By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) It’s been 103 days since the Chicago Cubs won a World Series. My patience with this organization is already wearing thin.
That’s the kind of terrible humor you’ll be getting from me this baseball season as I, like so many with an interest in the Cubs, enter foreign territory: discussing the Cubs as the defending champions. When I’m amid the unfamiliar, I use reaching humor as a coping mechanism. That and booze. And my columns on the Cubs will be full of both (so maybe not much will change in that regard).
But as Cubs pitchers and catchers officially report Tuesday, that formally normal feeling of rebirth and wondrous possibilities that accompany the pending thaw isn’t there. Hell, this abnormal winter isn’t helping either (and the discs in my back aren’t complaining for lack of shoveling as I try to ignore the climate change issue).
Something’s there. It’s part “Oh, baseball, yeah, that thing is back,” which used to be “Hell yeah, baseball, baby! Hail hydra!” The latter was much a byproduct of salvation from Bulls suckage — and thanks to GarPax starting and letting that thing burn, it still is a bit — and baseball as filler of a hole that regular-season hockey’s secret meaninglessness can’t totally accomplish.
This isn’t newfound hubris, my lack of emotion for the return of the Cubs. I promise I won’t be that guy who’s all “Been there, done that” hipster after experiencing one World Series title in a lifetime. Still, the weirdness of my existence of defending champion fan for the first time ever has me at a discomfort over lack of discomfort. Luckily, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein is here to talk me through it.
“When you win, you get pulled in a lot of different directions,” Epstein told the Chicago Sun-Times. “And there can be a tendency to at some point, no matter how high the character, to start thinking about yourself a little bit more.”
I know what you mean, Theo. And I’m doing a pretty good job of keeping this ego in check, I think.
“You have to work really hard — we all do — to avoid any kind of organizational arrogance, any sense of entitlement, to really understand that of all the great things that happened last year, the most special aspect was we all got to be a part of something bigger than ourselves,” Epstein said.
For me, it’s not about hard work as much as being self-aware. Seeing lanky dudes stretching and seeing a pitcher jog in a windbreaker and me thinking he’s hardly any more athletic than I am still registers for me as it always has. It’s a blip on the heart monitor.
Yet as the first of multiple beginnings to the season gets underway (the next is the first spring training game and then the first regular-season game and then the first 670 The Score caller demanding Joe Maddon be fired for not moving Anthony Rizzo down in the lineup during a week-long slump), I don’t know how to feel. But know what? That’s OK.
I know I’m still teeming with leftover satisfaction. I know the Cubs are favored by Bovada to repeat as champs. I know the Cubs on paper might be better in 2017 than in 2016 (SCHWARBER SMASH THINGS).
That stuff makes it tough to conjure up some anxiety that mixes with the joy of a new baseball season. Comprehending that the Cubs were baseball’s best team and continue to be baseball’s best team headed into another year is still a sort of fiction, yet a great problem to have.
“Generally speaking, teams that win it all sometimes face unique challenges, where a lot of things come up that pull everyone associated with the organization in different directions,” Epstein told the Sun-Times. “And locking back into that team-first, competitive, connected mindset is really important.”
Tell me about it, dude. But I’m trying here, fully aware that it’s about trying to repeat the magic with an incredibly talented team built on a philosophy of sustained success instead of a front office trying annually to kamikaze its way into contending via free agency and burning the farm system.
What can I be bothered about? Kyle Schwarber’s knee? OK, that’s a start, I guess. Albert Almora in center. Not really spooky. Will Maddon go with a six-man rotation for the whole season, and will it work? And what will his new slogan be, and will the XL shirt I buy with it really be an XL or one of those sneaky dumb skinny fit XLs that unfortunately accentuate my bosoms. Sigh. Worry me, Theo.
“The primary reason why it’s hard to repeat is just because it’s really difficult to win the World Series,” Epstein said. “In any given year, if you’re any old team, you have a 3 percent chance. If you’re the best team, you might have a 10-12 percent chance. It’s just hard to do.”
Meh. Save for a rash of major injuries, the Cubs not winning the division would be a major upset, and then the crapshoot of the playoffs can get me all twisted in October. Between now and then, what do I got?
Really good baseball for the better part of the next eight months or so actually. I’m suddenly incredibly spoiled in that regard.
And then the discomfort over a dearth of discomfort is a pretty good feeling to have. Which leaves more time for terrible inevitable Cubs jokes to feel the void. Sorry.
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.