TELANDER: Cubs satisfied title hunger, but Nats are still starving
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Yes, the Cubs and their fans want to win another World Series.
But the question lurks: Can they really want it as badly as they did last year?
Quite possibly, no.
Desire can’t be manufactured, and as one fan said to me as we rode a packed courtesy golf cart Tuesday from the Grace Avenue parking lot to Wrigley Field, ‘‘Winning this year would just be gravy.’’
And gravy’s nothing without meat underneath.
The Nationals, on the other hand, are starving, almost like the Cubs of yore.
Formally transferred from Major League Baseball to the Ted Lerner family in 2006, the franchise, which previously had been the Montreal Expos, never even has been to a World Series, let alone won one.
General manager Mike Rizzo came to Washington almost from the get-go, and he’s nothing if not drooling to get past these Cubs.
The irony, perhaps — or maybe it’s a touch of fate — is that he grew up a devout Cubs fan in Chicago.
‘‘I grew up on Waveland Avenue,’’ he says, while chatting behind the batting cage as the Nationals take their swats. ‘‘Born and raised. Waveland and Austin.’’
That’s a little too far west to have snared an Ernie Banks home run, but it’s not too far to hike all the way to Wrigley Field.
‘‘I came here all the time,’’ says Rizzo, who is no relation to the Rizzo who plays first base for the Cubs. ‘‘This has always been a great neighborhood. Now it’s turned into one of the most vibrant areas in the whole city.
‘‘They’ve done a great job of keeping Wrigley Field but modernizing it. The outside [area] is beautiful.’’
But enough with the praise. The Expos never won anything in 36 years, and the Nationals right now are 0-for-12.
‘‘I got there Day 1, and that’s when I consider the Washington Nationals starting,’’ Rizzo says. ‘‘I came directly from the Arizona Diamondbacks. When the Lerners signed the ownership papers in 2006, I was hired that day.’’
The Lerners are a real estate-development family headed by patriarch Ted Lerner, who now has turned ownership of the Nationals over to his son, Mark. They’ve been waiting awhile, and they’ve had their setbacks.
‘‘We want it really, really, really bad,’’ Rizzo says of a World Series title. ‘‘We want it for the fan base and the city. Mr. Lerner is 90-plus years old; my dad is 88 years old. They deserve a winner. That’s who we’re playing for.’’
Ted Lerner will be 92 in four days, and son/owner Mark, 63, recently had his cancerous left leg amputated after a bout with spindle-cell sarcoma.
The emotional yearning is heavy for the Nationals, a feeling generations of Cubs fans knew so intimately, until the great release of 2016.
So do the Nationals want this series more than the Cubs? And does wanting it even matter?
‘‘I don’t know about them,’’ Rizzo says. ‘‘I haven’t been in their shoes, and I haven’t tried to put myself in their shoes. I know that we’re a brand-new organization, and we’ve won our division four out of the last six years, so we’ve had some very early success. But we haven’t gotten the panacea yet.’’
That, of course, is the crown.
On the Nationals, only three baseball people have been there from the start: first baseman and 2005 first-round draft pick Ryan Zimmerman, the team’s traveling secretary and Rizzo.
In a day or two, all three will be very happy or very sad. It comes with the business.
Follow me on Twitter@ricktelander.