By Joe Hines
PSDC Staff & Chicago Guru
Hi everyone, my name is Joe and I’m a Cub fan. (everyone) Hi Joe.
By now you are all familiar with the history. 107 years without a World Series championship. The black cat. The billy goat. (Which is an awesome Chicago tavern if you are ever in town)
Bartman. Poor kid. It wasn’t his fault. Get over it Cubs fans. The error on the double play ball by Alex Gonzalez opened the floodgates on that chilly October night. And Mark Prior’s weak mental makeup.
What is different about this Cub team? What gives fans (and hopefully players) assurance that the so-called curses throughout the years are a thing of the past? Many of you, for varying reasons, will cry that the curses are still in place. I am not among them.
First-year manager Joe Maddon has instilled his pressure-free personality into his young baseball team. “Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.” There will be no talk or pressure of curses, no mention of the past. This is a Cubs team that thrives on expectation. This is a team that ascended in the second half of the season, going from six games over .500 on June 25th, the day they were no-hit by Cole Hamels, then of the Phillies, rising to the season-high 32 games over .500 on the last day of the season, finishing with an eight-game winning streak. That game, the Hamels no-hitter, coincidentally is also the last game that Cubs ace Jake Arrieta, lost this season. I was there. He pitched well. It took a no-hitter to beat him that day, and he is Exhibit A in the actual baseball world, that the Cubs are in the final four and favored by many to finally break the century long drought.
Exhibit B: The rookies. Messrs. Bryant, Soler, Schwarber and Russell. Though Russell is out for the NLCS with a hamstring injury, his contribution, especially defensively, has helped the Cubs shore up what was a porous infield defense at the start of the season. Maddon’s shrewd move, first benching, then shifting former shortstop Starlin Castro to second base, improved up the middle defense. This is an overlooked development by many who are more impressed with the rest of the rooks bludgeoning the ball and opponents. Schwarbers homer against the Cardinals in the NLDS is the now the stuff of legend, the ball now resting comfortably encased in plastic on top of the new-this-year right field jumbotron. Nevertheless, what wins championships are pitching and defense. The Cubs have Arrieta and Jon Lester at the top of the rotation, and serviceable starters the rest of the way, from among Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel. With Russell’s injury, there is even whispering that rental Dan Haren may be active for the NLCS.
There are all kinds of other variables, some real and others, not so much. It’s the Cubs and Mets, and some would subscribe that the Cubs have revenge on their minds for the summer of ’69 debacle. For those of you too young to remember, the Cubs either blew the large lead in the then NL East in September, or the Mets won. The truth is it is probably somewhere in between. Also the truth; it makes absolutely no difference. The players in this series have PARENTS that weren’t even a twinkle in THEIR parents eyes in 1969. I must confess, though, that I would enjoy a victory over the Mets a little more than a matchup against the Dodgers. I was a youngster in 1969, new to baseball fandom. I learned that summer, the incredible pain of Cub fandom. So though it’s a generation or two later, and it isn’t a division race but the NLCS, a victory over New York might somehow ease the pain I felt all those years ago. Then all it would take is victories in years hence over the Marlins, Padres, Dodgers and Diamondbacks to clear the baseball rubble that occupies my brain on any given day.
Finally, one more thought that worries me as a Cub fan. It is now the end of October, and for those not paying attention, it gets cold in both Chicago and New York at this time of year. I’m just a few miles north of Chicago as I write this on October 16, and the temperature is 48 degrees. This promises to be a great series, good for both cities and for baseball. I don’t think anyone wants to watch baseball with players wrapped in layers of clothing, cold to the extent of affecting play on the field. Wrigley Field plays much larger in cold weather, and if the wind blows, it will be off Lake Michigan, meaning it will be blowing in. I don’t know the vagaries of Citi Field in New York, but simple physics tells you that things don’t fly as well in cold weather, notably baseballs. It could nullify the advantage the Cubs hold offensively and tilt the contests to the pitching, which seems to favor the Mets.
So buckle up baseball fans. There are lots of epic moments still to be written this season, and for those of us completely unimpressed with the NFL up to now, it’s a breath of fresh air to have something to root for at this time of year. I’m home from the road and look forward to sharing my views with you for the next couple of weeks.