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About Narratives, The Past, And The 2015 Cubs

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Every team is different. The 2015 Cubs are a wonderful reminder of that reality.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As most of you know, most of my writing tends to rely heavily on statistics and dollars, often with an eye on transactions that can help the Cubs build a stronger roster. And there will be plenty of time for continuing that trend this winter, after the completion of the still-going-strong 2015 season (teaser: get ready to watch me twist myself into a pretzel to fit David Price into the budget!).

But not right now. Not after Wednesday's thrilling, intensely satisfying victory over the Pirates in the National League Wild Card game.

The game itself was a master class in playoff roster building. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, Tom Ricketts, and the gang set out on a massive tearing down and rebuilding project late in 2011 with an eye on building a mid-decade winner. We've heard the mantra over and over, but it certainly bears repeating at this stage in the process: young bats, preferably with power, and veteran arms. On a constant repeat.

Well, even though Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Tommy La Stella, Austin Jackson, Starlin Castro, Miguel Montero, and Addison Russell went just 2-for-23 with one walk and eight strikeouts (yikes!), Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber provided all of the offense that the Cubs would need by exploding to go 5-for-7 with two home runs. That offensive output could power Jake Arrieta for two months at this point!

Even with that lengthy introduction, I'm not actually here to write about the statistics of the game or Arrieta's brilliance. I'm here to write about two things that are completely intertwined for the Cubs: narratives and the past.

I have to begin by recalling October 2003 (be with me). I was a senior in high school in West Michigan, a lifelong Kerry Wood fan - he was one of the first guys I remember as a prospect - who was ecstatic when Mark Prior fell into our laps in the 2001 draft when the Twins insanely passed on Prior's bonus demand in favor of a cheaper local football star (Joe Mauer). Even after Josh Beckett mowed the Cubs down masterfully in Game 5 in Miami, I knew that the Cubs had Prior slated for Game 6 and Wood ready for Game 7, in the incredibly unlikely case that his services were needed.

The morning of Game 6, my Dad found out that we were able to secure two tickets for Game 7 and he would be taking me if the game would be played. All day, friends and classmates asked me if I hoped that the Cubs would lose Game 6 so I could go to Game 7. I was aghast; of course I wanted them to win Game 6! When you're a Cubs fan, you want the wins and you want them now. No drama. No intrigue. Just Ws.

That night, as we watched Prior baffle the Marlins for seven innings, we all had the feeling that it was finally going to happen. When Mike Mordecai popped out to left field for the first out of the eighth inning, I turned to my Mom and Dad, held up one hand, and said, "this is how many outs the Cubs need to get to the World Series!"

I'm sure we spoke again that night, but I don't remember any of the other words. There was just that moment and then everything else that happened afterward. What had once felt so completely inevitable - we all knew that Prior was invincible and that he'd continue retiring Marlins batters until there was a mob scene at the pitcher's mound - obviously did not come to pass in fantastic fashion.

As we lost our mind the following night when Moises Alou's home run gave the Cubs a 5-3 lead with a dealing Kerry Wood on the mound, we truly believed that Game 6 was a momentary blip on the path to greatness. Then the wheels came off again.

And that brings me to the first massively important point of all of this: nothing is inevitable. Nothing. Mark Prior was nearly perfect against the Marlins in Game 6 until it all came crumbling down. What felt inevitable no longer was because, in fact, the unthinkable happened. So don't let the narrative the precedes the games skew our understanding of what actually transpires.

Jake Arrieta's Wild Card Game brilliance may have seemed or felt inevitable. But it wasn't. Jake pitched a game for the ages, overcoming a supremely talented Pirates team. Take yet another moment and appreciate just how amazing his actual dominance was. It's even sweeter than the dominance we expected from him before the game.

The second point plays off of the first. I oftentimes think back to that moment when I held up my hand and counted the five outs separating the Cubs from the pennant. It both feels like a lifetime ago and it feels like it just happened.

All of those memories play into what this team means to me. Obviously there are plenty of huge ones, some that I saw in person and some that I saw at home: the one-gamer with the Giants in 1998, the clinching doubleheader in 2003, watching the celebration in Atlanta when Kerry singlehandedly put the Braves down, division-winners in 2007 and 2008, and the arrival of the new ownership and front office groups over the last half dozen years. But plenty of smaller ones jump out, too: getting up in the middle of the night to watch the 2000 opening games in Japan, the excitement of mid-season trades for Fred McGriff, Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Nomar Garciaparra, and Rich Harden, voluminous spring training games, game-winning dribblers from Matt Murton on drizzly April nights in 2005 and 2006, Opening Day 2008, and countless nights spent dreaming of roster overhauls that would bring October glory.

Then there's the best moments. My first game with my wife, a Fukudome game-winner over the division-rival Astros (how dated does that feel?). My older daughter's first game in 2012. My younger daughter's first games this summer in Atlanta. For what it's worth: she saw Jake and Jon Lester combine to throw 14.1 innings, allowing just 5 hits, 4 walks, and a hit batsman while striking out 17. No runs, obviously.

(I'm not saying she's a good-luck charm...but she might be, right?)

So as we all put on our gameday uniforms last night, the toddler in her pink Cubs swim coverup, the preschooler in her Rizzo jersey and Cubs shorts, and I in my jersey, shorts, and new socks, decades of memories, good and bad, all played into the moment.

In the eighth inning, well after the kids had drifted off to sleep, when Pedro Alvarez whiffed on an 87 mile-per-hour slider that nearly hit his kneecap, I walked over to my wife to hold up my hand again, just like I had 12 years earlier to my parents. I had to. It was an important remembrance of a time when the club was so close to moving on to the next stage, and an acknowledgment that this time would be different.

For me, being a Cubs fan is a major part of who I am, and the Cubs have helped to define the periods of my life. 2015 isn't just some standalone experience. 2015 is the continuation of a lifetime of following the Cubs, through the ups and the oftentimes very deep downs.

That past is all important. It all plays into the experience of last night and the days and weeks to come.

As for the players, the beauty of it all is that the 2015 team doesn't just feel different from years past; it is different. This collection of Cubs has never played together before this year, so what they accomplish as a team will be unique to them.

For us fans, they are a representation that the present and future are decidedly not the past.

So as the Cubs take us on this wild ride that has already begun with a flourish, don't be afraid to embrace the past. And don't get caught up in the narrative you hear before a game or a series. The past informs what it means to be "The Cubs" and the narrative of this team often comes out of an analysis about what the team might be projected to do, but neither the past nor the narrative defines this team.

They are defined by what they do on the field and how they do it. For us fans, they help us to remember that the past is not the present or the future.

As I celebrated Wednesday night and as I hope to celebrate as this month rolls on into the next one, I carried the memories of the past with me. And that's a good thing. As Joe Maddon said last November, "who wouldn't want this challenge?" Joe appreciated the gravity of the Cubs winning. Now facing a one-game hole against the Cardinals, the challenge is greater than it was 24 hours ago. But who ever thought it was going to be easy for the Cubs to reach the pinnacle?

Winning is awesome. But defeating the demons of the past in the process is even better. Let's not ignore the past. Let's embrace it and kick its ass.