Opening Day is Here and Everything Has Changed
Moments like this come far less often then they should. It’s that moment of anticipation for something you’ve waited for nearly all your life. It’s the moment before your first kiss. It’s the moment before your sixteenth birthday. It’s the moment you first drive away from your parents house with your car loaded down. It’s THAT kind of moment today.
Today is the kind of moment that you just know is going to change everything. It’s the kind of moment that harkens your soul, that fills your spirit, that defines reality, that helps us breathe. Today is the beginning of everything that we, as Cubs fans, have been waiting for all our lives. This is different than 2008. This is different than 2004. This is different than 1985. This is unlike anything that we have known.
This team has been built to win for years. It’s something we knew was happening when Theo Epstein was hired in 2011. During his introductory news conference at Wrigley Field in October 2011, Theo stated,”I firmly believe that we can preserve the things that make the Cubs so special and over time build a consistent winner, a team that will be playing baseball in October consistently and a team that will ultimately win the World Series.” When Theo Epstein, a man who helped bring the Boston Red Sox to the top of the baseball world, says things like that, people listen. And, most significantly, people watch.
And watch we all did. We watched as the Cubs finished in last place in 2012, 2013 and 2014. And yet, we had faith – we believed. We believed in what we saw was happening. We knew that our farm system was getting stocked with talent. We knew that Theo had done this before. We knew that he wouldn’t risk coming to Chicago only to fail. We believed.
At the beginning of the 2015 season we finally had hope. We knew that we had a good team. We had just signed Jon Lester and Joe Maddon, two big pieces that signified the rebuild was almost complete. Heading into the season the consensus around baseball, including with Cubs fans, was that 2016 would be the year the Cubs would start to make some noise. The 2015 season was meant to be a wild card, ‘anything can happen but probably won’t until next year’ season.
After the first half of the season, the Cubs were about where everyone expected and hoped they’d be – seven games over .500 at 47-40. They were playing good, not great, baseball. But things were definitely better than they were the last several years.
Seven games later the Cubs were 51-43 and the last place Phillies were coming to town. The Cubs were set up perfectly to make a big leap forward if they could sweep the Phillies. Just then, right in that moment, we all believed that this team might just make a run.
I will never forget the result of that series – the Cubs were outscored 8-21, outplayed, no-hit by Cole Hamels, and the feeling around Wrigley was disbelief. What had just happened? Instead of eleven games over .500, the Cubs were now five games over .500 and it felt like the season was slipping away.
Joe Maddon, in an interview after the series, reassured us all by saying that the Phillies were the much better team for three days, this is major league baseball and things like this happen – time to move on. And then, the very next night, this happened:
Those were the most defining few days in the Cubs 2015 season. After the Phillies series the Cubs went 46-19 which was a .708 winning percentage over the rest of the season. Everything had changed. The Cubs believed. The Cubs fans believed. The world was about to start believing.
The 2015 season is the foundation for this team. It is unlike prior winning seasons (1984, 2003, 2007). It is different because Theo and Joe have made it different. The Cubs are stacked with talent, very young, very good, possibly great at many positions, talent. The Cubs farm system is also stacked with young talent who’ve all seen what they’re missing out on, what’s happening on the major league team. This team is focused. This team is ready to win.
The Cubs fan inside of me wants to go crazy, wants to run through the streets proclaiming that this is THE YEAR. I cannot, I will not, proclaim that this is the year. I will instead tell you that this is the beginning of many years. This is the start of what it looks like when you build a dynasty. And I realize how hard it is for Cubs fans to think, hear and say the word ‘dynasty.’
Everything has changed. The term ‘lovable loser’ will need to be used by some other team from now on. Teams will fear the Cubs. No one will want to play them, regular season or playoffs. This is the new reality for Cubs fans.
The 2016 season is here. I will not predict a World Series championship. The playoffs are a crazy place where anything can, and usually does, happen (see Daniel Murphy last year).
The Cubs will win the NL Central with a record of 105-57 (.648 winning percentage). My basis for this claim is simple – the Cubs went 50-25 (.667 winning percentage) in the second half of last season. That was once the Cubs started to believe they were a really good team. This year they not only know they have a good team, they’ve also added Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey.
Everything has changed. Cubs fans can sit back and enjoy this season. This is going to be a lot of fun.