By Nick Shepkowski–
(CBS) Take a stroll around Wrigleyville these days, and the scene isn’t nearly the same. Gone is the McDonald’s you used to get your hangover prevention burger at on a Saturday night after sitting in the bleachers with your college buddies you just graduated with.
Closed today is the 7-Eleven you had to buy a charger in because the Cubs and Reds went 14 innings and your phone died.
And as is the case on a seemingly monthly basis, one walk down Clark Street south of the park will show you three more bars have come and gone since your last visit to the neighborhood.
As the Scorpions said in 1990:
“I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change”
I don’t think the German band was talking about anything to do with the Chicago Cubs two-and-a-half decades ago, but they may as well have been.
We’ve already seen Wrigley Field itself transform with more advertising in and around the park and the addition of video boards in both left and right fields. We’ve also gone over the change in the neighborhood that’s soon to consist of new luxury apartments and a hotel.
But where the ultimate change is happening is with the actual team and their perception to baseball fans worldwide.
“Lovable Losers” is the term we grew up hearing the Cubs called. Personally, I don’t know what’s all that lovable about a team that has finished over .500 just 11 times in my 30 years on Earth, but whatever it was kept me interested.
Going forward, those days will be a thing from seemingly a different world. Gone will be the days thinking Ty Griffin, Rick Wilkins or Derrick May are going to be the next great thing. Instead, actual homegrown stars like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber will continue to make the difference at the big league level like you were told they would.
Gone are the days of thinking each playoff appearance was a one-shot deal, like so many of us did in 1989 and 1998 or how 2003 eventually played out. And over are the developmental years of trying to guess who’s going to have a chance at being on the roster when the going finally gets good.
2015 was one of the most memorable years for many Cubs fans because expectations for most weren’t nearly that high, and winning 97 games wound up being an extremely pleasant surprise.
For the foreseeable future, the expectation will be for this team to be in the playoffs — no ifs, ands or buts about it and not just here or there. Every year for the foreseeable future, it’s going to be a disappointment if October baseball comes around and the Cubs aren’t a part of it.
Instead of growing up with the busts that were Jerome Walton, Dwight Smith and Kevin Roberson like I did, my one-year-old nephew will grow up in a world where the Cubs are regularly good and the likes of Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell actually perform somewhere near the level they were hyped to.
It’s strange, but 2016 is the first of many years to come of the Cubs being among the first teams named when you talk hear “World Series favorites.”
If Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Joe Maddon and the rest of the Cubs’ brass get their wish, three years from now we’ll be looking at a team that’s close to on par with the Yankees, Red Sox and Cardinals in terms of how much they’re disliked, simply because of their constant winning.
That’s a place that’s as far as can be from the “Lovable Losers” junk so many of us grew up with and one that’s still difficult for some to understand — but it couldn’t possibly be a better development for Cubs fans.