Is this the year Cubs fans finally forgive Steve Bartman?
Is this the year the team finally gets to the World Series and forces its fans to shrug off that night in 2003 when Bartman instinctively reached for a foul ball and instead caught a never-ending stream of flak, vitriol and even death threats from die-hard Cubs fans?
"I'm past predicting," says Frank Murtha, a Chicago-based sports lawyer who for the past 12 years has served as a spokesman for the fan whose life was turned around in the eighth inning of National League Championship Series Game 6 at Wrigley Field in 2003.
"I would have never felt 12 years ago that it would still have this kind of life. I knew it would be part of the history of the Cubs, but not to the point where there are movies and article after article devoted to it."
The Cubs, who are playing the Mets in the NLCS, haven't won the World Series since 1908 and have not made it to the Fall Classic since 1945.
In recent years, the closest they came to ending that drought was on Oct. 14, 2003, when they were five outs away from the World Series.
It should have been a dream night. Bartman, then an anonymous 26-year-old die-hard Cubs fan who worked as a global business consultant and youth baseball coach, had scored tickets to Game 6.
The Cubs, ahead three games to two against the Florida Marlins, led 3-0 with one out in the top of the eighth inning, but the Marlins had a runner on second.
Wearing glasses, his now-famous earphones and a green turtleneck, Bartman was sitting along the leftfield foul line when Luis Castillo sent a foul ball high into the sky. Cubs leftfielder Moises Alou ran toward the wall and jumped to catch it but appeared disrupted by Bartman, who was reaching for the ball.
Here is how Fox's Thom Brennaman called the play: "Again in the air, down the leftfield line. Alou reaching into the stands and couldn't get it and is livid with a fan."
The ball rolled into the stands and was picked up by another fan, who fetched $106,600 for it at auction.
Castillo walked, Ivan Rodriguez followed with an RBI single, usually sure-handed shortstop Alex Gonzalez booted a potential inning-ending double-play ball hit by Miguel Cabrera, Derrick Lee lined a two-run double, Mike Mordecai had a three-run double, Juan Pierre added an RBI single -- and the Marlins wound up scoring eight runs in the inning.
Florida won the game, 8-3, and eliminated the Cubs, 9-6, the following night before beating the Yankees in six games in the World Series.
Bartman, who had to be escorted from Wrigley Field because he was being pelted with garbage, suddenly found himself the most vilified fan in baseball.
He received death threats and hate mail.
A police guard briefly had to be posted outside his suburban home.
A company sold T-shirts with his likeness and a noose hanging around it.
Kids dressed up as him for Halloween.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a self-proclaimed Cubs fan, suggested he enter a witness protection program.
What Bartman did instead might be the most remarkable part of the story. Instead of capitalizing on his unwanted celebrity, he basically disappeared.
Shortly after the incident, he issued a prepared statement of apology. "I am so truly sorry from the bottom of this Cubs fan's broken heart," it said.
And then he never spoke publicly again.
Murtha, a family friend who has known Bartman since he was in high school, has acted as his de facto press agent, fielding calls from reporters, documentarians and various business interests.
Murtha said Bartman has turned down "hundreds of thousands of dollars" during the past decade, saying no to all media requests, including one from a company that wanted to feature him in a Super Bowl commercial and one from ESPN, which produced a "30 for 30" segment about him in 2011.
Murtha said he also refused to cooperate with a producer who wanted to stage a Broadway play based on Bartman's story.
What Bartman hasn't been able to turn down, he has given away to charity. One doctor, who offered to perform a free radial keratotomy operation so he could ditch his glasses and go in disguise, instead was convinced to donate his services in an auction to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The same was done when a hotel offered Bartman six nights free in Florida to escape.
Bartman still is a Cubs fan but has turned down all public offers to return to Wrigley Field. Murtha would not say whether he ever has been back to a game. Bartman has lived his life as privately as possible, refusing to let one horrible moment define him, Murtha said.
"Steve is a die-hard Cubs fan that this happened to," Murtha said. "He's an incredible human being for never losing the course and having enough confidence and faith in himself. Lesser people would have had a difficult time dealing with what he's had to deal with. Instead, he's gone on and lived his life."
The big bang
Though Steve Bartman escaped physical harm, the so-called "Bartman Ball" did not.
The foul ball hit by Florida's Luis Castillo was retrieved by a fan - not Bartman - who sold it for a reported $113,824.16 to a representative of Harry Caray's Restaurant Group.
On Feb. 26, 2004, the ball was publicy executed in a tent on the grounds of the company's downtown restaurant, where it was exploded into smithereens. In 2005, the remains of the ball were used by the restaurant in a pasta sauce.