Well, now that 2015 has ended, I can’t help but reflect upon what a truly enjoyable year it was for me both personally and as a fan of the Chicago Cubs. In the midst of planning a wedding, taking on new career opportunities, beginning the pursuit of an MBA program, and finally getting married, the Cubs were proving that they belonged in the Major League spotlight and, boy, was it exciting. While my Internet persona is self-deprecating and rarely serious, it was a true joy to be able to watch the Cubs grow in a social environment where I can share my thoughts (as terrible as they sometimes are) with the hope that maybe somewhere it made someone laugh. Cubs Twitter, much like actually being a fan of the team, can be exhausting at times. This year, however, it was a little different. This year, the hope I had as a fan just never left, even during the bad times.
At the beginning of the year I was lucky enough to meet many of you while you either attended or covered the Cubs Convention. Meeting up with strangers from the Internet was a terrifying experience for someone with social anxiety, but, while I can’t recall the name of the bar nor did I wear a yellow sweater, it was awesome to put faces to many of the people that I interact with daily on Twitter. The night was filled with idle conversation about the Cubs’ prospects for the season as we all awkwardly got to know each other just a little bit. At the time, just prior to the Luis Valbuena-for-Dexter Fowler trade, we generally had the consensus that 2015 would be a stepping-stone to a bright future. The number of wins being thrown out that night generally fell around 82-84, just above .500 but not likely to reach the playoffs, especially in a tough NL Central. We were wrong and I am certainly glad we were.
I was able to luck myself into Opening Night tickets thanks to a friend, and the buzz around the team that evening was different. Cubs-Cardinals. There was a new ace on the mound for the Cubs, a rookie right fielder from Cuba who was supposed to be a part of a young core of superstars, and there were new shiny bleachers being built. The sense of something special had really started to build in late 2014 when the young Cubs started to arrive at Wrigley. Furthermore, the imminent call-up of Kris Bryant, after he destroyed baseballs in Arizona, had Chicago in hype mode. But despite what ended up being sort of a storybook season, that first game didn’t really play out according to script.
Chicago is a great sports town, but if you’ve ever listened to local sports radio, you know how insane it can be about good teams. As we know, Opening Night was a bust. The ace got knocked around and his yips were put on a national stage. The new right fielder showed his inexperience. The Cubs lost. Leaving the ballpark, these were actual things that I heard: Lester is overpaid. Soler can’t play. Ricketts is too cheap to call up Bryant. This team won’t ever win. After one game, we had already given up hope. The team, however, the team had not.
The 2015 Cubs were resilient, brash, and played the game with a fire that, in my lifetime as a Cubs fan, I have never seen before. Unlike great teams of the past, they also played as if the previous 108 years didn’t matter, which is absolutely true. Even as the team started seeing more and more success — after the Bryant call up, and the Russell call up, and Kyle Schwarber bursting onto the scene — there were still doubts among Cubs fans. Twitter would live and die with every poor start from Lester, every error by Starlin Castro, every pitching change by Joe Maddon. As the games became more important, the panic became even more extreme. Surely, the tried-and-true fatalism dictated, the bubble would burst, leaving disappointing fans everywhere. But we never got that. Personally, I wasn’t disappointed with this Cubs team at any point in the year.
When my wife and I planned to get married in October, we had not foreseen this season unfolding as it did. Little did we know that the Cubs would be playing in the NLDS on our wedding night, and that they’d continue on to play in the NLCS as we left for our honeymoon. Luckily, I married a wonderful woman who watched the games with me in dive bars in Hawaii. We watched as our team battled to the end against a dominant pitching staff and a clearly better team. And while the NLCS was certainly a letdown, the lingering feeling was that the journey had just begun. The window was just opening. The Cubs front office recognized this too and made move after move this offseason in hopes of propelling this team to the next level, the World Series. That is the next step in the Cubs’ journey.
The 2016 Cubs will be different than the version I so enjoyed watching last season. It will not feel the same for fans. I will miss Starlin Castro. Heck, I already do. It will be strange to cheer for John Lackey and Jason Heyward just months after rooting against them. Yet, I’m excited to see what this team can become. Like a true Theophile, I trust the process. How can you not be excited about the core this team has built? How can you not squeal with glee when ZIPS projections come out and say that the Cubs added over 5 WAR this offseason? How can you not count down the days to Cubs Opening Day?
We felt that 2015 would be a stepping stone to build upon real success in the future. We did not know that 2015 would provide both the foundation and half of the skeleton for a skyscraper of prosperity. Much like I began a new and somewhat unprecedented journey in 2015 by getting married and pursuing new opportunities with education, the Cubs set out on a trek unlike any we’ve seen from them. Who knows what the final destination will be, but I know that I will be tracking their progress in 2016 and beyond. And maybe in 2016 my content on Twitter dot com will even improve just a little, though I cannot make any promises. The people want what they want.