Are you an optimist? Here’s the real test
Monday, March 31, 2014 – Today is Opening Day, and the Chicago Cubs were already two games behind before taking the field against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Dodgers took a pair of actually-counts spring games from the Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Grounds a couple of weeks ago.
Yes, the D-Backs lost those two games, but they spent only three days Down Under. The Cubs are likely to spend the entire six-month 2014 season down under – down under the rest of the teams in the National League.
Sports Illustrated predicts they’ll lose 100 games, finishing dead last in the NL. Again.
“There are just too many holes,” said a scout.
So it goes with the Cubs, who have gone 106 years since winning a World Series championship.
They’ve never won the Series in Wrigley Field, their home for a full century. Their streak of futility has outlasted all but a handful of centenarians who were oblivious infants when the North Siders beat the Detroit Tigers to take the ’08 Series.
Since then, Chicago’s crownless streak has outlasted millions of fans. I am moving toward the front of a long line of Cub faithful who may shuffle off to the promised land before the team returns to the same place.
Not all that long ago, I found solace in the notion that the Cubs would surely win a World Series within my lifetime – which used to be a long time. But I turn 68 within a month and the Social Security Administration’s all-knowing computers say I have about 17 years left.
And the Cubs can go O-for-a decade or two without breaking a sweat, which they apparently seldom do.
So, on the eve of the team’s 2014 opener with the Pirates, it’s time to look at the bright side:
First, these guys will not be a team that breaks our hearts, like the oh-so-close Cub teams of 1969, 1984, 1989 and 2003. This year’s squad will not be taken down in the stretch run or during the playoffs by jinx, fate, luck, billy goats, black cats, fan interference or ill-timed but very predictable incompetence.
No, no – these Cubs are likely to stink from the get-go and reek through September. Any fan stress over wins and losses will likely dissipate by May, when the Cardinals or Reds pull relentlessly out of sight.
Second, the Cubs will play to packed houses. More than 2.6 million fans wedged into Wrigley Field to wince at last year’s 66-96 team. With management planning a season-long observation of Wrigley’s centennial, attendance this year will likely be even better.
Why on earth does futility draw the multitudes?
Well, Wrigley Field truly is hallowed ground, and more fans than ever may want to see it before owner Tom Ricketts’ plans to put a huge video scoreboard behind the left-field bleachers materialize. Then there’s the team’s “lovable loser” reputation, which draws the compassionate, charitable and maternal.
Also, less charitable fans may merely want something to jeer about, and the Cubs are usually quick to oblige.
But the team’s lure may be akin to that of NASCAR: People love to look at wrecks.
Finally, the Cubs are on the upswing. General Manger Theo Epstein, who against all odds transformed the hard-luck Boston Red Sox into World Series winners in 2004 and 2007, has been at the Cubs’ helm for more than two years. He has built an excellent farm system, say experts, and has a roster of future Cub superstars is waiting in the minor league wings.
“When It Happens” – not if – is Epstein’s new motto. He won’t name a year, but team insiders whisper that the seas of the Major Leagues may part for the Cubs by 2017.
If this really does happen, I’ll not only be living, but could be around for 14 more years to enjoy the team’s newfound, scarcely believable dominance.
Undermining this good news, however, is that the Cubs have been “rebuilding” for more than 100 years and that promises of wins, resurgence and post-season glory have been legion and empty.
If this happens yet again, I’ll have to focus my hopes on far more likely goals. Like world peace, global cooling, Congressional harmony, a cure for cancer and collecting a cool billion from Warren Buffet for nailing every game in the March Madness brackets.
[This just in from PNC Park in Pittsburgh: Pirates beat Cubs 1-0 on walk-off homer. And the beat goes on.]