I’m jealous, but I’m not.
On the one hand, the Chicago Cubs are in a one-game playoff game tonight in Pittsburgh. A year ago, the San Francisco Giants played in the Wild Card game, beat the Pirates, and went on to win the World Series. The Giants rode their ace, Madison Bumgarner, all the way to Game 7 against the Kansas City Royals and so much champagne was had after. The Cubs have a chance to do the same thing tonight with the best pitcher in baseball this season, Jake Arrieta.
The fact that the Cubs are built to sustain a run of opportunities like tonight for years to come, that their manager is a baseball genius with one of the cooler demeanors in the sport, and that every postgame is a party for their club makes me jealous. I’m jealous of the fun personalities on the team and how hard it is to find someone worth disliking. Is there anyone?
I’m not jealous of the nerves and emotions Cubs fans have been going through since Sunday. Hard to imagine that a 97-win season’s fate is being left to one game, on the road, against another one of the league’s best pitchers, Gerrit Cole, and arguably the best bullpen in baseball. I’ve been there before…2008, Game 163 between the White Sox and Minnesota Twins, John Danks vs. Nick Blackburn, decided in the bottom of the 7th off a Jim Thome home run…the only run scored in the game.
I’m also not jealous that despite having baseball’s 3rd best record, the two better records belong to two teams in their division. It’s not like the Pirates and Cardinals are going away anytime soon either.
The Cubs are ahead of schedule though. You would be lying if you told me that you expected a team with as many rookies playing as the Cubs have would be where they are this evening. Cubs president Theo Epstein tempered their expectations to fans and media alike, anticipating a season of growth toward 2016. They grew alright. They grew in a hurry.
I’m jealous that the Cubs were able to trade Jeff Samardzija to Oakland for Addison Russell, and all the White Sox got back was a 4.96 ERA and an 11-13 record from someone who started on opening day. While the Cubs were promoting their rising prospects to the Major League, the White Sox were trying to “win now” signing a closer, a number of back-end bullpen pitchers, Melky Cabrera, and another left handed DH on the wrong end of his career named Adam (LaRoche). While Cabrera turned out to be as advertised, the rest of White Sox GM Rick Hahn’s winter acquisitions weren’t. Then after 4 seasons of a .458 win percentage, White Sox brass somehow felt Robin Ventura was still worth keeping. On the other end of town, the Cubs fired manager Rick Renteria after one season simply because Joe Maddon was available.
The contrast between the two organizations is pretty glaring. One is the biggest surprise in the National League and the other is the biggest disappointment in the American League. One organization was able to gut their club, go through multiple bad seasons in order to acquire high draft picks and international assets, and are now reaping the benefits of a lot of patience. The other organization and their fan base still dealt with the multiple years of losing, but not on purpose. Rather than take advantage of chances to stock up for the future, the White Sox burned it on older free agents and loyalty to declining veterans.
This isn’t meant to be an open “It sucks to be a Sox” letter. Far from it. I still had fun supporting my team this year. White Sox fans celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the 2005 World Series team. Chris Sale was electric, breaking the single-season franchise record for strikeouts. Jose Abreu became the 2nd player in baseball history to hit 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in his first two seasons. And young talents like Carlos Rodon and Trayce Thompson emerged as bright spots for next season. Things were just a lot more fun on the north side and I have no problem admitting that.
I attended 3 games at Wrigley Field this season. There’s this unbelievably cool feeling that overcomes you climbing the stairwell to see the scene of the field and the scoreboard. The stadium was packed and the fans seemed to hang on to every pitch of consequence. I don’t know if it’s the crowd having an effect on the players or the other way around but the energy is certainly shared between two, and it was so romantic to experience. That Brad Pitt/Billy Beane line in Moneyball certainly applied.
U.S. Cellular Field wasn’t necessarily void of those feelings, as many would lead you to believe. In the 8 games I went to this summer, they only lost once (maybe I should have gone to more games). There were 2 different occasions that made me forget about the team’s record and their struggles. Both were Sale starts and both ended with late inning dramatics for the win. The first came against reigning AL CY Young winner Corey Kluber and the second was against former White Sox great Mark Buehrle. The ballpark was nowhere near as full as a Cubs game this year (keep your attendance jokes. I don’t care), but you couldn’t tell with how loud it got after every strikeout and base hit. Ultimately there weren’t many games like that, but that’s baseball for you.
At no point did I actively root against the Cubs, unless they were playing the White Sox. Being in two different leagues, neither team has any effect on the other’s chances to go to the playoffs. I care way more about what happens to the Tigers, Royals, and Twins than I do the Cubs because they are actual division rivals. Do I feel left out not wearing Cubby blue while living in the northwest suburbs? Not really. Admiring from afar as an objective baseball fan is fine enough, and I still think “Go Cubs Go” is the worst.*ducks*
…while I’m at it, I also put ketchup on my hotdogs. *ducks again*
I do genuinely hope Cubs fans are enjoying this ride. I was lucky to do so with a 99-win team 10 years ago, where everyone on the roster contributed with big moments…similar to this Cubs team. If things don’t go their way tonight, the season was still one of the organization’s best in the last century. “There’s always next year” has a totally different feel to it when you have Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester, Arrieta and Maddon returning to your dugout. Live in the moment and don’t even think about BS curses. My hope is that both teams are competitive for years to come and the prospects of a crosstown World Series become way more than a pipe dream.
Have fun tonight, Cubs fans.
PS. Please don’t flip my car when you win it all.