Because I’m selfish, because it really is all about me, the first thing I think about when it comes to spring training is the weather in Arizona. There truly is only one question: When I get there, will the indignity of wearing pants be visited upon me?
I can see how this might rankle Chicago readers who would love nothing more than to be free of their snow shovels and their clawed, frostbit hands. They don’t care if I’ll be able to wear shorts in the desert and, further, they don’t want to carry around the mental image of two pasty legs loosed upon the world. But the weather in spring training can serve as the forecast for the baseball season. Is there hope (sun and 70) or foreboding (rain and 60)?
On Monday, the day I’ll arrive, there’s a 60 percent chance of rain, an expected high of 65 and a good possibility of booing in the press box if I happen to be in one. On Tuesday, when Cubs pitchers and catchers report, the chance of rain rises to 70 percent and the high drops to 61.
On Wednesday, when White Sox pitchers and catchers report, the forecast is for mostly sunny skies and a high of 64.
That’s about right, isn’t it? Periods of rain for the inert Cubs and abundant sunshine for the rising Sox?
The Cubs come to spring training having done little in the offseason, thanks to a decree from ownership that they not exceed the luxury tax for a second year in a row. Worse, Kris Bryant’s future with the team hangs over spring training like — what else — a thick layer of clouds.
It’s entirely possible our city has been spoiled. That’s surely how the Ricketts family views it. But it’s impossible to look at the Cubs’ Offseason About Nothing and be excited for 2020. Not for a team that won 84 games last season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
“We’re doing the best we can,” team president Theo Epstein said at the Cubs Convention last month. “I would say to hang with us, and hopefully by the time Opening Day rolls around, we’ve improved the 2020 team and we’ve done some things that maybe don’t improve the ’20 team but ensures a better future. And then to our bosses and for our future, we’ve also done a responsible job financially to set ourselves up for long-term fiscal health.”
The organization is hoping that new manager David Ross will jazz things up with his enthusiasm and demanding approach to the game. But when the previous manager was DJ Jazzy Joe Maddon, it’s hard to believe that Ross can fire up the troops that much more. The lack of spending by the front office doesn’t help him at all.
Nor does Bryant’s fuzzy status. The Cubs are open to trading him, and that hasn’t gone over well with a fan base that can’t forget he was the 2016 National League Most Valuable Player. Those fans also can’t help but notice that Bryant had a .903 on-base plus slugging percentage last season.
Rain, rain, go away.
Ah, but the White Sox. Those boys of spring. A young nucleus that seems to be on the verge of something very, very good.
Where are my sunglasses?
No one knows if all the unproven talent will turn to gold. That’s the crapshoot of a rebuild. You tear down the old structure and pray that the highly rated prospects were highly rated for a reason. But no one knows for sure. And that’s the fun of it.
All I know is this: The hope that the Sox can improve from 72 victories in 2019 to 84 victories this season is a lot more interesting than the fear that the Cubs might spin their wheels to 84 victories again.
Sox manager Rick Renteria is loudly aiming for the playoffs this season, and bless him for that. Is there anything worse than a manager trying to lower expectations? Renteria watched general manager Rick Hahn add Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel and Edwin Encarnacion in the offseason. He saw the seasons that Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Lucas Giolito had in 2019. He sees the potential in Luis Robert and Michael Kopech. His enthusiasm is the perfect reflection of fans’ enthusiasm.
Spring training is supposed to be warm, sunny and optimistic.
The Sox have every right to be excited about the future.
The Cubs? They’re what meteorologists call unstable air. Who knows what to expect from a team with (for now) a still-talented veteran core? Will Bryant be in Mesa, Arizona, at the end of the month? Or will he be wearing another team’s uniform? Nobody knows.
Hard to find hope in a cloudy unknown.