By Julia Jacobs

 

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Chicago Cubs on Monday gave a diamond-encrusted ring celebrating their first World Series title in 108 years to a once-reviled fan blamed for costing the team its chance at a championship in 2003.

 

The fan, Steve Bartman, shot to infamy when he reached for and deflected a foul ball that Cubs outfielder Moises Alou appeared ready to catch in a pivotal postseason game.

 

The Cubs - burdened with a reputation as baseball's lovable losers for decades - went on to lose the game and the series the next night. Bartman immediately became a symbol of the team's cursed fortunes.

 

In a private ceremony on Monday morning, nine months after winning its first World Series since 1908, the team gave Bartman the ring in a gesture of forgiveness.

 

"We hope this provides closure on an unfortunate chapter of the story that has perpetuated throughout our quest to win a long-awaited World Series," the Cubs said in a statement.

Bartman, a lifelong Chicago area resident who has remained media-shy and even received death threats after the 2003 incident, said in a statement on Monday he did not consider himself worthy of the gift.

"I humbly receive the ring not only as a symbol of one of the most historic achievements in sports, but as an important reminder for how we should treat each other in today’s society," Bartman said in the statement.

Bartman was presented with the ring in Cubs owner Tom Ricketts' office, said team spokesman Julian Green. In its statement, the team recognized the "public burden" Bartman has endured over the past 14 years.

Bartman's lawyer said his client was declining all interview requests.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Matthew Lewis)