(written last night for worldseriesdreaming.com):
On the eve of one of the days we have been waiting for all winter, pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, I feel like it is the eve of Christmas Eve. I can say with 99.9999% belief that this team will NOT win the World Series (come on, I’m a Cub fan, there’s still that glimmer of hope). But I would like to share one thing I have learned over the past few years.
Let’s go back in time a bit. I will start in 2003, as it was really my first year to really start understanding all of the bits and pieces behind the game. I have been a fan since 1984, but it was simply just to watch baseball. As a kid, I didn’t understand the mind games that go on between pitchers and batters, I didn’t really grasp the true meaning of the stats that flashed across the TV when a player was shown. In 2003, I started to really teach myself the game behind the game.
2003 we watched this team blossom. Pitch by pitch. Out by out. We breathed every minute of the game in and didn’t want it to end. We were so proud of our Prior and Wood. We paused what we were doing to watch in childish anticipation everytime Sammy came up to bat. I didn’t just hope this team would finally put an end to our wait, I EXPECTED it. The further the season went along, the more I truly expected it. Once the playoffs started, the more and more I hung onto those expectations. My friends and I were already making plans to make sure we were in Chicago for the celebration. Then it happened. You know, the “five outs away” play. I sat on my parent’s house and was CRUSHED. My heart was broken more than it had ever been, and the game wasn’t even over, nor was the series, but I somehow knew it was over. When the series was over, as well as the season, it took me a long time that winter to truly start to “get over it” and look forward to the next season.
2004 I EXPECTED this team to just pick up where they left off in 2003. For the most part, the core was still there… and added to that was the Great Greg Maddux! I do have to say, when the Cubs traded for DLee, I was HORRIFIED! How in the world could Jim Hendry go out and sign the enemy? One of the guys who destroyed our dreams just months prior to that? It didn’t take me long to get used to seeing him in the pinstripes, though. It just added to the EXPECTATIONS I had that the 2004 team was going to be able to get done what the 2003 Cubs failed to do. They hung in there all the way until the last week of September and just collapsed, again. Again, due to my high expectations, I was again CRUSHED by this team!
2005 and 2006 seasons I went into each of those seasons with the high expectations, but those expectations were quickly shot down early in both of those seasons. I still felt the heartache, but the pain just came a lot earlier in those years than the autumn collapses. The last day of the season in 2006, however, put that hunger back into me early. Literally after the last out of the season, I took a breath of fresh air. The season was over. It was a relief. They were terrible that year, but every inning I either watched on TV or listened to on the radio. So, when it ended, I felt almost free! Just moments after the last out, the Cubs announced Dusty (and his toothpicks) and McFail (oops, McPhail) would not be returning. They announced John McDonough would be taking over the reigns. (Genius move, I truly believed). They promised major changes and tried to show us a light at the end of the tunnel.
2007. Jim Hendry was going to get it done! He had gone out and signed Lou Pinella to manage the team. He went out and gave a HUGE contract to superstar Alfonso Soriano! They added Mark DeRosa, Ted Lilly, and Jason Marquis. They were serious. How could my expectations for 2007 NOT begin extremely high? How high were they? I went out and bough Opening Day tickets for my dad and myself to be there to watch them line up along the third base line as they were introduced one by one, and take in the first “LOUUUUUUUUU”. They were so high, I literally recorded onto a DVD every single game…Spring Training included. I wanted to make sure that if this was truly the year, I had every single minute of it forever. (Yes, I still have every single game on DVD of that year, and 2008). What I didn’t expect was the team to go 22-29 in the first two months of the season. I didn’t expect Z to go nuts and start beating the daylights out of his catcher on TV. I didn’t expect it to be the last week of the season before the Cubs clinched the division. And I certainly didn’t expect the collapse against Arizona in the first round of the playoffs. Heartbroken all over again.
2008. The Expectations played a game on me. They hardened me. The Cubs won 97 freaking games. They just didn’t seem like they knew how to lose. They were so exciting. From the game on May 30th against the Rockies where the Lemons (the bench’s affectionate name) came back from a 9 run deficit TWICE to win. Z threw an unbelievable no hitter at Miller Park against the Astros. They had 8 players named to the All Star team…EIGHT PLAYERS! This was just a magical season. This was the 100 year mark from that dreaded 1908 milestone. It was not only expected that they win the World Series, it was fate. Destiny. I built it up so high in my head, it was a no-brainer. So when the post season collapse against the Dodgers took place (… you know, the one where they seemed to forget how to hit the ball like they had done all season? ) , something strange happened on that last out of the season. I wasn’t as much heartbroken. I wasn’t very sad. I was downright (pardon the language) PISSED! Anger filled my body. My remote control paid for that collapse, and duck tape couldn’t even fix it.
Since then, have tried to temper my expectations. They did nothing but put me on a very unnecessary roller coaster of emotions that I got sick of being on. That Dodger series put a bitterness in my soul that I wish I can get rid of.
Now, I’m not going to lie and say that EXPECTATION meter grew just a little… okay, so a lot… when the Cubs hired Theo and Jed, but not for immediate results. I bought into what Theo was trying to tell us about his plan. So, when last year started, I went into the season with NO expectations other than to sit back and enjoy the crack of the bat, feel the Wrigley Wind on my face, listen to the roar of the crowd and watch these “kids” go out and play while the true expectations were being groomed down in Iowa and Tennessee and Peoria. And you know what? It made the 101 losses just a little bit easier to swallow.
Now, as the 2013 baseball season is just about to get underway, I’m expecting just a few things.
1. I EXPECT a small improvement in the record, even if it’s just a few games, but I expect it to be under 100 losses.
2. I EXPECT to get excited to watch Rizzo as he grows into his role of a cornerstone of this team
3. I EXPECT to see great things out of Starlin Castro, both on the field and at the plate.
4. I EXPECT to see watch Theo’s plan grow in the farm system (And for the first time EVER, I am looking forward to those Spring Training games where the big league guys get their innings in and go off to play golf so we can see the future in action in the latter innings of the game!)
5. I EXPECT to enjoy the heck out of this season, because for the past five months, I’ve really REALLY missed baseball.
Welcome to 2013, Cub fans. It’s time to PLAY BALL! (with low expectations, of course )