Confluence of Youth, Talent Has Cubs Looking Like Future Legends

Throughout the course of their long and storied history, the Chicago Cubs can claim 17 postseason appearances. In other words, they only reach the playoffs every 8 years or so. Since their last World Series appearance in 1945, they’ve only played beyond the regular season every 10 years or so, which would at least partially explain the general delirium over a somewhat unexpected trip this season.

I don’t want to be too presumptuous here, but I will go out on a limb and predict that this Cubs team will make it to the playoffs in consecutive years, only the third such achievement in franchise history (1906-08, 2007-08). That’s pretty crazy, even by the standards for futility on the North Side. I was talking with some Cardinals fans the other day and they were marveling at Cubs fans’ ability to stick by their team in the face of failure.

This may not be true for everyone, but I know many of us have a coping mechanism based on lionizing teams and players of the past and staring wistfully into the distance while wondering what could have and should have been. If only the Mets hadn’t been amazin’ and that damn cat hadn’t run around Santo in the on-deck circle. If only Bull Durham hadn’t whiffed on that grounder. If only Alex Gonzalez had turned that double play.

We look at the ’69 and ’84 and ’03 teams and celebrate them as champions that never were, mainly because we don’t have any actual champions to laud. Names like Santo, Williams, Banks, Sandberg, Ramos, Trillo, Wrona have all been entered into the canon of legends in a kind of cockeyed beatification. There’s certainly a long row to hoe here this season, but it’s looking as though this new crop of stars might finally bear some real fruit.

The Cubs hit 6 home runs Monday night against the Cardinals, 3 of which came off the bats of rookies. Another rookie hit a triple and pulled up lame, only to be replaced by a young man who might as well be a first-year player. The confluence of youth and talent at Clark and Addison has created a flood of euphoria that threatens to wash us all away. But it’s not just about talent, as my dad brought up in a phone conversation last night.

In building their would-be dynasty, the Cubs front office sought out players possessed of a strong makeup. When it comes to success in sports, it’s better to be feared than loved, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be both. When I see the way these guys interact with one another and with the fans, how they go about their business, I can’t help but be excited for what the future holds. Even if they weren’t winning, I would pull for these players as young men.

But they are winning. And unlike some of the Cubs teams we grew up watching, they don’t seem to be concerned with the bugaboo of curses and jinxes or with the cloud of expectation that looms over Wrigley Field like Schleprock’s rain cloud. I think some of that is rooted in hopeful naivete, but even more in youthful confidence.

Kyle Schwarber came up in the 2nd inning and rawked a Michael Wacha changeup out to the opposite field, celebrating with a little bat flip and a moment of admiration. But he was all business as he trotted around the bases, rumbling home with his head down and eyes forward. Later in the game, he faced off against Adam Wainwright and he was actually smiling. Smiling! Here he was in the biggest moment of his life, facing a guy who’s been a regular in the Cy Young conversation over the last handful of years, and he’s loose.

Schwarber would eventually be called out on strikes, the smile on his lips hardening into a line that betrayed the molten anger and disappointment behind that stony facade. Likewise, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and more will flash gleaming grins one moment and melt steel with their gazes the next. I love seeing that. These guys are happy and loose, but don’t think for a moment that they’re not fierce competitors who want to win every game.

Again, it’s a little early to put these guys up there with names of the past, but I can see people watching them and naming their kids after some of these guys. My kids will look back in 20 years and have “remember when” conversations with each other. They’ll tell their own children about what happened in Chicago when Theo Epstein’s plan finally started to bear fruit. I don’t know what’s going to happen through the rest of the playoffs and I don’t really care.

Okay, that’s not true. I care. I care a lot. But in terms of what this team is and can be, this season is just the start of things. And what a start it’s been. I’ve had friends coming out of the woodwork, not to claim allegiance but just to say they’re pulling for the Cubs. I have yet to feel anxiety this postseason, which is a pretty foreign (lack of) feeling for me. That doesn’t mean I’m not excited though, and I’m about to burst at the seams over the potential I see in these guys.

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