June 2nd: Waiting for the Cubs to Find Their Identity

Baseball, as Kyle Schwarber will tell you, is a fickle sport. One week ago, the Cubs were coming off a 7-2 homestand, including a sweep of the Reds and a strong three-game winning streak.

Cubs 3Well, it has been a week since the Cubs won a ballgame, and the past six games have been the worst we’ve seen in the Joe Maddon era. A sweep at the hands of the Dodgers would be hard to swallow, but being swept by the lowly Padres was beyond anything Cubs fans could have expected. No one thing is wrong with the Cubs, and it isn’t simply waiting for one or two players to perform at their expected level. There are 20 players on the Cubs who aren’t living up to expectations, and until they do, this is going to be a sub-.500 team.

Going into the 2017 season, Cubs fans were dreaming of what it would feel like to be a modern-day baseball dynasty, following in the footsteps of the late ‘90s Yankees. We had a young, controllable core, a manager who seems to know all the right buttons to push, and a fanbase that had tasted victory and wanted more.

2017 has proven to be less than kind, and Cubs fans are finally getting frustrated. For the first two months of the season, Cubs leadership has claimed that everyone is calm, that things will change, that we will snap out of it any day now. Some Cubs have made the ridiculous claim that it has never been this bad before, forgetting the 108 years of losing that had come before. As a 24 year old, I’ve seen a lot of bad baseball in Chicago, and this hasn’t even broken the surface of how bad it could be.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at San Diego PadresYet, the Cubs have to realize that the struggle here is in the dissonance between how good we SHOULD be and how bad we HAVE been. A team that was supposed to be the greatest offense in the league, maybe in history, is now struggling to hit minor-league caliber pitching. Starters haven’t been able to hold a lead, and the offense hasn’t been able to give them one. The bullpen went through two or three rough weeks to start the year, then got good just in time for there to be no need to be; games were lost far before we got to the 7th inning.

The Cubs roster is too good to stay this bad for long. There will be a moment for the team to click, and for everything to get back into the swing of things. Last year, the Cubs had a similarly awful streak in late June and early July. The All-Star break gave everyone the chance to relax a bit, and then they took off with the division and never looked back. There is a strong chance that is what will happen this year, although the Cubs can’t afford to wait until the mid-July to turn things around. The rest of the NL-Central has been waiting for the Cubs, with both the Brewers and Cardinals losing in bunches as well. The division is ripe for the taking, but the Cubs aren’t in any position to do that until they figure out how to hit again.

The season is young, and there is still plenty of baseball left to be played. But the Cubs have some soul searching to do to figure out what kind of baseball team they can be and how to make that happen. For now, as a Cubs fan, it isn’t fun to watch this team play, and every day comes with the desperate plea that maybe, just maybe, today will be the day that the Cubs remember who they are.

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February 14th: Hope Springs

I’ve never gone into Spring Training as a fan of a defending champion before. For my entire life, the start of Spring Training has been the opportunity to look forward to a brighter future, forgetting a rocky season that came to an end. This time around, I haven’t minded the offseason. A season that ends in confetti and trophies is one where you don’t rush quite so fast into the next season. You want to cherish the fun of winning before having to go back to the grind all over again.

Yet, win or lose, the season comes and goes, and before you know it it’s time for baseball all over again. As a Cubs fan and a newly crowned fan of a champion, I’m learning that no matter how much you love winning, you love the game more.

The buzz around Spring Training is just as fresh and exciting as it has ever been. There are positions battles to catch up on and prospects to keep an eye on. There are 29 teams that want to be where we are now, and are all working to take it away from you. Which also leads to the feeling that many have wondered: will Cubs fans still be as committed as they have been in the past, because they’ve been there before?

The answer is that you better believe it. Now that we’ve been there, we know what it feels like to be a champion, know what it’s like to bring an entire city together during a playoff hunt, know what it’s like to host a parade. If anything, Cubs fans just want to get back to that feeling again.

Champion or not, the first day of Spring Training is a celebration. The winter is over, and it’s time to get back to the game. As much as it’s been fun to enjoy the celebration for a few months, now is the time to get back to the beautiful game.

January 12th: Getting Our Money’s Worth

You would think that winning the World Series would let a guy take the winter off. But, after the season that Jason Heyward had, that hasn’t been the case.

Despite the team’s success in 2016, Heyward struggled during the first year of his new contract in Chicago. Offensively, he failed to live up to the lofty expectations levied upon a player receiving well over $100 million. His defense, baserunning, and leadership, though, proved to be the kinds of tools that made him a valuable part of a team that ended the Cubs’ World Series drought.

Over the winter, Heyward has set up shop in Mesa, Arizona, the Spring Training home of the Cubs, in order to work on his swing. A second video has surfaced of Heyward, hard at work developing a new approach at the plate.

Cubs fans can be tough, and the desire to win can bring out the worst in some. Heyward undoubtably had a rough time transitioning into a new environment, especially when he began to struggle. To see his hard work and determination, though, will only buy him the love and dedication of a fan-base known for loving the players that put themselves on the line for our city.

Athletes are looked up to by young fans and players of their sport. Jason Heyward is demonstrating to young Cubs fans that he is willing to put in the work to be the star the Cubs are paying for. In turn, he deserves the respect and support of the fans.

It’s hard not to root for Jason Heyward. After a weak first season in Chicago, every indication points to a bounce-back year in 2017, and a larger role for a Cubs team that should continue its dominance of the National League.

November 9th: Go Cubs Go

One week ago, I landed in Chicago, 12 hours after booking the flight. For my whole life, my father and I had agreed that, whenever the Cubs had three wins in the World Series, we would go to Wrigley Field and watch the deciding game, regardless of where the game was played. Now, after over 20 years of waiting, it was time to go home.

Many people didn’t understand. How could I put my entire life on hold to leave in the middle of the week to go watch a baseball game? It’s just baseball, after all.

Except this was about so much more than a game. Chicago is my home, and the Cubs are a symbol for all that I love about where I come from. From watching games with my dad to following the statistics and logistics of the team to wearing hats and t-shirts, the Cubs have always been a huge part of who I am and what I do.

Landing in Chicago, you could feel the excitement from every direction. Every person was wearing Cubbie blue, every conversation centered around the game. It felt like an entire city was holding its collective breath.

For the game, my dad and I found a bar a block away from Wrigley. Surrounded by wall-to-wall Cubs fans, we watched the most important game of our lives unfold. We screamed ourselves hoarse with every run scored, cheered for every out. When the Indians came back in the 8th, you could feel the air sucked out of the room.

The rain delay was almost too much to bear. I had come so far, lost so much sleep, invested so much time. I couldn’t even imagine that they could possibly lose.

And then the 10th inning happened. A rally gave the Cubs the lead and they never looked back.

When Kris Bryant threw the last out to Anthony Rizzo, it felt like the entire world exploded. Champagne was sprayed everywhere, the crowd was out of their minds. The thing I remember most, though, was hugging my dad. What we had waited for, talked about, and obsessed over was finally true. We had finally won the World Series. And, just like we had planned, I was right there, outside of the stadium, with my dad.

High fives flowed freely. Hugs were given to strangers I had never met and would never know. The streets were filled with the singing of “Go Cubs Go” over and over again, my ears ringing from the singing and from the roar of the crowd over and over again. It seemed that, every few minutes, the crowd would realize all over again that the Cubs had done it, that our wait was over. The city was ready to celebrate.

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Five million Cubs fans spill onto Michigan Avenue after the Cubs rally on Nov. 4th.

The next 72 hours were absolute pandemonium. We spent hours downtown Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, celebrating with thousands of other Cubs fans overjoyed by the end of the curse. Thursday, everyone was running on the high of a victory, and the mall was filled with fans buying championship hats and t-shirts. On Friday, I joined 5 million of my closest friends at Grant Park to see the young men who had brought this kind of joy and excitement to the city I loved so much.

I started this season in Israel. I woke up almost every morning early to watch games at 3, 4, 5 o’clock in the morning. I followed every at-bat, every pitch. When I got home, I spent more days outside of Chicago than I spent in it, but my Cubs were always on the radio or on my phone. It was a constant reminder that, no matter where in the world I went, I would always have my team. For the month of October, my entire life was centered around being there to watch my team. (My fiancé was held hostage as well…)

Baseball is about far more than simply a sport to me. It is a huge part of who I am, and a connection between me and millions of other fans around the world. Like a fraternity for the city of Chicago, the Cubs are a bonding force that has been at the center of my identity for so long.

Some have asked if the Cubs will still be loved by their fans if they are no longer the Lovable Losers. Clearly, those people don’t know anything about my city. For the rest of my life, when I think about the Cubs, I’ll think about Anthony Rizzo and Wrigley Field, sure. But I’ll be thinking about memories with my dad that I’ll never forget, bonding with my city in a way that I couldn’t even fathom. I’ll remember what it was like to experience pure joy at a time when it is so hard to find. And I’ll think about a team that was there for me no matter where in the world I found myself.

October 20th: A Cut Above

During last night’s NLCS game, Dodgers’ center fielder Joc Pederson came about one comment away from being thrown out of the game. After being rung up on a borderline strike three call, Pederson gave the home plate umpire an earful, arguing that he should have earned a walk. Clearly home plate umpire Angel Hernandez was feeling generous, because what would have been an easy ejection during the regular season was only a stare-down in a game that mattered that much.

What the camera didn’t show as clearly took place a few innings earlier. During an at-bat in the fourth inning by Cubs star and leader Anthony Rizzo, strike 2 was called on a borderline 3-1 pitch. Rizzo, thinking it was ball four, dropped his bat and began to walk to first base. Upon realizing a strike had been called, he came back, picked up his bat, and proceeded to club a massive home run.

The TV broadcast crew showed footage later on of Rizzo’s next at bat. In it, you can hear a conversation between Rizzo and Hernandez in which Rizzo gives a heartfelt apology for showing up the ump. They share a nice chat, all was forgiven, and Rizzo continued on to have a massive slump-busting night.

These games are the most intense part of the year. Every pitch counts, and both teams are playing like there is no tomorrow. For Pederson to get upset is absolutely normal, understandable even. For Rizzo to keep his cool and behave like such a class act shows just how special he is.

I won’t buy or wear a t-shirt or jersey for players who cheated or committed crimes. I will only represent people who are worthy of the admiration we give to our sports heroes. In the sports world, there are plenty f people who do not live up to the standards set before them, who do not uphold the values of our society. After last night’s game, and after seeing the entire body of his career, I am reminded that I’ll never have to worry about my Anthony Rizzo jersey. I’m proud to be a fan of a player who respects the game and all who make it possible, and a team that has chosen him as their leader.