible.

"I haven't watched them since," Kambouris said. "It broke me. I still cheer for them but they're not getting any more of my money. Until they get to the World Series."

Kambouris and the Sakaleros brothers watched the Cubs beat Atlanta in Georgia to clinch the Divisional Series. While driving home they made some calls and were able to order some tickets.

"Just our luck it was Game 6," Kambouris said.

They sat in the right-center bleachers and did see the Bartman play. The distance made it fuzzy but it didn't take long for the word of what happened to be sent seat to seat.

And soul to soul.

"The car ride home was silent," Mike Sakaleros said. "I was thinking they were going to win Game 7. It's that stupid Cub thing."

All the locals like the direction the Cubs are going. Since Theo Epstein came from Boston, where he broke a much bigger streak than the goat one, he has started to change the way the Cubs do baseball.

He and his staff are rebuilding the farm system and going young. Real young.

The problem for these local fans is they are not young. They are 10 years older than the opening day that eventually ended with Steve Bartman.

"I think they're going to do it," said the 47-year-old Sakaleros. "I'm just not sure they're going to do it in my lifetime."

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