This post will sound totally irrelevant for a while, and for that I apologize. But I swear, it's related to the current ownership turnover.
I worked in a toy shop on the North Shore of Chicagoland for all 4 years of my high school life. It was great, but it featured a lot of rich and irritating folk. Let's just say that after 7 hours of being told you had no idea what you were talking about by some little old lady dressed like she walked out a Prohibition-era bar, all manners and ideas of civility would occasionally escape me. It's a freakin toy, lady, not a nuclear weapon, stop freaking out about whether your 2-year old grandson will love it.
I grew up with two main loves in sports. The Cubs, and hockey. I did not love the Blackhawks. The way the whole organization was handled, the fact that they were never on T.V., it all was so irritating. So when this kid (who became my best friend) moved to my town from Toronto and turned me into an obsessive Maple Leafs fan, it suffices to say, I actually began to hate the B'Hawks. I felt bad about this; I mean, it's a Chicago team. But, with the Leafs on NBC all the time, how do you even compare?
As all responsible Hawks fans know, the real problem began at the very top of the organization. William W. Wirtz (now memorialized with a bizarre WWW patch on the sweaters). He believed that T.V. would cause people to not attend the games and thus ruin his franchise...despite mounds of evidence from every sport to the exact contrary.
I hated the man.
One day in 2005, around 4:30 p.m. after an unbelievable day at the toy shop where I worked, an elderly man walked in with two small children. The children ran around the store grabbing at toys, over and over. They picked the most expensive things in every section they went to. Each time their grandfather told them that no, this was a small shopping trip and that they would have to save their money for anything bigger.
After about 20 minutes, he finally came up to pay. He handed me his credit card, and I began to run it through our old-school hand-pressed machine. I realized it was one of those "Fan Club" credit cards from the Blackhawks, so I started talking to him about how much I loved hockey. He asked me if I was a Blackhawks fan.
I said no. I said that I hated the way the owner treated the fans and that I didn't understand why I couldn't watch them on T.V. and instead had to resort to a team that I had no connection to. My money quote was "why would that man be so greedy as to care more about ticket sales than fans?" I finally read the name on the card:
William W Wirtz.
I suppose what matters most isn't the fact that he didn't say anything to me after that, or that I was so scared I didn't say anything, or the fact that my boss almost fired me for saying that to the owner of the Blackhawks.
The look in his eyes was so devastated, so hurt and just honestly confused. I hated him because I thought that he was greedy. Maybe he was. But to him, he was doing the best for the Blackhawks. Maybe that's a thin line, but I have certainly looked at the way people own their teams differently from then on.
Maybe it was just a momentary thing for him, but I honestly believe in that moment I hurt him. I said in person what a million journalists had said in print, but I was the 16 year old kid who didn't know any better and said it right to him and laughed at his name and reputation. I'll never forget that look.
So, Mr. Ricketts, I wish you all the luck, and if you care even a little bit as much about the Cubs as Mr. Wirtz cared about his Blackhawks, at least you'll try your best.
There has been a ton of hand-wringing on this site and others recently. From my ESP with my friend Kyle, I know he's not exactly happy, and he's my moral compass on all things Cubs. But here I demur.
What if we're okay? I mean, we have holes. That's true. Things are by no means perfect. Specifically, Marmol is most likely our new Rod Beck. Of course, that could be okay. Despite giving me an average of 2.3 heart attacks per outing, Mr. Beck actually was pretty decent that one year that he was raising the salaries of cardiologists everywhere. The next, well, we traded him, right? Heh.
Our lineup isn't perfect. We still lack a true leadoff hitter, as we have since I can remember (I don't think Kenny Lofton counts). Our best left-handed hitter is comparable to Randy Moss in terms of the WTF? factor. And of course Fonzie. If he hops one more time, I'm going to cut him off at the knees. I can't take Marmol and Fonzie for an entire season testing my testicular fortitude.
Theriot is still...Cajun? I don't know. I alternate between hating him and being somewhat okay with him. As long as he's league minimum, he's not going to be castrated Colin-style by me.
So, we have a questionablely complete 1B, a 2B who's never played a full season as a major league starter (last year does not count), a SS who is Cajun, a LF who should probably undergo psychiatric counseling, a CF who...doesn't yet exist, a RF who has never been a reliable fielder much less a reliable human being physically or emotionally, a 5th starter who...also doesn't exist, a setup man who I wasn't even sure was capable of that role, and a closer who has never regularly closed.
That makes me uneasy.
But not really. We had essentially the EXACT same thing last year. With the exception of RF (Fukudome was certainly a good fielder and human being, but lacked the consistent offense of Bradley) and 2B (but DeRo had never played like that before, and Aaron Miles has played a lot of ball). This is the mindset I had going in to last year. YES, I thought we were very good. But we aren't so bad now that this is worth losing it over.
In my oh so humble opinion, Mike Fontenot may have been one of the most impressive players down the stretch, where he always seemed to come up big in big situations. Milton, on the other hand, caused almost no commotion in Arlington, where the biggest story all year was about how much of a clubhouse cancer he was...as he was in no way a clubhouse cancer there. He may very well cause problems, and I am no one to judge his emotional stability, but he is also not Terrell Owens. The man at least has shown the desire to rise above his statistics.
I may be dead wrong. All of those concerns may turn out to be valid. But my point is that this is not that different than the way we entered last year. This year we have Satan/Zell to deal with as well. If we stay anywhere near .500 as we approach July and Death/Zell has finally sold the team, I DO have faith in Hendry to fix which ever of these problems has reared it's ugly (and unfixable without trading..) head.
Obviously, I would like upgrades at 5 starter, 2B, SS and CF. Jake Peavy would cause me to spend my last cent in jerseys. But...it's not that bad. I look at us and still see the best team in the NL Central. If Moose ever gets his act together, he is exactly the type of pitcher you want to throw in Game 2 to get your team on a roll (huge IF). Dempster is unlikely to drop to his low as he ended his last starting gig. He was playing on a broken Marlins team (thank you Jeffrey Loria) and had a toxic environment. I don't think MB is the type of problem Owens or Avery or even Bonds was towards a team.
I think we're okay. Not perfect, but this team should win a lot of games.
Cubs We Can Believe In.
Why We Cheer
You'll forgive me if this post is somewhat rambling. I'm currently sitting in GoatWriter Kyle's living room after indulging in several 2 dollar Blue Moon drafts this afternoon to settle my nerves (yea, you wish you lived in Champaign...kind of).
I grew up from as soon as I could understand baseball being a Cubs fan. I bled blue from the time I was 7, investing myself in our 1995-98 teams like only an elementary school kid could. I think it suffices to say that Kevin Foster was my favorite pitcher until The Moose stole my heart. That thing he did in the dugout where he'd flip the ball in his hand: Genius. Of course, I had to give that up for our very own slugger who happens to be a fairly good pitcher every fifth day. I mean, Big Z outslugged and outhomered 36 million dollar man Andruw Jones. Think about it.
I lived about a mile from school in elementary school. We let out at 3:30. Cubs games start at 1:05. I, a physics major now, did my first real mathematical calculation at the tender age of 7. If I ran home at a 10 minute mile pace, I could make it home for the 7th inning most days. This was a terrible mathematical calculation, which probably should have helped me realize I was to be a terrible physics major. But I'd get home, run into the kitchen, grab my Caffiene-Free Coke (not that it kept me from ending up short anyway) and Cheez-Its and have at it. The only TV we had at that time was an 18-inch piece of junk that had an antenna that only occasionally worked. I'd sometimes have to hold a piece of silverware on the antenna to extend the amount of metal and thus get reception. (I loved the Cubs that much...and was not at all shocked at the love of physics). That's what I did, all spring, all fall. Cubs.
I actually hated night games back then. They drove me crazy. Who the hell was Jamie Navarro? I didn't even know we had Frank Castillo on our roster. I got home during the 8th inning everyday, and therefore had an encyclopedic knowledge of our bullpen. Turk Wendell was my hero, Randy Meyers was still considered at least AA material, and Terry Adams...well...was Terry Adams. The only starting pitcher I did know was the quirky and awesome Foster.
To be honest, I didn't have any rabid passion towards the team, but they owned my childhood. I'd skip friends, sports, etc. It was all Cubs.
You could call the Jim Riggleman era a quiet point. The next part of my fan-ness comes 2003. I got rabid. I loved that team. I watched every game I could, and some I probably shouldn't. I believed in it. They looked like the BoSox would during 2004: simply a team of destiny. I sat looking at whatever the hell came on the television after the Game 6 debacle in total and utter shock, unable to think or move or comprehend. My little brother was at that game, and came home proud that he had shouted “Asshole” with 40,000 other fools at poor Bartman. I remember screaming at him for that. I mean, if you're going to yell that at someone, Alex Gonzalez was still on the field, and he needed to be unforgiven for being Bill Buckner 2.0, Leon Durham in Cuban skin.
I wept unabashedly following Game 7. I will admit that to anyone at anytime. I cried. A lot.
In the series of articles on ESPN that Kurt put up, there was one that resonated hugely with me, that of Billy Corgan. A part of my love for the Cubs died that day in October. I have been forced to spend the following years as a casual fan. I couldn't help it, really. I just couldn't reinvest myself after that crushing blow. Alex Gonzalez and Dusty Baker broke my will that night.
Some of you may recognize me from some of Kyle's posts as his “Pirates fan friend”. Now, that's just ridiculous, but part of my defensiveness about letting the Cubs back into my heart was finding another team I could root for...even if entirely as a joke and to make Kyle go crazy. After all, what I was really hoping for was for them to finish .500, which is not exactly “cheering” for a team. And never against the Boys in Blue.
This is the year. This is it. Part of my reinvestment is Kyle's investment in this blog. It's kind of hard to not pay attention to something when one of your best friends blogs about them constantly. Also, the amount of content leads to a lot of my time spent reading what happens here (seriously, do you have a day job Kurt...or just pretend to, cause I'm not convinced). But part of it is that whole 2004 Red Sox thing. That “Team of Destiny” thing. I'm willing to get hurt this time. Maybe if I get crushed again, it'll be hard to get back..
But this is that year. Loney just hit a Grand Slam. Kyle just punched a whole in his wall. I screamed.
I'm okay. It's why I cheer.