By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — His glass raised and full, his heart even fuller, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts called for a toast late Friday afternoon in the home clubhouse.
When Ricketts bought the Cubs back in 2009, he dreamed of celebrations like these. They’re becoming a regularity now for these Cubs, the NL Central champions whose celebration started with a walk-off homer by Miguel Montero and a thrilling 5-4 win over the Brewers.
That started the party.
“All I did was buy some time with the fans,” Ricketts said to the players, coaches, front office leaders and everyone else before him. “We used that time to build the best team in all of baseball.”
Naturally, the Cubs erupted. It was another magical moment in a season filled with so many. They hope it’s just the beginning of their journey as October awaits around the corner.
Ricketts’ first step was the most important — landing brilliant executive Theo Epstein from Boston. Then came the waiting, for Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber and more to join Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs brought in Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Aroldis Chapman and more. They developed the likes of Javier Baez and Kyle Hendricks into key pieces.
Waiting was the hardest part. It was certainly worth it.
With the division finally theirs, Epstein and his baseball brass spent the day in the bleachers, enjoying the fruits of their labors. He even donned a mustache, creating a not-so-clever surprise. Epstein wanted to enjoy what they created.
“Champagne is the best smell in baseball,” Epstein said. “It never gets old. Even though we’ve been expecting this for a little bit now, it still makes you sit back and reflect on all the people who contributed, how happy this makes everybody and the opportunity it gives us to go do something even more special.”
Something more special for the Cubs would be winning the franchise’s first World Series championship since 1908 — 108 years of suffering and counting. Fans have been waiting for a team like this. They chanted the names of every player and coach in sight, from “M-V-P” toward Bryant to “Chad Noble!” for the bullpen catcher.
Every member of this Cubs team is worth appreciating. Last season, they caught baseball by surprise in winning 97 games and reaching the NLCS. This time, they faced monster expectations and managed to exceed them. They’ve won 94 games with two weeks to go in the season and dethroned the Cardinals by 17 games to win the division.
The Cubs embraced the target and celebrated. They enjoy every victory, but that didn’t mean Friday’s party would be subtle — not by any means, with even greater goals in sight.
Unique characters fill the Cubs’ champagne-soaked clubhouse, yet what makes this team special is how it forms a selfless team.
“It’s just a great group,” Lester said. “Guys give a s–t. That’s my thing, guys care. At the end of the day, you can make up for mistakes, you can make up for lack of talent, you can make up for a lot of things when guys care. From top to bottom, everybody in that dugout, everybody in that front office cares.”
Playoff baseball is simply unpredictable. Greater teams than this have fallen short of the ultimate prize.
At the least, the Cubs can stake claim to the best chance of any team to win it all, but there are no guarantees.
The 39-year-old David Ross understands this better than anybody on his young team. He’s played 15 major league seasons with seven different teams and understands what the Cubs are up against.
Ross rode the Red Line from Fullerton to Addison for Thursday’s game so he could appreciate the little beauties of baseball in what he’s said is his final season. Late Thursday night, Ross walked along Sheffield Avenue as the Cardinals faced a division-deciding deficit. He poked his head into bar windows and checked the scores. The Cubs were on their way.
Finally, the Cubs had clinched, courtesy of a Giants victory just before midnight. Ross entered an establishment and was instantly recognized — “Imagine being Kris Bryant,” he joked — and celebrated with a shot of Jameson.
“I don’t know how to put it into words,” Ross said. “I’m just trying to enjoy every day.”
Ross is just one of so many stories surrounding this Cubs team. Players like Rizzo, Bryant, Russell, Willson Contreras, Baez, Arrieta, Lester, Hendricks, Hector Rondon and so many more have created something wonderful. Epstein had the vision, manager Joe Maddon worked his madness and something amazing has happened.
Long before Ricketts could raise his glass and toast a World Series favorite, there were dreams of a team like this. Perhaps there are many more memories in store for this magical ride.
“They just keep coming this year,” Ross said. “I hope it ends with somebody on the mound holding that trophy up.”