Hope is the currency of the sports world. Everybody deals in it. The Cubs did for decades, and fans waited year after year for next year.
There was a spectacular outbreak of hope Tuesday. Heat-throwing Michael Kopech made his much-anticipated debut for the rebuilding White Sox, and by “much-anticipated,’’ I mean that when he finally walked to the mound at Guaranteed Rate Field, Sox fans either had an out-of-body experience or a loss of bodily function. Or both.
Hours earlier, the Cubs acquired their former nemesis, Wrigley Field-loving Daniel Murphy, and some of their fans saw him as a cure for whatever was ailing the team’s bats. That he wasn’t in uniform Tuesday night in Detroit explained the fact that the Cubs scored only one run for the fifth consecutive game. Obviously.
OK, forget the other news that hit Tuesday — that Yu Darvish was done for the season because of a bone bruise in his elbow. It would ruin my premise that hope is the coin of the realm. Wait, I just had a vision of Darvish helping the team next season! You call it a hallucination. I call it hope.
We have two strains of hope in our town. The Cubs still have the best record in the National League, though it certainly doesn’t feel that way right now. After their 8-2 victory Wednesday against the Tigers, they’re 17-15 since the All-Star break. So fair or not, Murphy is expected to be the bellows for the embers of the Cubs’ offense. One hit by him, and everybody gets hot is the thinking/praying.
The Sox’ type of hope is different. It’s not the immediate kind. Kopech’s arrival was a present to all the fans who have lived through the pain of a rebuild, through the trade of ace Chris Sale and through all that losing. But as much anticipation as there was for his debut, there is more for what he might be able to accomplish in the years to come.
He’ll make the rest of the season more palatable, but he won’t change the team’s fortunes in five weeks. Next year or the year after? With the other prospects the Sox have accumulated through trades and drafts? Possibly.
No one knows if Kopech will be great. And no one knows if outfielder Eloy Jimenez will be great — you know, if the Sox ever get around to promoting a player who is hitting .326 with 21 home runs and 69 RBI between Class AA and Class AAA. But the delicious part is the not knowing. That’s where hope is.
We have a good idea that Murphy will be a nice addition to the Cubs’ offensive attack, given that he’s a career .299 hitter and that his batting average in 28 games at Wrigley is .413. With Kopech, there’s more of an element of the unknown. His fastball has been clocked at 105 mph, though he didn’t throw harder than 98 mph in two innings against the Twins. We don’t know if he’s real yet. Finding out if he is will be the fun part.
(I was so, so thankful to see that my newspaper chose to give Kopech, and not Murphy, the marquee treatment on the back page Wednesday morning. If we hadn’t, a pitchfork-wielding mob of Sox fans would have descended on the Sun-Times office like ants on the crumbs from one of Rick Telander’s hot-dog buns. They wouldn’t have cared that Kopech’s night was shortened by a rain delay. They would have seen Cubs favoritism, and they would have seen red.)
Hope is forgiving, if not blind. Hope allowed a lot of people to look past Aroldis Chapman’s suspension for domestic violence when the Cubs traded for the closer in 2016. His first pitch at Wrigley was clocked at 101 mph, and suddenly everybody had amnesia about the incident in which he allegedly choked his girlfriend and fired eight bullets in his garage. So I’ll take a leap and guess that Murphy’s controversial 2015 comments about gay people — “you can still accept them, but I do disagree with the lifestyle, 100 percent” — will be a one- or two-day topic and then forgotten.
The Cubs hope that adding Murphy to the lineup will remind everyone, including themselves, that they have a chance to do some damage in the postseason.
The Sox hope that bringing up Kopech to the big leagues will be the first of many firsts that will someday lead to the playoffs.
Immediate hope and long-term hope. Different kinds of hope, but hope just the same.