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Chicago Cubs: New season ahead brings familiar emotions

jfrancis
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It took a long time, but the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. With a new season coming, what are fans to expect?

It is an odd feeling. Coming into a season as the defending World Series Champions is something new. It took 108 years, filled with anxiety, excitement, disappointment, and hope. But now it is all different. No one has every experienced this before. That is unless they are 110 years old!

It is an odd feeling, and the events of November still have yet to sink into many fans. Did we really watch the Chicago Cubs…the Lovable Losers…win a magical game seven? A game in which they held a commanding lead, only to lose it, the take it back in extra innings, and almost giving it up again. Almost.

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It is an odd feeling, not being able to blame a goat for another bad season. To fully forgive Bartman for his mental lapse in 2003. We can sit back and enjoy the spoils of actually winning. Fans from other teams can no longer remind us of the longest drought in professional sports history. It is now the shortest. And, we no longer have to say “Wait until next year.”

So, now what?

But, if you are like me, you are still feeling cautious about the next season. Analyzing the “ifs” and the “whats” of each move. Questioning how the line-up will be set and where each player will be slotted. Fretting over possible defensive concerns. It is normal for Chicago Cubs’ fans. We are used to these emotions and thoughts. Each of us has experienced them every year. It is a tradition unlike any other.

This year, with Spring Training just a few weeks away, we no longer see a season as the annual family reunion – you know, the one where you are glad to be there for the first part and enjoy the great food, but halfway through you get annoyed with your uncle’s trash talk during a game of corn-hole, and by the end there is a fight between cousins that started over whose (rented) car is better. Now, it is your 20-year high school reunion. You clean up a little bit more, worried about who will be there and the comparisons of each other’s lives.

Now, it is our turn to brag a bit more. We have the room to be proud of our team. They (actually) won the World Series. No one thought this would happen in another 100 years. But it did. And we watched it happen.

There is a phrase: act like you have been there before. We haven’t been here before. That said, no one likes a boastful winner. You just need to look about 300 miles away from Wrigley for that example. Still, we need to show humility in our pride. Take the lead of Joe Maddon and Anthony Rizzo. Embrace the experience, but focus on what is ahead.

This year

Still, anxiety permeates the heart of true Cubs fans. After winning 102 games, and the up-and-down performance of the postseason, can the team repeat? Odds are that winning over 100 games again is unlikely. Other teams are (and have been) measuring themselves against the team for the last few years. The drafting of offense. Trading for great prospects or for young pitchers that can be developed. Signing a few stars along the way. The rest of the National League are looking at the Chicago Cubs and taking aim.

And their aim may not be far off. The Los Angeles Dodgers retained Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner while adding  Logan Forsythe at second base. Mark Melancon signed with the San Francisco Giants. And we all know what happened to Dexter Fowler.  Teams are improving.

The Chicago Cubs are better as well. The signing of Koji Uehara and Jon Jay, plus trading for Wade Davis, filled holes. Add to that the growth of players like Kyle Hendricks, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez, there is a good reason for hope.

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However, this year, we can embrace the emotional onslaught that we so fear. This team is good – maybe even better than last year. Now we have evidence of the fact the team can produce offensively, pitch at high levels, and play tremendous defense. Maybe the Cubs will not be the best pitching and defense in the majors. Fine. They will be in the discussion all season long.

But, should the team stumble a bit, we will love them all the same. If they excel, it will be another season to remember. And we will return to saying “wait until next year.”

Enjoy it all. Embrace the anxiety. I am so glad it is next year!

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