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The Eugene Emeralds championship: Why you should care

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The Cubs short-season affiliate won their league championship. This is important for the organization’s future.

Jared Ravich-Eugene Emeralds

Late last Tuesday night, after the Cubs defeated the Brewers in one of their most important games of the season, the Eugene Emeralds won their fifth game in a row, and that won them the Northwest League championship. This stretch was the first time they’d won three in a row all season. After it all, regardless how much or little you care about the Cubs pipeline, the Emeralds championship is a good thing for Cubs fans.

Imagine you have a precocious niece. She’s about three or four, loves selfies, is a bit of a drama queen, and the other stuff. I’m sure you know of someone along those lines. Imagine she has a bit of a low-end “public display.” Perhaps it’s a talent show, or a holiday program, or something else similar. You attend, and watch your niece. She finishes, had a wonderful time, and gets applause. To your mind, she might not have done all that well. How should you react?

You should be happy. You shouldn’t just “appear” happy. You should be legitimately happy. She is a person you care about. She did something in public. She enjoyed herself. She received appreciation. She probably learned about herself in the process. What more can you want? Perhaps from a technical perspective, she misfired a few times. Maybe she missed on a few of the important aspects of her recital. However, from a debut perspective, she did fine.

I have a friend who was a bit out of shape. As an adult, he tweeted about how he was going to “jog around the block.” With his wit, it was an enjoyable read. The tweets about his running continued. The lengths grew. Eventually, he entered a 5-K race. Along the line was a half-a-marathon. At some point, marathons, and ultra-marathons. All from the humblest of beginnings.

The Emeralds’ Northwest League title can’t be pawned for three runs in an upcoming game against the Diamondbacks or White Sox. The Emeralds’ ninth-inning rally was a three-hopper up the middle, a grounder to the left-side hole, a misplayed double-play ball, a HBP, a walk, and a balk. Spokane, the team they eliminated in the finals, had numerous line drives that curled foul at the pole. Others were lined right at the well-positioned fielders.

Nonetheless, the Emeralds won the series. They won five games in a row to close it out. The more-brash-than-sheen young lady got rave reviews. Even with the appropriate caveats, that’s a good thing. You cheer for your family to be successful. You cheer for your team to be successful. From the lowest levels, and always.

The cynic might ask a few questions.

“Who are the guys that will actually help the Cubs?”

“When will they reach Wrigley Field?”

“How successful will they be?”

Are those questions you ask about your family member? Was I required to answer that question about my friend and a marathon? No. If something good happens for someone you’re wishing success for, a wise person is happy for them. Those are valid questions. However, all in due time.

It’s possible that none of the Emeralds ever play for the Cubs. It’s also possible for multiple members of the 2018 Emeralds to play for the parent club. Some may be traded next summer for players in the stretch run. It’s about being willing to wait out the future. If you’re unwilling to do that, for a friend, family member, or a squad you root for, that seems to be a “you” problem, not a “me” problem.

***

The Ems got in a bit of trouble early on in the first-half by being a few players short. The Cubs tend to be a bit slow to sign their draft picks, as a tactic. As a player gets signed later, he gets assigned later. In the first half of the season, the Ems were playing guys above their level, both offensively and defensively.

For instance, Nico Hoerner played seven games for the Emeralds. Joey Bart was the second pick in the draft. Bart played 45 games for Salem Keiser, with a .983 OPS. I’m not entirely sure why he was buried in short-season ball all season, but whatever.

Eventually, players from the Cubs 2018 draft made it to Eugene. Andy Weber, Jake Slaughter, Luke Reynolds, Levi Jordan, Jack Patterson, and Ethan Roberts made key contributions in the postseason, as did recently signed non-drafted players Caleb Knight and Grant Fennell. The championship squad was a combination of draft selections, international types, and “other.”

In a minor league season, the general preference is for the players on the team to be better at the end of the season, than at the start of the season. It isn’t about OPS/WHIP or 20/80 tools. Is (insert player here) better late than early?

As the team played better late than early, that should be a positive. The Cubs pipeline has at least one title each season since 2012. Before then, titles were an oddity. The demanded immediacy factor in “the pipeline” should be about finished by now. The pipeline is churning quality talent. Pitchers and hitters. Starters and relievers. Right-handed, and left-handed. If you want better pitching or hitting ready, then it’s about tactics. Development or selection tactics. Through the draft and through international means. I’m good with talking selection tactics regarding young players.

While it’s very reasonable to assume that you didn’t stay up to watch or listen to the Eugene game last week, you should still be happy when things go well for organizations or individuals you appreciate.

Does that mean you need to be entirely conversant between the differences between the six catchers that caught for the team over the balance of the season, and the one who was on the post-season roster, but didn’t play? No. But it shouldn’t be all that difficult for me to be genuinely happy when my friend finishes a marathon, either. Even as I had nothing to do with it. When a person limits what they feel they should be happy about, that’s on them.

My specifics on the players in this article have been sparse. This is entirely by design. My off-season articles will cast a wide net. Players on the Emeralds side will be included, then. I look forward to bringing you tales this off-season from across the swath of the minor leagues. Not because they will all be Chicago Cubs. Instead, because they are effectively representing the Cubs. The players in Eugene who fought through obstacles to win the title are worth being happy about.

For most, they’re just getting started. Happiness is better than skepticism, unless there’s a reason to be skeptical. Any success in the pipeline should be celebrated, if the success comes through dignity. Whether a successful return from injury, a merited promotion, or a title. Just as the young lady’s first day in the sun should be considered a positive.