As another baseball season rolls around and fans of many major league teams once again pledge their whole heart to their teams, imbued with a sense of optimism that this year could be the year their team wins the world series, "Chasing October" serves simultaneously as a celebration of this optimistic devotion and a cautionary tale.
"Chasing October" follows long-suffering die-hard Cub fan Matt Liston as documents the Chicago Cubs' 2003 season, explores the reasons for the Cubs' inability to win a World Series for almost a century, and tries to will the team to World Series glory through faith, fervent fandom and a mid-season trade that Liston himself tries to orchestrate. Be forewarned, although the 2003 Cubs experienced the best season the Cubs had in years, the trek is not for the faint of heart. After being inspired by a late night dream visit by the ghost of cubs sportscaster/icon Harry Caray to undertake this quest, Liston enjoys tremendous elation and profound depression, putting tremendous efforts toward making his quest for World Series glory bear fruit and suffering tremendous personal consequence along the way.
Liston's film bears a mark of authenticity in his insider's knowledge of the city and its baseball traditions- indeed much of the film is a love letter to the Cubs and to the City of Chicago. Liston watches key games at Murphy's Bleachers, including the final game of the 2003 National League Division Series, talks to the fireman at the Waveland Firehouse, interviews Ronnie Woo-Woo, hits Lou Malnati's pizza, films along the Downtown parade route he expects the World Series champion Cubs to take, and takes his girlfriend to the gardens in Grant Park.
After detailing the suffering and hardship he endured in his childhood as a Cubs fan, Liston examines each of the potential culprits for the Cubs troubles, including the Tribune Company's alleged refusal to spend enough money on its players, the alleged curse of the billy-goat and the prevalence of day games played by the Cubs at home. Liston is not alone in expressing the highs and lows of Cub fandom. Liston enlists a host of Chicago celebrities to wax philosophic about the Cubs and their troubles, including Joe Mantegna, whose own play "Bleacher Bums" also celebrates the joys and pain of the Chicago Cubs; as well as regular fans outside Wrigley Field.
Over the course of the 2003 season, Liston is ultimately able to secure a meeting with the head of the Tribune Company, an on-field press pass and may just have played a major role in a crucial mid-season acquisition. After detailing the great emotional distress he suffered when the Cubs playoff chances were dashed in the 1984 NLCS by a Steve Garvey home run, Liston's quest takes him to a game at Dodger Stadium where Liston meets and gets a cathartic hug from Garvey. Meanwhile, Liston experiences huge credit problems, loses his couch, and places his relationship into huge jeopardy when his girlfriend finds that Liston has spent $2,000 at a jeweler and, later learning that the money was spent on the design for a Cub's World Series ring, causing her to question what Liston loves more- her or the Cubs.
For Cub fans, watching "Chasing October" offers a mixture of joy and pain. Each and every Cub fan knows how the film will end and spends most of the film just waiting for the other shoe to drop. In addition, seeing the oft-injured Mark Prior and Kerry Wood at the top of their games is a painful reminder of how good the 2003 Cubs were and the potential the team had. The portion of the film dedicated to Steve Bartman, the most notorious figure in the Cubs 2003 season is mercifully short and Also painful is an apparent pre-season testimonial by Bernie Mac, who proclaims that he is "No longer a sports fan in Chicago." (Although not covered by the film, many credit Mac with jinxing the Cubs in Game 6 of the NLCS, during his rendition as guest conductor of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," singing "Root, Root, Root for the Champions!" ) Liston's decision to chronicle the 2003 season was quite fortuitous- and the experience of the season simply could not have been so accurately captured after the fact.
For the non-Cub fan, the film can be enjoyed as a celebration of baseball fandom- a bit like Fever Pitch without Jimmy Fallon or the ridiculous happy ending.
Although non-baseball fans may find Liston's actions and interactions frustrating and may find it hard to understand the level of depression Liston experiences, all in all, the film offers many special moments and an authentic experience of one of the most memorable seasons of the last half-century of Cubdom and is definitely recommended.
Although the film has been released to only a few markets, Liston's website www.cubsmovie.com, has promised a May DVD release and is definitely worth checking out.