By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Don’t rest on your laurels, as the axiomatic idiom or idiomatic axiom goes. After generations of fruitless play among the famous ivy, though, the laurel-like have been as much a pox as a trophy at Wrigley Field.
Monday evening will see the celebration of a laurel of the non-plant variety, the rarest of genus vexillum, appearing at Wrigley for the first time in any of our lives. Its beauty will lie in its perennial condition rather than some fleeting annual to die off and break the hearts of so many who have invested a piece of themselves in its blossoming.
As the Chicago Cubs raise the banner Monday evening denoting their 2016 World Series title, I would have a hard time telling anyone gazing at this peculiarity not to sigh in relief and put the finishing touches on releasing all that psychological weight of Cubdom. Then, as it flaps in the Hawk Wind by the shores of old Lake Michigan, you the Cubs fan, may rest.
“Like everything else, I will encourage my guys to slow it down, take those mental snapshots, enjoy it, don’t let it happen too quickly, understand this is good, you celebrate achievement,” manager Joe Maddon said of the Monday festivities. “So for all those different reasons, I am looking forward to it. I will tell myself to slow it down and enjoy it.”
Cubs fans deserve to have heart rates slowed, to have the pending Monday game against the Los Angeles Dodgers be out of sight and mind for a few moments for the sake of being awash in bright lights of Wrigley. They deserve to enjoy this solidification.
A banner is a symbol, a representation of 100-plus next years actually arrived. Symbols on their own hold no meaning, and it’s only through people that a flapping flag holds something more than an indicator of the wind. For millions this Monday, banner-raising is something concrete, tangible. It’s validation that it all really happened, because even now repeating to yourself daily that “The Cubs won the World Series” still doesn’t feel absolute. It will fly forever, a beacon that so much problem drinking and lost hair and tears for so many years were not in vain, and it can never be taken away like Cubby occurrence after Cubby occurrence.
“I love banner raisings,” Maddon said. “Rings are wonderful, but I love banner raisings. That’s symbolically there all the time. Every time a kid shows up at the ballpark, he sees that banner. Hopefully we’re going to be able to add more.”
Some may not need such a thing for validation, and that’s cool. Banners and flags can be dangerous when clung to irrationally. Just point and laugh at anyone in the 21st century with a connection to the stars-and-bars of the Confederacy, now the ultimate symbol of American loserdom and stubborn refusal to let go of problematic relics. Cub fans were so mockable until November 2016 (and sometimes just as bigoted).
It’s a flag culture, after all. The W flag is now jutting off of garages and hanging out of apartment windows and flitting from car antennae up, down and across Chicago. Prior to winning the World Series, though, a W flag had creeped its way toward another absurdity of Cub culture.
The banner being raised on Monday night saves those W flags, brings the occasional L flag that much more humility and makes both all the less Confederate.
“I still don’t know what I’m doing,” reliever Carl Edwards Jr. said of how everything has settled inside him post-World Series win.
He’s certainly not alone. The unfamiliarity of champion status in North Side baseball has been a foggy but fun navigation so far. Perhaps Monday will clear some of that up for all the Carls.
The banner will be a bridging mechanism. Soot Zimmer, widow of Don Zimmer, manager of the Cubs 1989 playoff team and who worked with Maddon with the Tampa Bay Rays, will be attending the Monday ceremony at Maddon’s request, along with her grandson. She’ll embody that important isthmus to that Cubs country that from which most Cubs fans have mostly expatriated to this new land of expected success.
“It’s just appropriate that she’s going to be at another Opening Day,” Maddon said. “And to be there for this one – I thought it was necessary, based on not only her affiliation with the Cubs, but (my connection) with their family.”
While it’s important to not hold on to the many ghosts of Cubdom, a tip of the cap to the Popeye Zimmers that contributed to so much collective scar tissue and made every fan ligament stronger for it is a nice touch.
And as we all move on to the new Cubs culture away from the moral victories and dumb mantras (“That’s Cub” notwithstanding), the Friendly Confines are physically different, most notably in the absence of bullpens from the field of play. There’s a symbolism to that, a moving on from certain absurd antiquities. Yeah, in the moment watching a visiting player stumble across a hump going for a foul ball was comical, but those bullpens always seemed more awkward than kitschy. And I’m a bit more at ease not having to worry about a Cub tearing knee ligaments among scattering relief pitchers and folding chairs.
“No more stupid games, no more getting hit with baseballs,” Cubs reliever Justin Grimm said. “They probably sped (renovations) up a year (to eliminate the game). We’re not going to be able to see the video board either. Not that any of that is important. The most important thing is having a nice mound, having room to get warm so that we’re not running back and forth to the clubhouse to get warm and running back out. It will end up being a positive move.”
This collection of Cubs personnel is dynasty-capable, and if we look back on this core 10 years from now and they won a mere single World Series, it would have to be regarded as failure. After the banner is up, it’s about beating the Dodgers and then everyone else and repeating October and November.
“It’d be kind of an insult to say ‘Let’s just play some baseball,’” shortstop Addison Russell said about what he expects for Monday night. “But whenever you have awards like that, that crowd is there for you, you just kind of have to embrace that moment and live in that moment and try to remember everything that you can in that moment. It’ll be special.”
Special because a banner that waves high above Wrigley Field isn’t only new but also cathartic and respite. It will bring smiles and tears, for sure. Most of all, it will provide a vacancy sign, a final stop for the weary blue-pinstriped traveler to finally rest.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.