By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Historians may debate the exact origin, but I subscribe to it beginning June 26, 2012, according to the Gregorian calendar. The initial savior of Cubdom, Anthony Rizzo, or “Chrizzo,” first appeared to lead the masses out of the darkness after so many false idols before him. As a member of the Reformed Church of Cubs and Latter Day Ain’ts, I trace his call-up as the beginning of the end of North Side orthodoxy of mediocrity. The great Epstoyer prophesy of rebirth was coming true.
Since then, Chrizzo and Starlin the Bat-tist (don’t worry, the wordplay gets worse) have suffered, died in the arena of public opinion and seemingly been resurrected, and the Cubs have won 160 games and lost 221. They have been by no means a good baseball team in that time, and non-believers and many of little faith have treated the past two years as an indictment of the Theo Epstein plan rather than bearing witness to a gradual solidification of it. Yet I can’t fathom a more watchable 14-games-under-.500 team than the 2014 Cubs. And they just became even more so as highly touted prospect Jorge Soler is expected to join the team in Cincinnati by Wednesday at the latest.
That it would take some time was impressed upon us very blatantly, but for some, after a lifetime of unfulfilled promises, asking that we wait three or four years for it to materialize was tough to swallow. Restlessness has turned to apathy.
“In 2014, the Cubs don’t even average 50,000 homes for many of their games,” according to the Chicago Tribune’s Ed Sherman. “The Cubs, headed for a fourth straight season with 90 or more defeats, are averaging a 1.5 rating for their games on (Comcast Sports Net) this year, down 72 percent from their 5.0 average rating in 2008; 1 local ratings point currently equates to 36,000 homes.
“WGN declined to disclose its 2014 ratings for the Cubs … It is safe to say the ratings declines for baseball on WGN are similar to what CSN has experienced.”
People aren’t showing up to Wrigley Field in stereotypical fashion either. Since 2009, ticket sales are down 6,500 a game and dropped 13.7 percent during the first four years of the Tom Ricketts era of ownership. While this church is rebuilding its image, it’s also hemorrhaging followers. The movement or lack thereof is currently filled with “holiday churchgoers” caring only about the Easter of Opening Day and Christmas of playoffs that will eventually come rather than the dedicated weekly folk. And while I get that for many fans the viewing experience is based on an assumed likelihood of watching a winning product, I don’t find myself — even despite any professional writing responsibilities — disinterested in the team. Quite the opposite, really.
The wins aren’t there, but the maturation of individuals is. The improvement of Rizzo and Castro has been fascinating and reassuring. They’re also veterans at ages 25 and 24, respectively. Arismendy Alcantara — “The Bridge” — came into the lineup on July 9 hot, but MLB pitching has started to figure him out. Watching how he adjusts to the adjustments as well as his athleticism allowing him to grow from an infielder into a center fielder that may be patrolling Wrigley for a while bears noting.
And then there is Javier Baez. Baezus. His at-bats are appointment viewing with a beautiful Sheffieldian violence to his swing that sends balls onto Waveland Ave. Baez has seven home runs in just 86 plate appearance, but he also sports a 41.9 percent strikeout rate. The strikeouts will always be there with that swing, but they presumably will go down with time while batted balls go up and over fences.
Oh, and for those blasphemers out there who love to cry, “Yeah, but what about the pitching?” Jake Arrieta has been ridiculous in addition to the pleasant surprises of Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada. Travis Wood has been disappointing, but at 27 and having shown he can be good in the past, I’m willing to bet his current form is not his permanent one. And Epstein has shown in the past that he’ll buy appropriate pitching when needed after growing the more important bats.
I don’t yet have a punny religious nickname for Soler, and I will work on one (sorry), but he has refueled the giddiness in those still paying attention that seems to occur every few weeks with new prospect blood being added to the big club. And thus this team in its larva stage to me is fascinating to watch, even though going into each game I’m not even expecting or so much caring about a win.
Those will come later. I’m faithful in that.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.