They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case a pitcher is worth only 500. Well, that’s the limit imposed for this particular piece anyway. In an effort to overcome a small bout of writer’s block, I sought counsel from the Twitters.
@DEvanAltman 500 words
HOw Strop's follow down the 3B line summed up the season
— Todd ⚾️🐻🦌 (@CubsCentral08) February 6, 2016
Pedro Strop is kind of an excitable guy, right? I mean, he’s basically a Dominican-Dutch version of Kenny Powers.
Of course, there are some differences between the Cubs reliever and the fictional star of HBO’s Eastbound and Down, mainly in the lack of general idiocy. Rather than being cocksure — though his hat is cocked, sure — Strop is simply brimming with a youthful exuberance that must be vented frequently lest it explode. It’s actually kinda surprising to check his bio and see that he will turn 31 this season.
What’s not a surprise, however, is how the set-up man reacted to Kris Bryant’s walk-off home run against the Indians back on August 24th. It was the 12th of an eventual 13 last at-bat victories for the Cubs and also their 20th win in 24 games, pushing them to 21 over .500. I don’t know that you can really single out one point at which we collectively nodded our heads and said, “Yep, these guys are for real,” but this would be on the list of nominations.
What really set this win apart, more than the home run and the sparkly phenom who hit it, was the celebration that erupted on the field. As Bryant trotted around the bases and his teammates massed at home, Strop came hustling in from the bullpen, running alongside the game’s hero with an exaggerated bounding gait fueled by unadulterated joy.
So often, we admire athletes because they do all the things we can’t. They hit the ball farther and throw it harder, run faster, and address the media with far more aplomb than we could ever hope to muster. Well, I’d probably be a riot at the podium. But what was so great about the Cubs in 2015, and about this moment in particular, was that they were less an idealized portrait and more a mirror. In their obvious enjoyment of the game, we saw ourselves.
I’ve written before that the Cubs were like a Little League team in both their versatility and their childlike approach to baseball. Perhaps no individual player was more illustrative of that idea than Pedro Strop, a child in a man’s body whose smile and slider delighted in equal parts. Here’s to hoping we get to see plenty more of both in 2016 as well.