By Nate Johnson
How is it so hard to put together what to say after 108 years of heartbreak and pain being washed away, in a “next year” that, for too many generations, never did come? You would think that after all this time, the words would pour out, but they don’t. You stare at your paper, your monitor, your phone, trying to make your words real before they disappear off the page.
The words aren’t disappearing, though. They’re right there in black and white, as real as the Commissioner’s Trophy that got passed around the team bus during the parade to celebrate the Chicago Cubs defeating the Cleveland Indians in seven games to win the 2016 World Series.
It wasn’t easy to get to that parade, but it never has been with this team. As the Cubs went down three games to one after a Saturday night loss in Cleveland, it was easy to assume the worst as always. When the seemingly solid lead in the final game was lost before a curiously-timed rain, it felt like another case of coming up short. But this was different.
This wasn’t about black cats and goats, curses and hoaxes. It’s about how the right group of people came along after so many half-baked reboots marked with fits and starts and put in place a real plan. Certainly, not every plan is perfect, but what the Ricketts family entrusted Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer with came about as close as a plan can get.
How often does so much go right for a team in this sort of rebuilding process? So many prospects hitting – not just the big trade hauls like Anthony Rizzo and the blue-chip draft picks like Kris Bryant – but the under-the-radar guys who could have been swept away in the Rule V like Willson Contreras. So many trades going the Cubs way, turning an aging Ryan Dempster into a wet-behind-the-ears Kyle Hendricks, turning Scott Feldman and some mismatched luggage into Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.
This is star-crossed stuff, and it’s hitting at a percentage you don’t often see, but it’s not by accident. Epstein, Hoyer, and company know what they’re doing, and that’s part of what makes this championship so special. This isn’t a one-off thing, a win-at-all-costs push full of overpriced veterans and flash-in-the-pan youngsters that will provide a brief flirtation with the hardware while not filling the trophy case.
Maybe it’s just that the Cubs fan base has been starved of championship glory for so long, but the visceral experiences of this World Series win seemed more real than other title runs we’ve seen from other area teams. Seeing W flags on cars and signs in yards, high-fiving strangers and hugging and kissing friends in delight. If nothing else, getting a chance to talk about something other than the election.
It seems like everyone got an opportunity to share a story about someone who wasn’t with us any longer – a grandparent who kept an all-too-old radio around just because of the reception it got for WGN, a parent who had a liberal policy for calling kids out of school for a Wrigley matinee, a teacher or a coach who gave them their first brush with the franchise. All of these moments and these stories are what helped make this so special, and so real.
These Cubs are real, and they stand a very good chance of being so for a long time to come. It might have taken a bit for us to get our arms around this winning thing, but I think we’ll get the hang of it.