Friday November 18th, 2016

When the last out of Game 7 of the World Series settled into first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s glove at 12:47 a.m. Eastern on Nov. 3, Cubs fans around the country sighed. “Now I can die in peace,” was a common sentiment.

It was also true for 108-year-old Chicagoan Mabel Ball. She was born on Aug. 6, 1908, 2½ months before the Cubs won their second World Series, and succumbed to a heart attack on Nov. 8, less than one week after the team won its third.

“It’s a perverse kind of poetry,” says son Rich, 75. “She was hoping for it, but it makes it seem as if her life was somehow wrapped around this, which it wasn’t. Her life was wrapped around life.”

He chuckles. “It's crazy irony, though,” he adds. “As soon as it [happens], she checks out!”

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Ball stubbornly insisted on loving the Cubs despite a complete lack of interest among the rest of her immediate family. As a girl growing up on a farm in Zion, Ill., 45 miles north of Wrigley Field, she picked up the hobby as a distraction. Her passion stayed with her as she dropped out of high school at 16 to help feed her siblings and only grew after she and her new husband moved to the city in 1935. There, while she swept and dusted and baked apple pies and kept her five children in line, she had the radio on in the background. She never made it to a game until the family took her for her 90th birthday, but she followed the Cubs from Jack Brickhouse's radio broadcasts on WGN 720 in the ’40s all the way to Pat Hughes' calls on WSCR 670 this year. No one else paid attention—the kids can barely even name players from those days—but Ball kept listening.

Courtesy of Rich Ball

“It was part of the wallpaper of home,” Rich says.

The Cubs were comfortable for Ball; she loved their steadfastness and was not offended by their place in the standings. So the team was often terrible; when you've seen two world wars, a 100-loss season doesn't seem so catastrophic. The near misses in 1945, '69, '84 and so on would elicit a shake of the head and then a return to the task at hand.

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Ball’s health deteriorated during this year’s postseason, and her formerly apathetic family began to root hard for the Cubs to finally end their drought. She drifted in and out of lucidity, but her children got a real smile out of her when they told her what had happened. “Oh, that's good!” she beamed.

Thanksgiving will be painful without her, as will Christmas and beyond, of course. But this spring, when any of the four children and 45 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren she leaves behind want to imagine for a minute that she's there again, they can always just turn on the radio.  

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