Friday, May 1, 2015

Numbness finally wearing off

If it was one season it would have been frustrating.

If it was two seasons it would have been discouraging.

Three seasons just became depressing.

After that, I'd kind of grown numb to it.

It, in this case, was losing. For the past five years, the Cubs have done a lot of it. Like a lot lot. You know how when you're in those early teen years and you tell your friends you like a girl and they ask if you just like her, or if you "like her" like her. Losing was like that for the Cubs. They didn't just lose a lot, they lost a lot lot.

From 2010 to 2014, they lost a minimum of 87 games and never won more than 75. And yet I watched. Year after year. I'd subscribe to the Major League Baseball package online and despite the fact I could watch pretty much any game being played, I'd watch the Cubs. Granted, by mid-August I'd turn my attention to the playoff races and starting watching fewer and fewer Cubs games, but I watched a lot of losing baseball.

By 2013, I'd grown numb to the losing. I still enjoyed watching baseball, but I can't say there was a lot of joy in watching the Cubs. Fortunately, their broadcasts are among the smartest in baseball, so even though the team was losing, they were having discussions about the game to make me a smarter fan. There were times I'd turn on the game almost out of obligation of being a fan, like it was something I was supposed to do rather than what I wanted to do.
To be fair,  I had low expectations. I knew the teams weren't going to contend. In the early stretch of losing, the team was getting old and had overpriced veterans that were tough to trade for prospects. A new regime was hired in 2012 after the team lost 101 games, but they preached patience as they sought to overhaul the team. And overhaul they did. Pretty much anyone who had any value who could be traded was. The team did get better in 2013, "only" losing 96 games.

My wife all but gave up on the Cubs. She'd ask every now and again how the game went, but the losing really zapped her interest. We got married in 2003, which you may remember as the year the Cubs came within five outs of reaching their first World Series since 1945. You may not remember that, but if you're even a moderate sports fan, you know that as the Steve Bartman year. (No, it wasn't his fault.) My enthusiasm for the team got her excited. The next year the Cubs went back to the playoffs and she became a fan. But by the time the losing started, we'd had a kid and she'd moved up the ladder at her job and had more responsibilities. Watching a losing team wasn't really a priority for her and as you noticed above, it'd almost become a chore for me. Life's short and there's only so much time you can spend watching a losing team before you just start tuning it in as background noise for your summer.

But here's the thing about all that losing. There was a method to it. Instead of losing with higher priced veterans, the Cubs were busy signing players to short-term contracts and then trading them to teams contending. The losing also meant higher draft picks. Coming in to the season, the Cubs had the top collection of prospects in all of baseball. They will likely all not reach their potential, but what they represented was something Cubs fans haven't had in a while - hope.

You could dream on the prospects. They are young, talented, and all coming up to the team around the same time. Not only was there hope for the future, there was excitement. The first couple of them came up to the team during the second half of the 2014 season. Now, instead of watching winning teams battling for the playoffs, I was watching the Cubs on their way to an 89 loss season.

Hopes were high for the Cubs going in to this year, and so far they haven't disappointed. They had their first winning April since my son was born (he's six now). But for me, the excitement is back. I look forward to watching the games. It's obvious to say winning is fun, but it's even better to have any kind of feelings again watching my team.

More than anything, it's fun to get frustrated again when a guy grounds in to a double play or doesn't field a grounder cleanly. It's fun because there's an emotion attached to the game that I haven't felt in a long time. I'd honestly forgotten how much fun baseball can be when you're team's winning. Instead of tuning in to a game expecting to lose, I watch now with an expectation of winning. The team has an offense that is fun to watch. They hit well, get on base and play aggressively. Up and down the lineup the Cubs have hitters, not just guys filling out a roster. It's exciting.

As I was writing this, I was watching the Royals and Tigers play (the Cubs already played today, yes, I watched at work) and was exchanging tweets with a Royals fan I'd met on the site. They Royals had a more tortured recent history than the Cubs, but had an improbable run to the World Series last year that has rejuvenated the fan base. During the game, the Royals were up 4-1 but the Tigers had the bases loaded and Miguel Cabrerra, one of the game's best hitters, at the plate in the late innigs. This friend tweeted "A plate appearance on May 1st is taking months off my life." I replied "Nice feeling, isn't it."

His response, "This is awesome."

It is awesome to feel something again. It's even better to wake up looking forward to baseball.

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