A better late than never ‘Cubs won the World Series’ blog post

img_6980It probably shouldn’t have taken this long to write, but here goes nothing…

Remember when the Cubs won the World Series? I do. It was just a week ago and I feel like I could use a reminder of happier times.

I received hundreds of messages when the Cubs won the World Series, which is crazy to think that hundreds of people had me on their mind during or after a baseball game. That’s crazy and humbling at the same time. 

Watching Game 7 at Metro was everything I’d want a public viewing experience to be. Big screen, quality sound, passionate fans and delicious beer. The most important aspect might have been the company I kept. Whether it has been in the bleachers or at a bar, taking in baseball with Brett, Tim, Jim, Adam, Tommy, Myles and others has been a real treat. For me, it’s the ideal combination of wit, snark, baseball knowledge, passion and other intangibles that makes watching the game better with them. I couldn’t ask for a better group to share that experience.

If I had a dollar for every time someone messaged me asking how I felt or what my reaction was after the win, I’d have enough to buy a few of those World Series champion hats that were retailing for $50 on the streets of Wrigleyville. Alas, that was the hardest question to answer because — honestly — I didn’t have any feelings.

These tweets were not hyperbole. At this point I was mentally, emotionally and even physically drained. So much so, I texted a friend I wasn’t sure how I was messaging him because I felt so numb. I really could have used a nap. My friend Ryan warned me about the emotional toll the World Series would take on me. As a Cardinals fan, he had been through that ringer before and even messaged me with wellness checks. Who does that? Yet, no one warned me about the increase in gray hairs in my beard. Not cool.

Remember when Ben Zobrist bailed out his manager in Game 7 of the World Series?

It was most fitting because Joe Maddon helped mold Zobrist into the player who won World Series MVP back when they were with the Tampa Bay Rays. Zobrist wasn’t blessed with ridiculous athleticism or off-the-charts raw skills, but instead possesses a variety of abilities (contact and on-base skills, defensive versatility, plate discipline, etc.) that help make him a winning player. Go figure he’s the 17th most valuable player based on Fangraphs’ WAR calculations since 2006, which was his first in The Show.

In a year where Cubs players picked up their teammates time and again, it was good to see them do it for their manager at the most crucial time.

The concept of a “Team Win” is cliche, but sometimes there is truth in cliche. Just ask the 2016 Cubs who participated in Game 7.

  • All 9 starters collected hits
  • 8 players drove in at least one RBI
  • 7 players scored runs
  • 5 pitchers pitched

The breakdown of these players is unique, too.

  • 5 players drafted or signed as international free agents
  • 9 players acquired via trade
  • 4 players signed via free agency

All things considered, the Cubs to be everything people told us they could never be.

Couldn’t build through the farm? The Cubs’ 25-man World Series roster featured 9 players (Rizzo, Russell, Bryant, Baez, Schwarber, Soler, Almora Jr., Contreras, Edwards Jr.) who were top-100 prospects between 2011-2016 while in the Cubs’ organization. 

Couldn’t use free agency as a tool? One NLCS co-MVP was a $155 million dollar investment while the World Series MVP will be paid $56 million through 2019.

Scout others as well as you do yourself, right? Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, Kyle Hendricks and Mike Montgomery are examples of just that. Further, Arrieta and Montgomery were also top-100 prospects when they were in the Orioles and Royals organizations, respectively.

This team had a staff that handcuffed enough good hitting, a group of hitters that pushed across enough runs against good pitching in the biggest games and did enough defensively to be crowned World Series champions. 

But seriously, did it have to be Cleveland?

I spent most of October pulling for the Cleveland Indians to win the American League pennant. Not because I thought they were a better matchup for the Cubs, but because they were the AL team that intrigued me the most.

Francisco Lindor is a hell of a player and someone I am proud to follow as a Puerto Rican. Baseball writer Jonah Keri compared to Ozzie Smith, but with better offense. That’s high praise. Corey Kluber is an ace more people should know about. But if not, that’s cool. I’ll continue to have him as my fantasy team’s workhorse. Terry Francona is one of baseball’s three best managers and very likely a Hall of Famer.

As a team, Cleveland scored the second most runs and allowed the second fewest in the AL. Add all that to a 68-year title drought and that makes them worth hitching your bandwagon to if you’re a neutral fan. Hopefully, more people do that in the coming years.

Maybe next year, that group can pull together and win it all. It would be nice to see for my friend/co-worker Jeff Bowen, who like me, seemed worn out after that seven-game roller coaster ride.

My grandmother isn’t all that well at this stage of her life. Her body aches. Her appetite comes and goes. And her memory isn’t as sharp as I wish it was. But when I told her the Cubs won the World Series, she lit up.

“Ohhhh boy!”

Grandma parked me in front of the TV to watch afternoon baseball as a kid. She was the one who used to walk with me from Byron & Clark over to Wrigley Field to score some cheap seats on the day of the game. She was the one with whom I had a long-standing tradition of attending the last home game of the year with. To say my grandmother loves baseball would be an understatement. But I’m glad she passed that love on to my mother and eventually me.

It pained me a bit knowing she wasn’t going to stay up and watch Game 7 — 88-year-old women simply don’t stay up until midnight to watch baseball. Even if that’s what her heart wanted.

Seeing the look on her face when I handed her a World Series Champions shirt was a priceless moment. It’s as if seeing “Cubs” and “World Series” triggered a re-boot of something in her head because it’s been a week and she keeps asking me “what’s next for the Cubs?”

Even though my grandmother hasn’t been to a baseball game at Wrigley Field since 2012, my mother was able to experience history during the Cubs World Series run. An anonymous helper ponied up the money to send her to Game 5 of the World Series at Wrigley Field. It was the perfect storm for her and I know she loved every minute of it, though, she would later tell me about how cold she was that night.

Much like yours truly in Los Angeles (albeit in warmer temperatures) my mother witnessed the “turnaround game” that was the start of the Cubs’ comeback from a 3-1 deficit. I’m so happy for her.

Shout out to the Tribune’s team of reporters, photographers and editors who worked late into the night Wednesday and early Thursday to put together a product that had people lined up outside Tribune Tower waiting to purchase.

But let the record show that this marks the second time the Cubs have injected life into this newspaper. Let’s go back to September 2015.

“Agate in general feels a bit like an anachronism in the newspaper and we have been scaling it back gradually for a while now. Right now, with the Cubs being relevant again, I don’t think we’d pull the plug on baseball agate for 2016, but conditions – foreseen and unforeseen — may dictate that we consider it.”

If you’re reading this, you probably know I’m one of the Tribune’s sports agate guys. And if you didn’t know, now you do. This piece in Poynter was a bit of an eye-opener for me. It’s not as if I haven’t seen it coming. I’ve lived it. But seeing it explicitly in print made it that much more real.

In 2016, people are still enamored with tangible things for milestone events. Hence, newspapers were doing good numbers. It’s a keepsake for every “I know where I was when…” moment. It’s a shame there aren’t more of those because we’d be a lot healthier as an industry if there were. But all we can do is continue to plug away and hope our hard work gets noticed and rewarded.

Steve Bartman’s name came up often during the playoffs and in the days after the World Series. With a title in tow, what (if anything) the team can/will/should/could do to make amends for a man who has asked for nothing but privacy since 2003. The popular sentiment is to allow him to throw a first pitch in and give him some sort of positive welcome. Not only do I think that’s not enough, I’m not sure a guy who has lived privately for the better part of 13 years wants anything to do with a public showing.

My alternate proposal?

Give him whatever he wants in World Series apparel and memorabilia. Hats. Shirts. Sweaters. Socks. Balls. Bats. Helmets. Stuff for him. Stuff for his friends. Stuff for his family. Stuff for his pet. Anything and everything. Get him a ring, too. Then, on Opening Night, give him a king’s welcome — but without alerting the press. Give him a meet-and-greet with his favorite players. Past and present. Let him and his friends and family have a Wrigley suite for the night with all the food, drinks and desserts he and his chums could ever dream of … and don’t tell anyone.

Let the man live like a king for a day on the Cubs’ dime as he watches the World Series banner get raised.

And if he wants to be left alone for the rest of time, so be it. He should have never been dragged into that fire in the first place.



Game 7: A search for the profound

When I struggle to write, I like to do the following:

  • Open a blank page
  • Type every word that flows from my brain to my finger tips
  • Step away from the computer
  • Come back and edit

This is what I came up with…

Today, I found inspiration to write from a quote I captured while covering the 2009 Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball tournament as a student reporter at SIU Carbondale

Illinois State had just lost its second straight MVC Tournament and this time it came in an overtime soul-crusher. ISU’s coach was Tim Jankovich, a branch off the Larry Brown coaching tree and the conference’s most noted wordsmith. If you were a writer in search of a quote, Jankovich was your guy. After the loss, I asked Jankvich what he told the team after losing in the MVC Tournament title game for a second straight year.

“I didn’t say anything for quite some time because I was searching for profound, and come to find out, there was no profound today,” Jankovich said. “If you haven’t been through it, I don’t even know how to describe the pain. You have to live this pain to understand it.”

Not only did that quote inspire this blog’s title, but it has led me to write what I’m about to write right now.

I’ve struggled with what to write here today because today is kind of a big deal. I’ve started and stopped more times than I would care to count. This is what happens when you spend your morning searching for profound…

The term unbelievable has been used to describe the Chicago Cubs’ mere presence in the World Series, but that doesn’t feel right.

The Cubs won 103 games with an offense that scored the third most runs, a pitching staff that allowed the fewest and a defense that prevented more runs than any team in baseball.

Using Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement as our baseline, the 2016 Cubs have six of the NL’s 50 most valuable position players (including five of the top-25) and four of the league’s most valuable starting pitchers (including three of the top-10) on their staff.

By all metrics, the Cubs were supposed to be here. And it would have been a disappointment if they weren’t.

Despite all the ink spilled and web space filled with prose about how the fickle nature of October randomness thwarts the wildest dreams and how the team with the best record at an arbitrary point of the 162-game grind never wins anything, the Cubs took the field and dispatched the plucky even-year magic of the Giants and knocked off the Best Pitcher on the Planet en route to the National League Pennant.

If these were the “Same Old Cubs” you knew growing up, they wouldn’t have made it that far. And you know it.

It’s as if the Cubs belong here.

“If you haven’t been through it, I don’t even know how to describe the pain. You have to live this pain to understand it.”

This line should resonate with Cubs fans because if anyone knows pain, it’s a Cubs fan. Even if you didn’t live through 1969 or 1984, you lived through 2003, 2007 and 2008 if you’re old enough. Want to know pain? Check out what happened between the Cubs’ last playoff win in 2003 and their win in the 2015 Wild Card game:

  • The White Sox and Red Sox ended the second and third oldest title droughts in consecutive years.
  • Oh, and the Cardinals and Astros (division rivals, mind you) won the NL pennant in each of those years.
  • The Pirates, Reds and Brewers each made the postseason.
  • The Cardinals won two World Series. One behind an 83-game winner and the other in the most improbable late-season comeback in the game’s history.

All the while, the only thing the Cubs could muster were three winning seasons and two playoff berths that ended with back-to-back sweeps in the LDS.

If that’s not pain, then I don’t know what “pain” is.

It is November 2 and the Cubs — who have played 178 games over the last 212 days — still have one more meaningful game on their schedule.

I’m here for that. Let’s go.