Chicago Tribune photoWhat a season this is for great sports and great stories of victory, defeat and the lessons of human striving. A badly needed diversion from dreadful news and politics…

Just the other day, we were moved by a ‘perfect game’ in major league baseball made more perfect in the human error that punctuated it.

Tennis fans got to see a little known Italian woman knock off former and favored champions to win the French Open women’s singles championship, beating a little known Aussie who was not expected to make it past the early rounds.

World Cup Soccer is kicking off in South Africa, and people around the globe will join one massive, thrilling festival of hope, expectations, parties, frayed nerves, and intense drama as people gather around radios and televisions on just about every continent. Or maybe every continent…

But here in Chicago right now, the joy knows no bounds as the Blackhaks bring home the Stanley Cup. Explaining the magnitude of that to non-hockey fans is about as impossible as explaining the fervor for the  FIFA World Cup to people who don’t follow futbol, or soccer as Americans know it, to the degree Americans do…but that’s another story for another time.

Right now, it’s time for celebration in Chicago. Lord Stanley’s Cup has arrived. For fans, it’s bigger than the Super Bowl or the World Series.

“We just said we will remember this moment 10 years from now,” Tempesca said. “Like where were you when Chicago won the Stanley Cup?”

What I love about these games and series right down to the final tense, dramatic moments of championships is the stake we all have in it, those of us who participate in any way. The Olympics transcend global politics most of the time, as do other sporting events. World Cup, Tour de France, Wimbledon (next up in the tennis world), NBA championship (that’s still going on…), the Stanley Cup Finals, all give us great diversions and elevate us and inspire us to work hard, very hard, toward a goal and endure losses and even humiliations as challenges to rise above personal obstacles and to be better at what we do. Athletes like Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga ennoble us in forgiving a costly human error that sometimes happens in sport. Others like Lance Armstrong inspire people battling cancer in embodying an indomitable human spirit that again and again propelled him to the first place finish in the Tour de France, more often than any other winner.

There are so many great sports stories and they all have lessons for life. Discipline, self-control, teammanship, noble ambition, fortitude, patience, honor, character and the will to strive for excellence at what you do….whatever you do….that’s what we take away from what is so simplistically called ‘games’.

Earlier this week, the no. 1 draft pick in baseball got his first chance to pitch in the majors, and he was under the spotlight of some major league hype. Stephen Strasburg’s performance under that pressure so stunned the press corps, they stopped paying attention to other news and collectively gasped at this phenom and the hope he brought to Washington, of all places. WaPo effused that they had certainly enjoyed their big moments in sports…

But this town has never had one game, one packed-house party, one continuous night-long celebration of possibility, one obliterate-all-expectations career launch that could even remotely approach the electric future that Strasburg’s 5-2 victory instantly foretold.

I like that…”celebration of possibility.”

Before Tuesday night, the 21-year-old rookie’s first game was a must-attend event or, at least, a must watch TV moment. His talent and the unprecedented hype surrounding his arrival demanded it. Now, hard to believe, that’s utterly changed. The anticipation, if anything, will go even higher. After allowing no walks, two runs and four hits in seven innings, while coming within one whiff of Karl Spooner’s all-time strikeout record in a big-league debut, what on earth comes next?

After the destruction the Nationals rookie wreaked on the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup, every one of his games now falls into that can’t-miss category. The excitement that started two hours before the game, then extended through warm-ups with fans craning over the Nats bullpen to smell the Strasburg smoke, to the standing-room-only crowd’s curtain call for the town’s new star, will be recreated with vast variation many a time.

The New York Times gushed.

“A year ago at this time, everyone was focused on the money, is he going to sign, what kind of guy is he,” [Hall of Famer Tony] Gwynn said. “And a year later, I’m just sitting here proud as heck, because he’s done exactly what I thought he would do. He gets it. He’s very humble, a workaholic — all the things that you want in a player. The same kind of effort you got tonight, you’ll get five days from now and five days after that.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Strasburg looked calm amid the swirl…It is rare, now more than ever, for a player or event to exceed such hype. But Strasburg has.

And he has elevated everyone else with him, it appears.

Strasburg changed more than one game in June. Nothing will ever be the same for Washington baseball. There is a real foundation for hope, and expectations from everybody but Strasburg. He has no reason to limit himself.

“I definitely think anything’s possible,” he said.

That’s the spirit, the human spirit.

Go World.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....