The Cubs Care: More Than Great Pitching at Spring Training 2018

At the annual Cubs Convention in January, Theo Epstein let enough slip to dial 2018 media and fan excitement to 11. Following the late 2017 acquisition of Colorado Rockies hurler Tyler Chatwood, described by NBC 5 Chicago’s James Neveau as a “centerpiece pitching acquisition,” Epstein famously told crowds, “We’re not done” with plans to shore up the staff.

Much has been written about the Cubs “World Series hangover” and 2017 pre-season personnel complacency. Essentially Theo and Jeb fielded the same team that finally ended the sports worlds’ saddest losing streak, and who could fault them? There was every reason to abide by the old axiom – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Except it was clear fairly early into the 2017 Major League Baseball Season that the Cubbies were sluggishly embracing the target, on the mound and at the bat.

Though no die-hard fan could be ungrateful about three consecutive trips to the playoffs (our parents and grandparents could only dream!), don’t we all wish NLCS 2017 had been just a little less ugly and embarrassing? My husband and I were at Wrigley Field for Game 5, the most painful loss of them all. When Carl Edwards Jr. walked then-Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish in four straight throws, Bob had to physically restrain me from rushing the field. I’m sure the nice, large security guard several feet from us also preferred that I remain seated. Alcohol may have (definitely) exacerbated the rage, but I’ve yet to fully forgive the utterly crappy pitching from that series – closer Wade Davis notwithstanding.

It was very clear to management, players and fans that pitching staff changes had to be made before 2018, and our fearless leaders delivered the goods. If NLCS 2017 did members of Wrigleyville Nation a solid, it was a preview of just how great Darvish looked inside the Friendly Confines. On February 10, the Cubs signed the 31 year-old right hander to a six-year, $126 million deal, installing the four-time All-Star near the front of the starting rotation. If anything, a confident Theo undersold it at the Convention. For now at least, the results exceed the hype.

Those lucky enough to get to Mesa, Arizona for Cubs Spring Training action can expect to see lots of A-list talent on the mound. I’m hard pressed to think of a more exciting starting rotation in any Cubs era. Bruce Levine of CBS 2 Chicago wrote last week:

“The Cubs added the best pitcher available in free agency in right-hander Yu Darvish over the weekend after signing right-hander Tyler Chatwood back in December. They’ll join left-hander Jon Lester, left-hander Jose Quintana and right-hander Kyle Hendricks as starters who could all produce 180 to 200 innings. Beyond them, left-hander Mike Montgomery is a valuable swingman plenty capable of filling in the rotation.”

And Jake Arrieta still hasn’t found a new home. A girl can dream…

Speaking of dreams come true, the Chicago Cubs demonstrated this week that Spring Training 2018 has much game – and heart. The local Fox affiliate in Mesa reported that four children, patients from Advocate’s Children’s Hospital here in Chicago, were treated to a special up close and personal experience. Marcy Jones wrote:

“[The kids] got the red carpet treatment, watching their beloved Cubbies at spring training…The day started with a welcome that would make anyone feel like a winner…

Then, the teens didn’t just get a high five, they also got to ask players and coaches questions, toss the ball, and even be an honorary Cub…But more importantly, they got a distraction from some of the toughest curveballs life has thrown at them.”

Beloved Cub emeritus and Dancing with the Stars runner-up David Ross joined the kids and his former teammates for the experience. The retired catcher was described by one young fan as a “living legend.”

It’s been said that this decade’s incarnation of the Cubs are easy to root for, and it’s not just because of the club’s copious talent. These are good guys – on and off the field. In the early weeks of Spring Training, the team has absolutely proven its focus on winning games. Prioritizing humanity and giving back to the fans is another victory.