Like a late-night TV ad, the Cubs say, ‘Wait! There’s more!’
The ball lodged securely in Anthony Rizzo’s first baseman’s glove, the players sprinted deliriously toward the pitcher’s mound to celebrate the Cubs’ first World Series title in 108 years and everyone lived happily ever . . .
Wait! That isn’t the end of the story!
There was a massive parade and a party that took days to die out. Kris Bryant won the National League Most Valuable Player award. David Ross retired and didn’t go anywhere, though, oddly, his feet kept moving. Joe Maddon spent the offseason defending his decision to pitch Aroldis Chapman into the ground in the World Series. Dexter Fowler signed with the Cardinals, and Chapman with the Yankees. People continued to walk right past Kyle Hendricks, unaware of his reputation as one of the best pitchers in the major leagues.
And everyone lived happily ever . . .
No, no, no, that’s not the end of it, either. There’s more, in the present tense. Kyle Schwarber is still healthy, having gotten through spring training unscathed. Maddon is still defending his decision to pitch Chapman into the ground. Javy Baez is still looking for a permanent position on the field, which sounds like a preposterous plot twist but isn’t.
And now the Cubs are talking about winning multiple World Series. Think about that. After all the decades of heartache, now they’re contemplating a dynasty. Most shocking of all, given their history, is that no one is laughing at them, checking for a fever or wondering if they need to be institutionalized.
Multiple World Series titles? What a story that would be.
The first tentative taps on the keyboard begin Sunday night in St. Louis as the Cubs take on the Cardinals in the season opener. No one knows how the tale will end. That’s the beauty of sports. The Cubs are the favorites to win the World Series, and they should be. They are the most complete team in baseball.
But amid all the exclamation points are some question marks. Will Jason Heyward ever hit again? Does it matter if Heyward ever hits again? Will Schwarber keep hitting the way he has in his brief career? And what about the squat, powerful Schwarber batting leadoff? Will that end up being another brilliant Maddon idea or another head-scratching idea that Maddon quite possibly came up with during a fever dream in his RV?
And isn’t it time for the Cubs to run into that favorite sports cliché, adversity? Aside from Schwarber’s torn knee ligaments, which cost him almost all of the 2016 regular season, they didn’t have to deal with many injuries the previous two seasons. That’s like going five years without a jury-duty notice arriving in the mail.
There are questions, but there also are facts. The Cubs’ starting pitching is excellent. I’m done wondering when John Lackey’s arm is going to fall off and when opposing hitters are going to figure out Jon Lester. Jake Arrieta will be a free agent after the season, so he has lots of motivation to put together a big year.
Bryant, a great hitter, has turned into a good third baseman. Heyward is a great right fielder, and Rizzo is a great first baseman. The Cubs have the best infield in baseball, provided Baez is in it.
There are a lot of “greats” and “bests’’ here. That’s what opponents are up against. And then there’s this: The Cubs seem so completely comfortable in the spotlight, it’s as if they were born for it. So the weight of expectations? Few teams in American sports history have had as much on their shoulders as the Cubs did last season, when they were the favorites to win it all and had a long, dark history to overcome.
Back-to-back titles are difficult in professional sports. We’ll find out if the Cubs prepared as hard in the offseason as they did the offseason before. But pressure? I don’t think they’re feeling any of that.
Desire is a bigger issue. The Cubs say they’re hungry for more, but no one ever knows how a team will respond to success. For the first time in ages, Chicago will get to watch how this franchise handles prosperity.
The truth is that the vast majority of Cubs fans could have lived happily ever after following the team’s first World Series championship since 1908. But it’s also true that they’re human and that humans, by nature, always seem to want more. More money. More donuts. More World Series.
Two straight? It could happen. And everyone could live even happier ever after.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.