Sunday, April 5, 2009

Looking Back and Looking Forward ...

Disappointment, thy name is Cub Fan.

A number of generations too long to count has come and gone since the Cubs last won a World Series. And while I won't go over everything that has happened in the past 100 years since the last Cub championship (I'm sure enough of the haters have compiled lists over the years), I must say that from my own experience, I've let myself become such a die-hard fan, that I truly live for how the Cubs are going to do from one season to the next. But this wasn't always the way.

I have been a Cubs fan since before I can remember, but my best memory early on was getting to watch Game 1 of the 1984 NLCS in my Fourth Grade classroom. While I was only nine years old at the time, the sight of watching that team fail to win one of their last three playoff games hurt. Boy, if I had only known the ride I was going to go on as a fan of this team!

I was as into baseball as the next kid, which was to say, casually with added interest when the team did well (such as 1989). After the 1994 strike, I lost quite a bit of interest. I still watched the occasional game, but it just wasn't as big as it had been. Actually, pro wrestling had become my number one sport (okay, sports entertainment). Then came the wonderful season of 1998. The homerun chase. The Rookie of the Year with his 20-strikeout game. The unlikely run at the Wild Card. And the improbable win in a one-game playoff to seal the first playoff spot in nine years. Baseball was back, and I was loving it.

Then I came back to Earth. Why? 1999. Another season to forget. And that was followed by an even worse season in 2000. In 2001, the Cubs seemed destined to get back to the playoffs, but a second half implosion left them with a respectable 88 wins but a third place finish in the division. Then there was another sad season in 2002.

Then something happened.

The calendar turned to 2003. The Cubs got a new General Manager, Jim Hendry and a new on the field manager, Dusty Baker. Their young pitchers began to develop. They traded away bad contracts and got back quality in return. They started winning ballgames. their new GM began looking for top notch players to be had for bargain basement prices. Before you knew it, the Cubs had gone from 67 wins to 88 and a division championship. But this was not the underdog squad of 1998 who never really had a chance. This was a team with the best rotation in the league. They were winning. they won a playoff series for the first time since 1908. they were up 3-1 in the NLCS. Then the disappointment came back. Three straight losses, including two at home with their co-aces on the mound sealed their fate.

What may have been even more disappointing was that the 2004 team was far better than that team of guys who were five outs away from a World Series the season before. Greg Maddux was back. Cub killer Derrek Lee was now their first baseman. They nabbed Nomar Garciaparra at the trade deadline. But with only a week to go and a comfortable Wild Card lead intact, it happened again. Disappointment. A team that won 89 games finished in third place.

The disappointment continued in 2005, despite the positives. Garciaparra resigned with the team. Lee was the NL batting champion (and was snubbed in the MVP voting). Mark Prior was healthy for all but a month of the season and won 11 games. Ryan Dempster made a successful transformation to the closer role. But the team won only 78 games. And then it got even worse. Hendry failed to acquire any pitchers, instead sticking with injury-prone Kerry Wood and Prior. Both had short, forgettable seasons. Carlos Zambrano pitched like an ace, but that was the only positive thing in an otherwise miserable season of 2006. By the end of that season it wasn't disappointment anymore. It was disgust. Hendry decided it was time for some changes.

Heading into the 2007 season, Baker was replaced by Lou Pinella. Wood was resigned and would pitch only out of the bullpen. Prior was optioned to AAA, never to be heard from again. And the Cubs went on a spending spree. Acquired were the top offensive free agent, Alfonso Soriano, one of the best left handed starting pitchers on the market, Ted Lilly, the versatile Mark DeRosa and Cardinal castoff Jason Marquis. Aramis Ramirez and Zambrano were extended for several more years. The result? An 85 win team who would win the division but get swept out of the playoffs. There was the disappointment again, but with hope for the future. This team was good, and they were only going to get better. And in 2008, the team won 97 games and gave this guy the greatest experience as a Cub fan ever. Clinching at home against the Cardinals (with Jim Edmonds catching the final out, no less) was sweet.

But then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone again. The best team in the National League looked like little leaguers for three straight games. Bad offense. Bad defense. Mediocre pitching. What the hell happened? And how do you improve in the offseason? I've heard plenty from the haters.

Honestly, I don't care what the Cub haters think. Many are faceless losers who have way too much time on their hands and post anonymous garbage on Cub articles. I've seen some who think the Cubs will win less than 70 games and be out of it by mid-June. How pathetic. Personally, I like debating with the realistic fans of other teams. Unfortunately I know too many arrogant Cardinal fans who can't come up with any new material, so they keep rambling on about 100 years. Or criminal White Sox fans who threaten physical harm to Cub fans just for being Cub fans (and perhaps because we use complete sentences). No wonder that field is called "The Cell".

Well, 2009 is finally here and the regular season is upon us. The Cubs didn't snag San Diego ace Jake Peavy, but who cares right now. They unloaded Marquis and DeRosa (which I still don't understand or like) and made the call not to resign Wood. They became a more balanced team with what appears to be a ton of depth all around, except at third base. They are heavily favored to win the division again. Of course, they were favored to go to the World Series in 2004, so I make no other predictions than to say that this team will take the NL Central again in 2009. After that, we'll just have to wait and see. I intend to enjoy this season as I try to do every year. And I hope to get many chances to stick it in the faces of all the haters, especially those who don't even claim a team. Of course, most of them will crawl under a rock and hide if the Cubs start to run away with things.

Disappointment in 2009? I sure hope not.

Just my opinion.

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