Maddon gives Cubs fans reason to believe

As of the time I write this, it is 151 days to the Chicago Cubs’ April 6 opener against the archrival St. Louis Cardinals. (If you want to check how long it is as of the time you read this, visit http://www.bleedcubbieblue.com/2014/10/6/6921543/cubs-opening-day-2015-countdown, where BleedCubbieBlue.com maintains its annual countdown to the North Sider’s Opening Day.)

It seems too long. Doesn’t it?

For the first time since the first year of the Ricketts’ family’s ownership in 2009, I am looking forward to Opening Day with giddy anticipation for a reason other than that it representing the unofficial end of Chicago’s winter.

I am more than a little uneasy about what the Ricketts are doing to The Friendly Confines. While I know that the old ballpark is long overdue for a makeover, I fear that money is dictating the rebuilding process at the expense of destroying the ballpark’s classical charm. Am I alone in having this recurring nightmare where the transformation is not unlike Bedford Falls-to-Pottersville in which Wrigley Field is turned into a gaudy, sleazy Rickettsville?

Put aside my misgivings about the home remodeling work, I’m excited about what the Ricketts are doing with the team. For the first time since they went into rebuilding mode, they’ve signaled that the dark cloud may finally be lifting over Wrigley Field.

The flickers of light actually started in the second half of the 2014 season when the Cubs finally began to call up some of their most-prized prospects: Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler.

But the real ray of hope came this week with the announcement that the two-time American League Manager of the Year Joe Maddon had signed on with the Cubs for five years, at $25 million. I know some questioned the way that the Cubs went about it and whether it was fair to the team’s 2014 manager, Rick Renteria. But it was that sense of urgency that signaled that the Cubs are finally serious about winning again – and maybe sooner rather than later.

If you saw Maddon’s introductory press conference at the Cubby Bear, you know why there is joy in Wrigleyville after so many years of despair. Not only did the 60-year-old manager buy everyone a beer and a shot after the conference – “The Hazleton way,” he said, referring to his Pennsylvania hometown – he owned every moment of that conference. With his white hair and thick-rimmed glasses, he looked like Will Ferrell’s disheveled caricature of famed Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray. Others compared him to Steve Martin and Martin Scorsese. He was irreverent. He told of how his interview for the job with Cubs president Theo Epstein took place in an RV park in Pensacola, Fla., next to “the Cousin Eddie,” his National Lampoon Vacation-inspired Winnebago. And, most importantly, he was optimistic. “I’m gonna be talking playoffs next year,” Maddon said. “I’ll tell you that right now. I can’t go to spring training and say anything else. You have to set your goals high, because if you don’t set them high enough you might hit your mark, and that’s not a good thing. We’re gonna talk World Series this year, and I’m gonna believe it. It’s in our future.”

Maddon was everything he was built up to be. He was everything that the Cubs and their fans need.

There’s still a long way to go. There’s still a lot of work to be done if they’re going to end their 106-year run of futility. The Cubs need one or two top-of-the-rotation starters and they need a veteran or two to lead all the kids. They need for those kids to shine. They need more than a little luck.

But for at least one day, Cubs fans had something that’s been absent for too long. They had reason to believe.

How many days left on that countdown to Opening Day?
Photo: Joe Maddon / Keith Allison / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Alteration: Cropped