04/01/09 10:08 AM ET
Cubs fans hope this could be 'the' year
New season brings new optimism and anxiety to club's faithful
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
"Is this the year?"
Jim's email back contained two responses, one from his wife and one from him.
"It's always this year," she said.
"If not this year, maybe next year," he said.
You gotta love Cubs fans.
That is exactly what Red Sox fans would have told you in spring 2004.
It is typical of what you find with this exercise, a healthy trail mix of overly optimistic cashews, nervously noncommittal sunflower seeds and pardonably pessimistic raisins. You don't go calling on Cubs fandom expecting only rosy outlooks and parade plans. They have no clue what a world championship feels like. They have a sense from the Bulls, from the Bears, even the White Sox. What they do know is that when it is "the" year, it will provide a feeling that fans of no team in sports history has ever felt.
"No more talking about curses. No more lovable losers. No more waiting until next year," said Chad Gramling of Auburn, Ind. "The Cubs are built and destined to win this year. All the pieces are in place and it's gonna happen. Go Cubs Go!"
Maybe this is the year, because this is a Cubs team that won more games than any other National League team last season and has consecutive NL Central championships. Forget that silly round number that we obsessed over in 2008, a notion that on the 100th anniversary of the last World Series title the Cubs simply had to win. Life does not work that way, certainly not for the Cubs.
What about 101 years later?
"Last year was too perfect -- 100 years made for great TV, but was it really going to end on the 100th anniversary?" replied Mark Iralson of Chicago. "I always said it would be this year, well at least until I bought into last season, which didn't happen until [Carlos] Zambrano threw the no-hitter in Milwaukee. It was that night when we pulled our little guys out of the tub to see the final three outs that I said to my wife while our kids were jumping around for the final out: 'Oh my God, they are going to do it this season.'
"I didn't believe until that moment, and then I watched it all come apart in person at Games 1 and 2 in Wrigley when the fans and players were all on pins and needles with every pitch. All of the fun the guys seemed to have during the season was gone. ... You could feel it in the air; maybe it was the self-imposed pressure of 100 years, maybe it was the weird start times, maybe it was the fact that real fans can't get the tickets and it is more a corporate crowd or maybe it was just not meant to be. For some reason, it all came apart.
"The whole lovable loser thing is not fair to Cubs fans. The fans care so much and want to win more than anything but we also forgive. It is that Midwest mentality of not hating our guys just because, like they do in New York. ... It is like when your young child does something wrong, you are mad but you love him and it is easy to forgive him; he just needs to not do it again and learn what he needs to do right next time. Let's hope the Cubs learn from the last two years and make this year our year."
Brian Rohleder lives in Denver and he suggested that people step back and look at what life is like at the Friendly Confines win or lose. Waiting, he said, isn't so bad.
"Every year is their year!" Rohleder emailed. "Baseball needs it to be. Just take a look around every stadium in every city when the Cubs come to town. I've seen the parks sell out and pack 'em in two Cubs fans to one home-team fan, but never less than half and half. They wear their Sandberg jerseys and bring their white 'W' flags and drink more beer than a pub can stock on St. Pat's Day. It's like going to a Jimmy Buffett concert. Stadiums across the country have to hire extra security to attempt to quell the excitement of the visiting team's fans. Is that beautiful or what? They are the essence of the game and they keep baseball good.
"You must believe it's their year. ... Even when the day finally comes, and God willing I'll still be on this Earth, I will still say, 'It's their year,' because once it does happen they may never lose again."
John Leptich was born and raised in Chicago and relocated to the Phoenix area in 1995. He spent 16 years in the Chicago Tribune sports department as a writer and copy editor, and 12 at the East Valley Tribune in Mesa as a sports and news writer and copy editor. The resident of Glendale, Ariz., said, "I think this is the year."
"Certainly, expectations are there," Leptich said. "Yet, there is no magic (tragic?) number like 100 to hang over the heads of Cubs players and fans. Especially after the last two years, we know anything can happen. Especially after going to several Spring Training games this year, I detect more of a quiet air of confidence.
"If the Arizona Cardinals can get to the Super Bowl, the Chicago Cubs can get to the World Series. If they do, unlike the Cardinals, they will win."
Paul Dahl of Chicago said this is "not the year, not even close." This is what happens inside of Cubs humanity at this time of year. There is a fusion of skepticism that is seen by some as healthy, a protective lining just in case. It generally is stripped bare with the first sighting of Cubbies on the field in April, and then later in the year the game just stops and in every case so far for basically every living Cubs fan it is too early.
If this were the story of 100-percent expectations that "this is the year," then it would not be an accurate account. That does not happen, and it did not happen in the spring of 2004 among Red Sox faithful. Some wear shields.
"We let go of our solid closer, Kerry Wood. and a guy, [Mark] DeRosa, that was starting to come into his own and starting to even show signs of stepping up and being a leader for the Cubs," Dahl explained. "Something right now we unfortunately do not have in the dugout or the bullpen. Wood did everything but say he would play for free and the Cubs still gave him the boot. DeRosa is a guy who can play any position almost and can also come through at the plate.
"We are probably on paper only the third- or fourth-strongest team in the NL. Phillies, Mets, Dodgers are all on paper probably better than us at this point."
That steely exterior is also supremely evident in the words of Bill Lapetomane of Wheaton, Ill., who replied matter of factly:
"This is, in fact, Not the Year. Why? Because I am still alive, and the Lords of Elysium won't let me walk through their golden fields of baseball splendor while I'm a fan of this team. ... There are moments of unadulterated bliss that makes us feel as if we are riding high on the Shangri-la-like clouds of whispy cotton candy, (and) all the while this moment ends the morning after like every other season ... in disappointment. It's usually best to forget the entire experience and dwell on other things, but like most dolts in life, after about five months we forget why it ended in disgust and travel down that road again.
"If baseball and the Cubs franchise have taught me anything, it's that I have way too much faith in humanity. My parents unwisely gave me that tenet in life; the Cubs have taketh it away."
Paul Madsen of Belvidere, Ill.: "Is this the year, you ask? It could have been ... with Mark DeRosa! Truly, I love the Cubs, however, in my 41 years on this beautiful blue ball, I have never felt this upset about one trade!"
When asked if this is the year, Shirley Freeman of Oxford, Ind., said she has been answering the question in the affirmative a lot lately. "I have been saying that already so your timing is great," she said. "Not to worry, the Cubs will be fine in 2009."
Doug Harrison of Sioux City, Iowa, gave the question a "maybe" response. He said he is more interested in seeing them become "a consistent contender" and is buoyed by back-to-back NL Central titles.
"I have seen 30 years of next years, and I keep coming back," he said. "So I'd like to see things like (Mike) Fontenot having a great year, (Kevin) Gregg being the closer we hope he can be, (Milton) Bradley sparking the team without a meltdown, Aramis (Ramirez) being Aramis, (Micah) Hoffpauir becoming a budding star, (Rich) Harden on the field, and the Cubs in the race in September. After that, who knows?
"I can tell you this, winning back-to-back division titles is a lot better than waiting five to 10 years for the next one. So let's have fun riding the wave, hopefully get to the playoffs, and maybe it will be 'The Year.'"
Kevin Korycanek is from Glen Ellyn, Ill., and now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is trying to keep an even keel, as one can tell from his answer to The Question.
"Being a Cubs fan my whole life, I've learned to control my excitement," he said. "They need to get past the first round of the playoffs, because the previous two postseasons have been embarrassing. I'm optimistic but can't make a guarantee, besides, there is always next year."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.