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Reflections On The Cusp Of 2017 Cubs Spring Training

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A new year begins, in a different way than any before it.

Al Yellon

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — No living person has ever heard these words before any Cubs spring training:

The Cubs are the defending World Series champions.

How does that feel?

Besides the obvious answer, “Great!”, seriously: How do you feel going into a baseball season as a fan of the defending champions?

We spent an entire season and postseason getting used to things that were new, or things that hadn’t happened in the lifetimes of any, or many, living people: 103 wins, the most since 1910. Winning the National League pennant at Wrigley Field. While it had been 71 years since a league title, the last time a N.L. championship had been clinched by the Cubs at home was 1932 — 84 years prior. And then, of course, winning the World Series in one of the most compelling Game 7’s ever.

I’ve re-read my recap of Game 7 a number of times in recent days and here it is so you can re-read it as well. At the time the win seemed almost surreal, though we knew it actually happened, it was still almost hard to believe that the 108-year drought was actually, for real, truly over. And if you still don’t believe it, watch the video again (Pat Hughes with the radio call):

Reflecting on that three and a half months later, and with a large new wardrobe of things that say “CHICAGO CUBS 2016 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS,” to me, it feels wonderful. It’s the culmination of a lifelong dream for each and every one of us, since none of us was around to experience the prior championship. Reviewing various games from the season and postseason remind every one of us how special 2016 was.

We will never pass that way again, I don’t think, and therein lies the difference between one year ago and now. In spring 2016, there was great anticipation coming off the successful 2015 season, even though the Cubs got dispatched by the Mets in the NLCS. That team was good, knew it was, and we knew it was ready to take the step to the next level of success. It wasn’t easy, but they did it, and now instead of being fans of the team that never won it all, we begin another spring of hope and anticipation as fans of the team that just finished winning it all.

Of course, we hope more championships are to come, and this 2017 Cubs team is certainly well-positioned to make a deep run into October (and November!) eight months from now. They should also be positioned to do the same over the next several seasons.

That’s a spot we aren’t accustomed to. I could get used to that feeling, but one thing I know I will never forget is the losing, the disappointment, how that all felt over so many years. You can bet Cleveland Indians fans feel that way right now, and I’m certain we all understand how that feels. Cubs fans and the team were termed “Lovable Losers” for so many years, and now the team is a champion. Let’s want to beat every team the Cubs play (especially the Cardinals!) every time they go onto the field. But let’s do it by being gracious winners. If we can do that, perhaps every winning team’s fanbase can learn from us.

The next championship will be wonderful, but nothing will ever beat the feeling of 2016.

Spring training, where games will begin tomorrow with split-squad contests against the Athletics and Giants, is for fun, mostly, enjoying the Arizona sunshine and not caring if the Cubs win or lose (11-19 last spring didn’t mean much, did it?). The players will put in their work even if they’re not in games, and at least early on, the regulars won’t be, as Joe Maddon wisely limits their early workload. There are 38 spring-training games this year (a longer spring season due to the World Baseball Classic); no reason to tire out Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Willson Contreras, Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and all the other guys before the defense of the World Series championship begins for real April 2.

Defense of the World Series championship. Man, that sounds good. Let’s do it again next year.