Ryan Dempster of the Chicago Cubs throws the first pitch to Rickie Weeks of the Milwaukee Brewers on Opening Day last year at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
I could have spent time writing a Cubs team preview to be posted today, going position by position, running down all the roster battles, talking about who may be primed for a good year, and who we have to worry about. But why do that? All of us have been doing that pretty much every day as spring training has proceeded and now wound to a close with the 25-man roster that will take the field at Wrigley tomorrow. We're all knowledgeable baseball fans here and I don't think I need to tell you things that you already know. So instead of cranking through that and posting number after number, I'm going to appeal to your emotions.
Every year, I end the final game recap of the season with a passage from the late Bart Giamatti's The Green Fields of the Mind -- the portion which reads "as the chill rains come, it [baseball] stops and leaves you to face the fall alone." That's a sad statement, but what I want to focus on this morning, instead, is the portion of Giamatti's prose just before that thought -- these hopeful words:
The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings...
And this is what we anticipate today, a day before another Cubs baseball season begins, and the day some other teams will begin filling those spring and summer afternoons and evenings. This anticipation is how we as baseball fans pass the winter, in the words of Rogers Hornsby:
People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.
After staring out that window all winter, spring is here, and baseball has returned. This is what keeps me going. Baseball is my passion. Each year, the thought of having hopes renewed, spring blooming in the air in Chicago despite what are likely to be cold temperatures again, and the anticipation of hearing bat hit ball at Wrigley Field, a tradition continuing from my own youth, and handed down from countless grandparents to fathers and mothers and sons and daughters at a ballpark that will soon celebrate its centennial. Yes, the ballpark has its flaws, but its history connects generations. Yes, the organization within has its flaws -- I acknowledge that; we all do. We've spent many hours and bytes debating various roster choices or non-choices and it's not my purpose to repeat all of that here. Further, for one hundred and two years the team we all love and root for and care about deeply has failed to win the ultimate prize. The reasons are many; we've gone over them time and time again on this site and the purpose of this post is not to repeat that, either, simply nod in acknowledgment and...
... hope that maybe this year, maybe 2011, regardless of what we've seen on the field during spring training, the moves made and not made, there is clearly talent on the major league roster and that at some positions it may be superior. Even if the players aren't quite as good as their competitors on rival teams, perhaps every bounce will go the Cubs' way. Maybe someone unexpected will have the year of his life. Maybe players will bounce back from failure to former performance levels. That's the beauty of Opening Day. 162 games of good and bad, of soaring victory and crushing defeat, lay ahead of us. But on Opening Day, everyone's record is 0-0, and fans of most teams can at least have a glimmer of hope that somehow, maybe, pleeeeeeeease can it be our year?
So for one day I ask all of you: stop thinking, just for a moment, about the stats. Stop thinking about last year's record, this year's projection, who should be the last guys in the bullpen, why you're ready to lead a torches and pitchforks mob outside the general manager's office, why you're sure there's no way this Cubs team should be able to compete. I'd also like to ask all of you, in this time of renewal, to tone down the snark, to get along with everyone here and remember why we all came here in the first place -- our love of baseball and the Cubs
And then, remember what it was like when you first discovered baseball, when and how and why it first made your heart sing, what attracted you to the Cubs, why you fell in love with this game. Try to remember your favorite players from the past and now, past plays, games and seasons that thrilled you, instead of being incensed that Jim Hendry did something with the backup catcher position that appears to defy all logic. And enjoy the everyday things that can bring thrills, fun and excitement to you as a baseball fan. Maybe Carlos Zambrano will throw another no-hitter this year; maybe Matt Garza will. Maybe Carlos Pena will smack three homers in a game, maybe Carlos Marmol will string together another amazing run like he did last September, maybe Darwin Barney will become a serious Rookie of the Year candidate, maybe someone you're not even expecting to do well will suddenly become great, or at least do things that help the Cubs win games when you least thought it possible.
And hope. Renew your faith. Let the renewal of the sport blossom in your soul. Sure, the Cubs are coming off two mediocre to bad years and aren't anywhere near being division favorites. But one day, a Cubs World Series championship will be ours to celebrate together.
Why not now?