I am trying not to get too excited. I've been this way before. 1984. 1989. 1998. 2003. All ended badly. Gut-wrenchingly badly.
Geez, for as long as I have been following this team you'd think they would have made the playoffs more than five times. I've invested a lot of my time in this team. I'm due. But see, I'm not going to get sucked into this.
The Cubs are in the playoffs, and I'm thrilled, because they don't belong. If they were in any of the other five divisions, they would have been an also-ran. They have the blessing this season of being in the worst division in the game, by far.
This is a team that lost 96 games last year. They won 85 (and lost 77) this year. A Nineteen game improvement in a single season is a fairly dubious accomplishment-no one else accomplished that this year. The Cub also finished first in their division one year after finishing last.
Don't get me wrong, I'm happy as hell. There's nothing like playoff baseball when the Cubs are involved. It's like a solar eclipse-better to see it now because you don't really know when it will happen again. Perhaps that's a little dramatic.
For me, this season was all about scrubbing away the residue from the Dusty Baker years. Last year was the worst year ever for being a Cubs fan because they had a manager that didn't give a damn. He knew he was going to get paid, and he let his team lay down and die after one of their best players suffered a long-term injury in May. They should have fired him in June and started the rebuilding process then, but for whatever reason, they waited. And I hated every second of it.
Putting this in a Mr. Retail perspective, there were plenty of stores that I was transferred into that were dumps, where people just didn't care and the prior managers were either lousy, lazy or both. On that first day, I'd get the urge to just walk out, because I knew it was going to take a lot of unpleasant work to get things into shape. I hated that feeling, but I always stuckit out, and eventually things turned out all right. Sometimes it took more than six months, but it was always worth it.
I expected the 2007 Cubs to be around a .500 team, finish ten games or so out of the lead, and get my hopes peaked for 2008. I would have been happy with that. I was happy just seeing someone else besides Baker in that dugout.
The trap is this: no matter what happens in the playoffs, this Cubs team is one that should be built to last. There are no major free agents to worry about losing, no old, broken down players on their last legs, no albatrosses of any kind. They should win consistently for the next few season at least.
And I'm going to get sucked in, of course, because I always do. I'd hate to ever not feel the anticipation that I always feel towards the end of March, when baseball season is starting up again.
There is this moment that comes along every season, the moment where I realize that again, the Cubs are not going to win the World Series, and that I have to wait at least another year to see if it will happen, and that I might die an old man having never seen the Cubs win it all, etc. etc. etc.
Last year that moment came in May. The earlier it comes makes it worse. Last year I had to resign myself that it would be a minimum of seventeen months to see if they could do it. On average, I'd say that feeling comes every year just before July 4th.
Obviously, I haven't had it yet this year. The clock just went past midnight. It's October 1st, and I still think that the Cubs have a chance to win the World Series THIS SEASON.
The games start Wednesday in Arizona, against a team that has only been around for ten years and has already won a World Series. If they get past them either the Phillies, Padres or Rockies await. The Mets? The were eliminated today, in a meltdown greater than the Cubs meltdown of 1969. Serves 'em right.
If the boys make it to the World Series they'd face either Boston, Cleveland, the Yankees or the Angels--all teams that posted much better records this season. I'll worry about that if they get this far.
It's impossible to convey what all this means to me. If you're not the type to follow sports I probably sound insane, but the Cubs are as much a part of my life as my family. They are the only thing that have been around as much.
I close my eyes and I can imagine bringing home my newborn son in a Cubs championship sleeper in December.