By Connor Onion | @Conion22
Member of Ball State Sports Link
2015 Chicago Cubs: We’ll Wait. We’ll Hope. We’ll Pray.
Wait for prospects to develop. Wait for luck to change. Wait for a miracle.
Seven years and three days have passed since an embarrassing showing for the Chicago Cubs in the 2008 National League Divisional Series.
We’ve waited. We’ve wondered. We’ve prayed.
Will the Cubs ever return to the postseason?
“You can’t be wise and in love at the same time,” said Bob Dylan.
“You can’t be wise and a Cubs fan at the same time,” says Nature.
Wisdom is typically a product of time and experience.
Cubs fans endured the black cat in 1969, Leon Durham’s fateful error in 1984 and Steve Bartman’s thievery in 2003, yet they are none more wise.
As a Cubs fan you think with your heart, not your head. To be an eternal optimist is a blessing, but also – dare I say it – a curse.
We’ve blamed goats. We’ve blamed holy ghosts. We’ve blamed an innocent fan.
The wise understand baseball is just a game. The world of the wise continues to spin in the aftermath of a given baseball result.
On the rare occasion Chicago has its name called in the playoffs, the earth stops its orbit for Cubs fans. Doctor’s appointments are rescheduled. Work responsibilities are put on hold. Even midterms are pushed to a later date.
It is not wise, but it is loyal. It is love.
It’s fitting wisdom — or a lack thereof — that is a major component of a loyal Cubs supporter.
At season’s end in 2014, many predicted a lack of wisdom and maturity left Chicago two, maybe three years out from seriously contending.
The Cubs farm system was loaded with young talent. Four minor leaguers were ranked in the top 20 of Baseball America’s Preseason Prospect List.
Just three years earlier, when President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein was hired, the Cubs entered the 2012 season with the 20th best farm system in baseball. Entering 2015, no organization possessed more young talent than the Chicago Cubs.
However, the talent was unproven at the Major League Level.
Could Kris Bryant sustain his power numbers at the major league level (55 home runs in two minor league seasons)? Could Jorge Soler stay healthy? Does Addison Russell have a big league bat? Is Kyle Schwarber a big league catcher?
While we pondered what could be, wisdom came knocking.
A franchise desperate to exorcise demons left a fan base enchanted on The Day of the Dead, 2014 by naming Joe Maddon as the club’s manager.
“The Cubs are on the verge of winning and the playoffs,” Maddon said on the day he was introduced. “That should be a goal for next season.”
Cubs nation’s ears collectively perked up. Playoffs?! Hmm.
Buzz surrounded the arrival of the most interesting manager in the game, but Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer were not done.
After three off-seasons of shipping away expensive veterans, committing to cheap contracts and acquiring young position players, Chicago made its most high profile transaction since Alfonso Soriano was afforded an eight year, $136 million contract prior to the 2007 season.
More wisdom came to the north side of Chicago in the form of two-time World Series champion Jon Lester.
Could this accelerate the Cubs rebuild?
Cubs fans, thinking with their heart, began World Series dreaming.
Chicago opened the 2015 season hopeful, but with expectations minimal.
Three of the top four prospects remained in the minor leagues for opening night against the St. Louis Cardinals, the exception being right fielder Jorge Soler.
Twelve short days later, on April 17th the dominoes began to fall. The second coming of Mike Schmidt, 23-year old slugger Kris Bryant arrived in the show.
Four days later, Addison Russell was promoted. By the start of the second half Kyle Schwarber joined the troops full-time, platooning as a catcher and outfielder.
The rebuild process was over. Next year was here.
Then it wasn’t. Then it was again.
In the first half, the Cubs played well enough to be a game up on the Mets for the second wild card spot. The first two weeks of the second half presented the opportunity for Chicago to bolster its chances in the National League with 17 consecutive games against teams below .500.
But, they stumbled.
A team led by a major league high four rookie position players struggled to find its footing, splitting a four game series with the lowly Reds and being swept by MLB’s worst team at home in the Philadelphia Phillies.
The defending champion San Francisco Giants began doing San Francisco things, winning 10 of its first 12 games in the second half, seizing a 2.5 game lead on the Cubs in the Wild Card.
A promising first half seemed like a distant memory.
Well, wait until next year, we thought.
Typical, unwise, ‘think with your heart’ Cubs fan speak.
The next night, the Colorado Rockies came to town.
Wrigley Field radiated with cautious optimism.
Tonight’s the night we’ll get back on track.
The beginning stages of an emotional roller coaster went something like this…
2-0 Rockies lead. Here we go again.
4-0 Rockies lead. We are bad.
7-4 Cubs lead. We are back.
Steve Metroff, a fellow die-hard Cubs fan, with the Cubs leading 7-4 in the bottom of the 8th inning began singing, “Hey Chicago, whatta ya say? The Cubs are gonna win today.”
Moments later, singing had subsided. A gut punch provided by a Carlos Gonzalez two-run homer capped off a four-run top of the ninth inning. 8-7 Rockies.
F***. F***. F***.
Faces were in palms. 40,000 once energized fans were reduced to a hush.
So, so Cubs.
Cubs’ teams of the past would have been fried. The 2015 Cubs are too naïve.
Bottom of the ninth, two outs, one run Rockies lead, Dexter Fowler on first, Kris Bryant at the plate, a desperate fan base in the stands.
A 1-0, knee high, inside, hanging breaking ball left Bryant’s bat, traveling deep into the Wrigleyville night.
Cubs win. Cubs win. Cubs win.
Faces in palms turned to celebratory clenched fists above heads and hugs all around.
The season was saved.
The Giants were in the midst of a six-game winning streak on that July 27th night, so the Cubs did not gain any ground, but the Kris Bryant walk off triggered the best two-month stretch of baseball the northsiders have seen since 2008.
In the first four months of the season, Chicago won 55 games. In the final two months alone, the Cubs won 42 contests.
A team, who floated around .500 through July, blossomed into a National League juggernaut following the win against the Rockies.
Two days following Bryant’s heroics, Chicago ripped off 15 wins in 16 games from July 29-August 15, including a dominating four-game sweep of the San Francisco Giants, giving the Cubs a 3.5 game Wild Card lead, an advantage which was never surrendered.
Jake Arrieta’s historic 11-0 record and 0.41 ERA since August 1st certainly helped matters. A no-hitter on Sunday Night Baseball against the Dodgers didn’t hurt either.
However, the most gratifying accomplishment of the final stretch of the 2015 regular season came during two September series vs. the St. Louis Cardinals.
Chicago took two-out-of-three on both occasions. After beginning the season 2-7 vs. their feathered foes, it seemed like St. Louis was just another evil spirit plaguing the Cubs.
The kids grew up. Now they believe.
We’ve waited for youth to turn to wisdom. We’ve waited for curses to be reversed. We’ve waited for another shot.
Wednesday night, we do what Cubs fans do. We’ll think with our heart, not our head.
We’ll wait, we’ll wonder and we’ll pray next year is here.