By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – On Friday morning at Wrigley Field, the Cubs’ clubhouse was ready for a celebration. There were bottles of bubbly nestled away, ready for a party.
“As big as it possibly could be,” manager Joe Maddon said earlier this week, looking ahead to the clincher.
With a win over Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon, the Cubs will clinch their place in the postseason, most likely in the NL wild-card contest with the Pirates. It’s seemed destined for a while, with these two teams trailing St. Louis for baseball’s best record for some time. Throughout the journey, excitement has built and confidence has grown. And with each passing victory has come a celebration, with a disco ball, dancing and a smoke machine.
Hitting consultant Manny Ramirez knows the best could be yet to come. He’s one of the few Cubs who boasts a World Series ring – two, in fact, with Boston. He was part of a Red Sox team in 2004 that ended a long curse for a city starving for championship, then they did it again in 2007.
Under Theo Epstein’s direction, the Red Sox ended their long drought and sustained success. Their celebrations were something special.
“I feel the same way and I’m not even playing right now,” Ramirez said Friday. “It’s unbelievable when you accomplish that for the city – especially for a city like Chicago. Man, the sky’s the limit. If it happens here, it’s going to be awesome.”
In 2014, Ramirez was brought in by Epstein to mentor members of the Cubs’ young core as a coach. He’s been instrumental in the growth of Javier Baez and sudden turnaround for Starlin Castro, among many others. Ramirez still hasn’t technically announced his retirement, because the memories of his playing days remain fresh.
Every so often, Ramirez pops in the tapes of the Red Sox wins in 2004 and 2007 and smiles. He watches the parades and enjoys how Boston embraced the wins.
“The whole city shut down,” Ramirez recalled. “It was unbelievable.”
Now, Ramirez watches how the Cubs have approached their success this season. It’s a group that hasn’t taken anything for granted. Friday could bring the first of several clinchers for this team.
When Ramirez first joined the Cubs’ organization, he worked with young players in Triple-A Iowa last season while serving in a player-coach role. He then saw the potential for long-term success. That began to look more realistic when the team came together this past February.
“I remember my first day in spring training,” Ramirez said. “I saw the group of guys and I told them, ‘Hey, this is the year.’ And they’ve played awesome.”
Countless moments and memories have come with this role for Ramirez, one which he cherishes. It’s brought him back to the game of baseball, moving past an ugly exit from the game in 2010, when he was suspended for PED use.
Ramirez is closer to the good times he enjoyed back in Boston, with this feeling and the chance to do it all over again in Chicago. He hopes the players soak it in, too, because it doesn’t last forever.
“They’re going to experience something great,” he said. “When you get into the playoffs, you got to really enjoy it and appreciate what you have, because you never know when you’ll come back.”
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.