With unseasonably warm weather that announced summer in the city, Memorial Day Weekend 2016 was an awfully fun one for members of Wrigleyville Nation. The Cubbies entered the post-holiday week an astounding 35-14, six and a half games up on the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team is looking to extend a six-game winning streak that includes an invigorating sweep of the Phillies. And because this club does it all with an extra touch of fun and class, second baseman Ben Zobrist’s wife, Julianna showed off the depth of family talent with a Memorial Day rendition of the National Anthem. Click the hyperlink to read the gushing of a proud husband.
Holy cow! What a ride we’re enjoying. It seems as if the boys in blue took the pre-season advice of Manager Joe Maddon – and are running all over the competition with it. More than an approach to avoiding the team’s historical arc toward self-destruction, Maddon’s directive to “embrace the target,” has removed the fear of success from a battered organization. And its fan base.
In February, ESPN writer Jesse Rogers quoted Maddon as saying: “I’m really a big believer in running towards the fire instead of away from it…I want our guys to get comfortable with the concept of everyone speaking so glowingly of us.” For an organization and community obsessed with curses, karma and the tricks of destiny, the idea of controlling the hype instead of serving as its object is nothing short of revolutionary. The cool, level-headed kind of anarchy we’ve come to expect from 2015’s National League Manager of the Year. Whatever we’re paying this guy, it’s not enough. The gifts he’s given Wrigleyville Nation in the form of freedom to hope and revel in greatness (yes, I said it). No matter the season’s final outcome, that’s priceless.
There are still those struggling to abandon pessimism, given a century plus of heartbreak. The instinct is understandable. On April 4, Sam Gardner of Fox Sports published Chicago Cubs’ Time Is Coming … Just Not This Year to Win the World Series. In it he opines, “In the same way titles aren’t won on paper, my instinct concerning the Cubs isn’t necessarily one that can be quantified. Call it a wild clairvoyant hunch, but I simply don’t think they’re ready to make the leap.” It’s easy to sympathize with the skepticism, but the Cubs have earned the right to be judged at this point in the season by more than Pavlovian conditioning.
I listed a bunch of impressive stats at the beginning of this post to underscore the solid divisional position occupied by the team. However the most comforting data point of all is this one: prior to the Cubs Memorial Day long weekend tear, they endured a two-week slump. Cold bats, a roughish outing from Arrieta. If one strained an ear, it was possible to hear the low murmurs of “I told you so” emanating from the haters. But as Maddon and his men have repeatedly demonstrated, this is a different team. The old rule book has been thrown in the bin.
Sportswriters and members of Wrigleyville Nation have suffered. Undeniably true. We’re programmed to wait patiently for the horse while clinging to the cart with white knuckles. We expect a Bartman-like disaster year after year because that’s our destiny, right? Wrong. It’s time to heed Maddon’s words. Go ahead and embrace the target. It feels good.
Becky Sarwate is the current President of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, founded in 1885. She’s also a part-time freelance writer, award-winning columnist and blogger who lives in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago with her partner Bob and their beloved pup, Jude. Her collected works are published athttp://www.beckysarwate.com