Almost, a year ago, the Cubs raised their 2016 World Series banner in a lavish pregame ceremony at Wrigley Field.
They brought in Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams to raise the 1907 World Series, the 1908 World Series and 2016 National League Championship Series banners.
Then Anthony Rizzo, batting cleanup, raised the hardest-earned banner, the one that took 108 years to lift.
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That memory will never fade, nor will the championship season that created it. But it’s time to start making some new memories.
I don’t want to say we’ve gotten greedy … OK, yes, I do want to say we’ve gotten greedy. We’re all about World Series titles in this town now, and no one has to apologize for being that way. The Cubs have their home opener Monday, and few people will be looking for a banner commemorating the Cubs’ loss in last season’s NLCS. As it should be.
Once you’ve had steak, everything else is not steak.
Once you’ve seen greatness, it’s all you want to see.
That’s a byproduct of the “sustained success’’ team president Theo Epstein envisioned when he arrived in 2011.
That’s where the importance of making new memories comes in. It’s why Monday’s opener shouldn’t carry much pomp and circumstance. The Cubs are in it to win another World Series this season. That’s the only thing that deserves the franchise’s focus, the only thing that deserves our focus. Forget about 2019, when Bryce Harper can take advantage of free agency. Forget about 2020, when the Cubs might start their own TV network and figure to get either filthier rich or filthy richer.
And try to forget about 2016, a wonderful, distant memory.
Now is all that matters.
Last year’s bumpy ride was chalked up to the hangover that often comes after a World Series victory. Most of us called it that when the team started sluggishly, and the Cubs finally admitted to it as the season went on. It’s a very real thing.
If the World Series hangover syndrome were a physical object, it would be manifested as 10-pound ankle weights on the legs of each player. Now that burden has been unbuckled and tossed aside. That’s what Monday’s home opener should celebrate: the freedom to move forward, unencumbered.
The Cubs have a rotation of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood. They have a lineup that includes Rizzo and Kris Bryant. It’s a lineup that could feature six Cubs with 20 or more home runs each this season. The only goal is the World Series.
Onward, upward and maybe even Jason Heyward.
Last season ended with a third straight trip to the NLCS, a remarkable achievement. But not the goal. Although it would be silly to look upon last season’s loss in the championship series to the Dodgers as a failure, it felt empty. Having been handed more, we were used to more.
Now comes the next best chance for it. The Cubs head into this season’s Wrigley Field debut having just taken three of four games from their mortal-enemies-in-progress, the Brewers. It’s a good sign. Last year, they went 13-11 in April and 12-16 in May. The message was that early games matter, too. The Cubs are 5-4, and they can go in either direction.
It’s hard to create a sense of urgency in a 162-game season, but the Cubs and their fans need to find one. When the team struggled to start this season, there was the predictable sky-is-falling reaction from some corners. We’re not talking about panic here. We’re talking about knowing what the Cubs are capable of accomplishing.
Once they won the 2016 World Series, we were warned it would never be the same. Those warnings came from Boston, where the Red Sox had a similar rags-to-riches story. If that means expecting the Cubs to win multiple titles, then the warning was correct. That’s the expectation now. More, please.
Here’s another motivational nudge for the North Siders: Last season, they beat up on lesser teams and struggled against talented teams. That will be a telltale sign of where the Cubs are this season: When called upon in the regular season, will they stand up against the Dodgers, Nationals, et al? If they’re serious about this dynasty thing, they have to.
The more immediate question seems sort of silly: Can they stand up against the 7-2, N.L. Central-leading Pirates? They had better.
Time to start making new memories.
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