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Reflections on the cusp of the 2018 Cubs season

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There’s a palpable energy surrounding this year’s Cubs.

Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Not even in 2016 was I this excited for the start of a Chicago Cubs baseball season.

That might sound odd, but in thinking back to my anticipation of the 2016 season, there was more of a businesslike air around the Cubs, even with all the fun they had (the “Grandpa Rossy” scooter, etc.). Remember Joe Maddon’s slogan that year? “Embrace The Target.” The Cubs had a great season in 2015, reaching the NLCS for the first time since 2003 and outperforming everyone’s expectations, so 2016 was kind of a “prove it” season; everyone knew the Cubs were coming into 2016 as favorites, so Joe wanted them all to take that “target” idea and run with it.

And run with it they did, all the way to the World Series championship. That was a magical season, the one we’d all been waiting for all our lives.

Reality bit, though, in 2017. The World Series hangover is a thing, a real thing. There’s a reason no team has repeated as champions since 2000. It’s really, really hard to do. It’ll be interesting to see if the same thing happens to the Astros this year. Houston’s got a great team, but you never know what’s going to happen when the games start for real.

The Cubs have a great team, too. Theo Epstein and his staff identified each of the needs the Cubs would have for 2018 (filling two starting rotation slots, and upgrading the bullpen) and then methodically went out and signed precisely the players they needed to in order to fill those holes. Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek are all good-to-excellent players who will do (we hope!) exactly what the Cubs need.

In fact, in paying Darvish and Chatwood a total of $37.5 million this year, the Cubs are, in my view, getting a big upgrade over what Jake Arrieta and John Lackey, the departed free agents, gave them last year — and for only slightly more money. Arrieta and Lackey, combined, made $33.637 million in 2017.

But beyond the numbers and the upgrades in players, this team just feels different. They spent spring training on a mission — you could see both Maddon and the players going through each practice game doing exactly what they needed to do in order to prepare. And when they weren’t doing their work, they were pranking each other and management. The fact that Tommy La Stella could do things like that and not only get away with them but be lauded for them speaks volumes about how close-knit this group is.

After spending most of our lifetimes as fans of a team with the longest World Series drought, we now stand with our team having the second-shortest such drought: just one year. When the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, among the thoughts I had was: “If they never do it again, at least I saw it happen once.”

Call me a bit greedy now, but I want to see it again. Theo & Co. have built a team full of talented players who should be mostly together for at least the next four seasons, just as they promised, for multiple runs at a World Series title. Beyond their talent, these guys also seem to be high-character individuals, easy to root for. They are without question the best Cubs team any of us has ever seen.

There’s one more thing that I’m going to be a bit personally greedy for. I was unable to get to Cleveland in November 2016 to see the Cubs win the World Series in person. I want to see them win the championship at Wrigley Field. None of the three Cubs World Series titles was won in Chicago (1907 and 1908 were both won in Detroit).

So there’s that goal. Having been at the game where the Cubs won the National League pennant in 2016, the first since 1945, I will always remember how that felt and what the celebratory atmosphere at the ballpark was like. I can only imagine how much better it will be when the Cubs win the World Series at Wrigley.

Why not now? Why not 2018? As I wrote last year:

Go Cubs. Bring us some more memories that will last a lifetime.

#EverybodyIn #LetsGo #FlyTheW