Thursday, October 22, 2015

October 21, 2015 Didn't Provide a Cinematic Ending, but I Can't Wait to Go Back to the Future with These Cubs

This time, the unfortunate end wasn't accompanied by baseballs going under Gatorade-soaked gloves or bouncing off the outstretched hands of fans.

You couldn't blame Billy Goats or black cats, and thankfully nobody did.

Just days after the Chicago Cubs were proclaimed betting favorites to win the World Series, they were swept by the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series. 

On October 21, 2015, the date in Back to the Future 2 where Marty McFly learns the Cubs have just won the World Series, the Cubs--in reality--failed to win the pennant for the 70th straight year.

Yet despite umpiring that has me wondering WTF is a strike--seemingly almost nothing is too low, high or outside these days--one can't really summon excuses, as the Mets decidedly outplayed the Cubs offensively, defensively and on the mound...throughout every game.

Nor can dark forces or cruel twists be ascribed, apart from Murphy's Law, as Mets second baseman
Daniel Murphy ruled the series by homering in all 4 games (of a record 6 straight, and 7 overall, in the postseason) while hitting .529 with a 1.850 OPS against the Cubs.

Given the possibilities that seemed plausible and, albeit with a lifelong Cubs fan's skepticism, almost likely after the North Siders beat their Arch rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the NLDS--I attended the clinching game at Wrigley--certainly this loss hurts. 

It's disappointing.

But it's also baseball, where one team getting hot while another goes cold has perennially overriden momentum, regular season records--the Cubs had won all 7 games against the Mets, winding up with 7 more total wins--or any prevailing "logic."

I certainly would have preferred if the Cubs had won 3 games in the NLCS--or obviously, 4--rather than zero, but their being trounced so soundly makes this failure to advance far less brutal than 2003's, when they blew a 3-1 series lead. (I was at the infamous Game 6 and in some ways have never fully recovered.)

Cubs fans are, imperatively, a resiliant bunch, and there is considerable solace to be taken in the young team being 1-2 years ahead of most experts' expectations, in terms of what they accomplished in 2015.

With rookies Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell having truly stellar debuts, heralded prospects Jorge Soler and Javier Baez showing terrific promise, young stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro having strong--and in the latter's case, wonderfully resurgent--years and pitcher Jake Arrieta putting together possibly the best season ever for a Cubs hurler, there is contentment to be derived from this theoretically being only the beginning of a magnificent, years-long run of success.

And almost as cool a story as how good the kids were, was the way the Cubs got great pitching performances out of "reclamation projects" like Clayton Richard, Fernando Rodney, Trevor Cahill, Jason Motte and in a similar vein, Travis Wood and Pedro Strop.

So the annual Cubs fan refrain of "Wait 'til next year" atypically holds genuine promise rather than hollow hope, and a shorter waiting period to boot, given that October 21st is the latest date on which the Cubs have ever played.

Certainly, in baseball, reasons for excited, even educated, optimism don't always translate into championship rings, as fans of talent laden Dodgers, Rangers, Tigers and Nationals teams of recent years clearly understand. As I write this, not only do the Mets, Royals and Blue Jays remain contenders this year and beyond, but the long-moribund Pirates and Astros franchises have been revitalized, and big money or well-stocked teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Cardinals and Giants can never be discounted.

While it is tremendously cool that the Cubs made the Championship Round (i.e. semi-finals) in 2015, since the last time they did so in 2003, 22 of the 29 other franchises have done likewise, with 13 different teams making it to the World Series. (7 teams--from 2003 inclusive--have won titles, including the crosstown White Sox.)

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are to be celebrated for seeing their long rebuilding project flourish to such a glorious extent, with numerous team farmhands maturing ahead of schedule, yet the NLCS disappointment undoubtedly served to show that their work isn't finished.

At least 2 high-quality starting pitchers beyond Arrieta and this-year's big free agent signing, Jon Lester, would be welcome, as the Cubs' 3H trio--Kyle Hendricks, Jason Hammel and Dan Haren--couldn't consistently get the job done.

Schwarber and Soler showed themselves to be suspect defensively in left and right field, respectively, and it remains unclear if Castro or Baez deserves to be the second baseman for years to come. (They seem redundant, especially with such pitching needs, but I wouldn't want to trade either.)

So, as history has pounded into my head, and even more so my heart, I am taking nothing for granted. To be a Cubs fan is to be skeptical, even disbelieving until proven otherwise (which is probably saving me from an emotional breakdown as I write this).

But this isn't just about moral victories or the wonderful diversion from real-life that sports provides.

What I really like about the 2015 Cubs is how much I really liked--or at least perceived liking, as I don't know any personally--the players and manager.

Without meaning to denigrate Dusty Baker or Lou Pinella or Rich Renteria or Dale Sveum of Jim Riggleman, et. al., Joe Maddon is not only the coolest manager in baseball, but by far my favorite Cubs' skipper since Don Zimmer.

And as opposed to the good Cubs teams in recent memory--let alone the many bad ones--this one seemingly didn't have (possibly) steroided superstars, perpetually brittle pitchers, players lambasting the broadcasters, hurlers slamming their mitt to the mound like a pissed-off Little Leaguer (Ted Lilly in the 2007 NLDS) or anyone paying any apparent heed to "curses."

So it isn't just that the Cubs made me happy for 6-1/2 months, they made me happy to feel proud of them. 

Sure, it will be nice if they will--ever--win a game played after my birthday (October 15; I really thought this would be the year;), but I guess I now have at least another year to save the $4,000 it would seem to require to buy a seat at a World Series game played at Wrigley.

Fortunately, I learned long ago to put sports in the proper perspective. I will cheer fervently, and invest myself emotionally, but at the end of the day--and each season--what happens on any field doesn't really matter the way family, friends and other facets of life do.

Thus, I realize it isn't entirely apt to cite an expression I like including on sympathy cards, but with that disclaimer I think it fits:

As you weep for all that has been lost, smile for all that has been gained.

And thus, as fellow Cubs super fan Eddie Vedder emotes in the video below, "It's OK."

Destiny (still) awaits, it's just been postponed. 

Go Cubs Go!

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