by Ryan Clarke
TEMPE — The final weekend of February has everything Arizona State forward Sophie Brunner and her family could want.
Start with family. Add some basketball. And mix in the Chicago Cubs.
Brunner plays in her final regular-season home games against UCLA Thursday and USC Sunday and on Saturday the Cubs begin play in the Cactus League.
Brunner’s family will be there for all of it. Sporting events are bonding experiences for them, and they love the Cubs.
Sophie attended her first Cubs game at Wrigley Field when she was 10-years old. Her father Tom watched that day as Sophie and her sister Ellen stood outside Wrigley in a downpour waiting to get autographs and take pictures of the Cubs.
A car pulled up and the driver rolled down his window.
It was Ron Santo.
The Cubs legend, who moved from a Hall of Fame career to the Cubs broadcast booth, invited Sophie and Ellen to sit in his car and get out of the rain while they waited for the players.
That moment cemented Sophie’s love of the Cubs, not to mention Santo, who passed away in 2010.
The World Series victory ended a 108-year drought for the Cubs, and like many fans, Sophie thought of those who weren’t able to share in the moment.
Her grandmother, a lifelong Cubs fan, passed away seven years ago, never having seen the Cubs win it all.
“I think a lot of people were so emotional about it because they knew their family members who had passed away,” Sophie said. “The World Series just meant more. You grow up loving the Cubs, and they had been terrible for so long.”
The Brunners live and breathe Cubs baseball, and they were all holding their breath until the Cubs closed out the Cleveland Indians in Game 7.
“We’ve been waiting,” Tom Brunner said in a telephone interview. “I didn’t think it would ever happen . . .”
Along the way, they watched Sophie grow into an elite basketball player in Freeport, Illinois, about 110 miles northwest of Wrigley Field.
When the Cubs broke their hearts year after year, Sophie filled them back up with her passion for basketball.
Her father said she would watch basketball all day on television, then go out in the front yard and try to emulate what she saw.
Her dedication paid off when ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne offered her a scholarship.
Now, the 6-foot-1 forward is the team’s best player, leading the Sun Devils in scoring and rebounding.
But the Cubs provide an escape for her from the grind of basketball. Last fall, they provided inspiration as well.
Sophie lives just down the street from Sloan Park, the Cactus League home of the Cubs. She joined other Cubs fans there for an impromptu celebration when they won Game 7, an experience she said she will never forget.
“My other friends were in Wrigleyville back home,” she said. “Some of them were at the game, and I was in my apartment with Kelsey (Moos) and a couple of our teammates.
“I remember when they won I just went crazy.”
Said Moos: “She was more shocked than anything.”
It will only make Brunner’s big weekend more meaningful as her family cheers for her on the court and they all cheer for the Cubs on the field.
“It’s gonna be fun,” Tom Brunner said. “We can’t wait.”
The World Series victory also has inspired Sophie as an athlete, she said.
“It just shows that anything is possible when you stick together,” she said. “It’s moments like that where you get goosebumps and enjoy that historic moment. It makes you realize that anything can happen.”