There are a surprising number of things to be thankful for after just over a week of Cubs baseball, but I’m most grateful for Ethan Roberts. Which I realize is quite a statement to make in a universe where Seiya Suzuki exists. But like the horizontal break on Roberts’s slider, it’s not hyperbole even if it sounds like it should be.
See, the final two months of 2021 taught me one thing: My ability to emotionally commit to the current iteration of the Cubs is going to be directly proportional to their ability to make me forget Jed Hoyer is team president. Last season’s trade deadline massacre marked the moment where I realized Cubs management and I were going to be at philosophical odds for the next few years. Specifically, I prefer keeping good players and World Series heroes in Cubs uniforms while Hoyer embraces roster construction by sociopathy.
After Thanos snapping the championship core into nothingness — or worse, sending them to the Mets — Hoyer’s current goal to turn the Cubs into Tampa Bay North leaves a profoundly bad taste in my mouth. I don’t want to root for a team whose longest-tenured member in uniform is DJ Kitty. Even if his plan works, I’ll never forgive him for it.
It feels a little weird to admit this, but while I was thrilled to see baseball back in general after the lockout ended, I was lukewarm about the Cubs. Spring training was an uneasy experience. Every time the Cubs did something positive, I thought of Hoyer feeling vindicated and that made me sad. After a couple weeks of this, I wondered how I was going to snap out of it.
Then I got to watch in real-time as David Ross told Roberts he had made the team. Got to see Roberts’s head recoil back just a bit as if feeling the impact from the massive smile that spread across his face. Then witnessed the realization that the moment he’d been working toward for decades had suddenly just changed from hopeful dream to reality. And finally, I joined the emotional release afterward — it was impossible to see Roberts shedding a tear in the dugout without welling up a bit along with him.
It was in that moment that all the negativity and residual anger fell away. All the talk of free agency cliffs and “offers that will hold up exceptionally well” and service time manipulation and biblical losses and “the Next Great Cubs Team” faded. The only thing that was left was the humanity of the game.
Which turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. The team president might not give a damn about what his players represent beyond “a matchup-based system” that serves to trumpet his own brilliance. But I’m not rooting for the team president. I’m cheering for the guy whose dreams just came true right in front of my face.
I’m not naive enough to say that one moment solved every emotional dilemma, it’s just that watching Roberts was the first time I’d felt that good about anything Cubs-related in almost a year. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed that feeling until I experienced it again.
Seeing Roberts in action this week has only served to amplify that sense of humanity and the buoyant emotions that accompany it. Between his embrace of Willson Contreras after finishing his major league debut and his Cha-Cha Slide-esque double hop after striking out Roberto Pérez, Roberts is going to make it so much easier to smile while watching the Cubs this summer.
Of course, a slider that starts down the middle and finishes somewhere near The Cubby Bear should help too.