Spiegel: The Cubs’ Long Goodbye

By Matt Spiegel–

(CBS) I’ve said goodbye to baseball here in Chicago every season.

I go to a game on whichever side of town is last available and convenient, usually alone, and sometimes for just four or five innings. It’s been a tradition for a very long time.

I remember a White Sox-Royals matchup in late September 2014, a Thursday night loss on the way to a fourth-place finish for the White Sox. I moved down and sat in the stands as close to the field as possible, drank in the sights and smells and sounds, interacted with random fans as you do at the ballpark and watched the game for a bit. I say goodbye to my favorite game as passed down through generations; see you in the spring.

At Wrigley Field on Thursday night, after Dodgers outfielder Kike Hernandez’s grand slam off of Cubs reliever Hector Rondon, you realized what the rest of the game was going to be.

The long goodbye.

The final six innings at the park felt like a slowly decaying, sad party. A quiet, really weird, progressively emptier party. It was a beautiful fall night. You could hear conversations all over the place. People were moving around, borrowing tickets from each other, commiserating with friends and strangers alike. People were stepping outside to the Park at Wrigley and coming back. Eating, plenty of drinking.

Meanwhile, the last six innings of the series and season went on in your general vicinity. They didn’t really matter, at all.

It was oddly comforting. At least to me.

These Cubs a huge success. It didn’t deliver the highs of 2016. There’s always last year, as the clever shirt says these days.

But the 2016 Cubs season was a huge success. Three straight trips to the National League Championship Series, with a title in the middle, is a run every fan in the history of the franchise would’ve signed up for in a heartbeat at any point since 1908. The future is still bright, with a brilliant front office, lots of financial resources and a core of players who were the youngest in the playoffs. It’s easy to forget that many off these guys haven’t approached their full potential.

The task at hand is obvious and difficult. Tweak the system, maintain the winning window and improve the weaknesses. There’s lots of time to talk about it and then to do it.

Perspective in this moment is pretty easy to come by. We’ve all had several days to wrap our heads around the loss that was coming to the mighty Dodgers, then we got the final six innings to let it sink in Thursday.

Good job, good effort.

Thank you for battling through the World Series hangover and eventually playing lots of good baseball. Eventually.

Thank you as an organization for going for it with aggressive trades to try and win right now — and yet keep the next few years viable too.  Thanks even for the trades that didn’t work.

Thank you for holding off the Brewers; better stay on point next year to keep them at bay.

Thank you for rolling the Cardinals all year, especially in that September vanquishing at their place. The Cardinals are, for right now, the intimidated little brother in the relationship; better stay on point to keep it that way.

Thank you for an insane NL Division Serires win over the Nationals. Game 3 at Wrigley and Game 5 at their place in particular were memorable, emotional, entertaining and eventually rewarding.

Thank you for winning at Wrigley Field on Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NLCS. You didn’t fully roll over and accept the sweep.  You gave fans one more delivery of victory from the jaws of collapse, one more chance to sing that weird song together and walk out of the building in happiness.

Lick your wounds, Cubs. Go away and sleep on a beach somewhere for a while. Then come back, dissect what went wrong, figure out what was controllable in every facet. Decide on the priorities for 2018 and beyond.

Please get ready to be great from the very start next season. Don’t wait for your backs to be against some self-made wall. Don’t wait for the Brewers or their like to eventually prove they aren’t quite ready. Don’t force your bosses to repeatedly explain your seeming lack of focus, and then scramble to improve the roster more than necessary.

Seize the 2018 baseball season from day one. Understand how sacred it is.

Play well and have fun.

Entertain us, again. Give us reasons to dream and six months of worthwhile sports companionship.

Give us another October.

2016 memories will remain pristine. That season and World Series championship happened and always will have happened. But the Cubs are no longer the defending champs. They’re still the reigning champs, but only until Nov. 1 at the latest.

This morning felt a little colder than yesterday morning in Chicago. Fall is in full swing; it’s Mitch Trubisky season. Winter is coming, with the hungry Blackhawks and the tanking Bulls ready to grab focus.

Baseball will start again in earnest in late February, when the Cubs reconvene to climb the tree for another bite at the apple.

The White Sox will be a fascinating spring training team to watch, with a chance to showcase several rebuild pieces and perhaps show themselves to be a bit ahead of schedule.

Both sides of town will be engaged.

Goodbye, local baseball.

I’m already looking forward to your return.

Matt Spiegel is a host on the Spiegel and Parkins Show on 670 The Score from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on weekdays. Follow him on Twitter @MattSpiegel670.

More from Matt Spiegel

Watch & Listen LIVE