A Season of Tribute
This past off season, the Chicago Cubs suffered the loss of a legend, and their greatest fan. The team that Ron Santo loved so deeply has recently announced a fairly unconventional tribute to the man who lived and died with every pitch thrown at majestic Wrigley Field.
"The Cubs organization is very much a family" explains a misty eyed Cubs chairman, Tom Ricketts. "And to many, especially some of the players, Ron was like a father to us. There's no length we would not go to in honoring the man who will surely be watching over this team, this field, for generations to come".
The Cubs set a dubious honor early on this season, reaching the .500 mark at every possible stop. A streak that ended when the team fell to 10-12. This, apparently, was by design.
"The Cubs love winning, every one of us." Continued Mr. Ricketts. "But some things in this world are just more important than winning. That's why, in honor of Cubs legend Ron Santo, the 2011 Chicago Cubs will maintain a win total of 10 for the remainder of the season."
As expected, the fan base is stunned at the devotion of the organization. But more so, why the team rushed to get their 10 wins so quickly.
"We knew that we wanted to get there [10-10], that was incredibly important to all of us" explains Jim Hendry. "Believe me, engineering this season wasn't easy, and we still have our work cut out for us, but Tom, Crane (Kenney, President), and myself have all of the confidence in the world that we've assembled the right group to get it done."
The Cubs selected Mike Quade to resume his role of manager from the latter portion of the 2010 campaign, following the retirement of Lou Piniella. General Manager Jim Hendry parsed through a list of candidates, including another Cubs legend: Ryne Sandberg, before ultimately deciding on Quade. "I simply didn't think that Ryno had what it took to accomplish what we're trying to do here. Mike's the guy we wanted right from the start".
This is, to say the least, a unique situation to inherit, especially for a man taking the reins of a major league team on opening day for the first time. "Biggest challenge in my baseball career so far, for sure. Losing [142 games] straight aint going to be easy, I'll tell you that. Previous record is what? Twenty three? Yeah, the Phillies lost twenty three. Well we're going to lose [142 games]. Book it." Quade refers to the 1961 Philadelphia Phillies, who lost 23 straight games from July 29th through August 20th. The Cubs look to shatter that record by 119.
The Cubs record currently stands at 10-14, leaving 144 more straight loses to go. So far this season the manager has made the bold decision of moving left handed reliever James Russell to the rotation. "Expect more creative moves as we go forward" says a smiling Quade. Of course the players are also doing their part to honor the team's legend.
"You can't win if you don't score, and you can't score if you don't get on base." relishes Center Fielder Marlon Byrd. "All I need to do is swing, and let the defense do their thing."
Catcher Geovany Soto would be off to a disappointing start if not for the circumstances. He explains the teams offensive approach: "We're not a bunch of guys who put the ball in play and can manufacture a run here or there. We need to put some balls in the bleachers, and we're not doing that. The only guy parking any right now is [Soriano], and even he's trying to make sure those are solo shots. Well. Mostly."
"I thought it was taking the break and heading outside" Alfonso Soriano recalls the pitch on which he hit one of his 7 home runs on the young season, specifically one of the two with men on base. "It just never took the break. I couldn't help it; I never thought it'd square up. I just stood there at the plate, hoping it would die on the track. I smacked myself on the helmet and dragged myself around the bases. I let my team down."
For certain, the approach of this year's team isn't easy to adapt to. New Cubs Matt Garza and Carlos Peña spent recent years with Tampa Bay, who have made the playoffs in two of the past three seasons. Both players are highly regarded amongst their peers, but they aren't taking the same approaches to helping out their new team. Mike Quade explains: "To be honest, Carlos has got it a bit easier than most here. I mean he's got that shift going for him, he barely even has to try to make outs. But Matt. Matt. He's doing a nice job giving up hits, but his strikeout rate really has me worried. We're working with him, but he needs to remember that nobody ever gave up a run on a strikeout."
"But really the whole rotation has done just an incredible job. The start by Dempster last night. Wow. I think that says all you need to know about the kind of relationship [Dempster] and Santo had."
"I tell you who has really made us nervous is [Startlin Castro]. All the talent in the world, but he may be too young to understand the situation. He gets the barrel on everything it seems. I think he's starting to mature quickly though. You saw those three errors the other night? That's a team player right there." The young shortstop has been a controversial bright spot thus far, being among the league leaders in hits.
Among the early season mysteries, is the sparse use of veteran pitcher, and fan favorite, Kerry Wood. "I told Mike I just can't go sometimes, and he's been pretty understanding. I just worry that I might 'K' someone and screw up a tight loss."
No doubt this season will long be remembered as one of the most incredible occurrences in all of American sports. From top to bottom, the Chicago Cubs are dedicated to giving everyone on the north side, one more prolonged "Gee Whiz!"