By Dan Bernstein-
(CBS) Hope and possibility are just a matter of time, at least for Chicago baseball.
One side of town is banking on instant alchemy — wishing bad into good, old into young, and potential into progress. The bet has been made that a new manager’s placid inexperience can actually become some kind of inscrutable wisdom. And it’s all supposed to begin immediately.
The other side is only beginning the beginning of its beginning, but still selling tickets to whatever it is. Imagine going into a movie theater, settling into your seat, waiting for the lights to dim, and then spending two hours watching the writers scribbling notes in the margins of the script’s first draft.
The White Sox have big names with big salaries, somehow trying to navigate their way back out of their self-created “All In” wilderness, and needing an unlikely run of best-case scenarios to do so. With no prospects in the wings – their minor leagues stripped bare by go-for-it deals and left dry after fruitless drafts – their team is here, and now.
The Cubs’ team does not really exist, yet. Ciphers fill uniforms, looking the part.
One major-leaguer matters, one key minor-leaguer matures in Des Moines, and a Cuban potential-signee-to-be remains in paperwork limbo, and the rest is just that. The cranes and trucks in and around Wrigley Field these days are an apt image, even as the bunting is hung and Bill Murray is trotted out.
While the quality of play in both places may be similar, the difference lies in the desperation.
The Sox are needy. They have to be better than everybody seems to believe, and they have to show that they are right away, lest a cranky fandom write them off. Cash at the gate is needed to offset expenditures, and it’s not coming if there’s anything but a robust start to the season. No quick fixes are available, as nobody is waiting for a turn. No Plan B for Ken Williams, who owns this uncertain production.
His counterparts, though, are afforded the comfort of a more distant horizon. Cubs fans will have to look carefully for green shoots of progress into more modern baseball, and they will be visible to the perceptive observer. Watch how the defense is positioned specifically for every next pitch, as intricate charts are consulted relentlessly. Notice how many more pitches hitters see, and how often they step out of the box. Check the increase in overall game times. Not the most exciting stuff, but that’s what this is.
Baseball is returning, yet the feeling is attenuated and odd.
The Sox have to be relevant and real, probably won’t, and are working without a net. This seems like a last chance of some kind for a regime to recapture any fading vestige of World Series magic that was forever ago – the continued presence of Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski now more sad reminder than warm, emotional connection.
And the Cubs don’t really have to do…anything.
A season opens: one team’s narrative entirely about what is just wasn’t, and what it now is. The other’s entirely about what it is yet to be.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.