By Adam Harris–
It is a 162 game season played out over 183 days; the journey that Major League Baseball teams take over the next six months is the definition of a marathon, not a sprint, therefore many often overlook the importance of the first month of the baseball season.
However, it is very important not to overlook the importance of the beginning of the season for the Chicago Cubs. Kicking off their year against the projected last place Pittsburgh Pirates for three games at Wrigley Field, the Cubs might be going into their most anticipated beginning of a season since 2004 where they came off a near trip to the World Series and still had Mark Prior and Kerry Wood on the mound.
The anticipation I speak of, is much different than 2004’s however. This year the fans, writers, and baseball watchers’ anticipation is not of success, but of failure and uncertainty.
Everyone I talk to seems to be confused with the 2011 Cubs identity. The question constantly asked around the city is, “what do you think the Cubs will do this year?” The answers range from first in the division to last in the division, but the most common answer seems to be “Uh…hmmm…I don’t know.”
The Ricketts family took ownership of this team before the start of last year, and have yet to give Cub fans hope and reason to believe a World Series is in the near future. The signing of Carlos Pena in the off season is confusing because it is for only one year and is for just over $10 million. Kerry Wood might prove to be a nice off-season addition to the bullpen, but what does Wood really mean for the future of this franchise? These two moves prove this team is trying to win now.
On the other hand, putting faith in players like Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin and, even Darwin Barney at second base shows signs of youth and excitement towards the future. The release of Carlos Silva was a move motivated by baseball knowledge and not money, which was unexpected for this ownership regime. The hiring of Mike Quade as manager was not a “sexy” move, but a smart baseball one. The famous, highly touted manager is not always the correct fit (ex: Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella).
Because of this confusion on what to believe this Cub team is, the first month for this team is vital to gain faith from it’s fans and create interest that could carry their attendance number throughout the summer.
For example, if the Cubs end April with a mediocre record below .500 all the fans on the fence about this team’s potential will land on the pessimistic side, and all the fans already on that side will have been proven correct. Interest will be lost and a very large group of casual Cub fans will again follow their north side team, leaving seats empty at Wrigley Field throughout the summer.
If the Cubs start off above .500 and play promising baseball (and don’t make errors or blow games late) the fence riders will be forced to stick with their team for another month. Baseball fans are deep down optimists, especially Cub fans. They often just need their team to give them a little push toward faith and positive thinking.
This can only be done on the field once the season starts. Winning solves all problems. All will be forgotten and forgiven if the Cubs win and make this summer a fun one for fans.
Personally I need this summer to be a great one. I need to Cubs to win in order for that to happen.