Things change quick this time of year—bad to good, hot to cold, winning to losing. The week was a model of pleasant weather, what you’re likely to think of when you overglamorize the Spring into the time of year where for about 90 days it’s constant 70 degree days, allergen free budding plants, and a constant soundtrack of singing birds and bees who only pollinate. The Spring showed us her good side this week, and it was welcomed. I remember at one point during a particularly sunny afternoon, paying attention to how nice and warm it felt. The sun was shining, and there was a slight breeze. I noticed that the air was particularly easy to breathe, and it dawned on me that it wasn’t humid outside yet. This was a warm day with low humidity, something that will seem only a fantasy by the time we get to July. I told myself that I needed to really appreciate this while I had it. But, that can be a confusing prospect. How do you just make yourself appreciate something like low humidity? I breathed in a little deeper, smiled like I was in an antihistamine commercial, and tried to walk a little lighter. Was that good enough?
This week, we reached a classic milestone date as Wrigley Field celebrated its 100th Anniversary. For the non-baseball savvy, Wrigley is where the Chicago Cubs have played baseball since 1916 (the two years before they moved there, the Chicago Whales of the Federal League played there. If you don’t know what the Federal League is, it’s because the League folded after two years). The Cubs threw a big party, where people dressed up in period clothing and former Cubs were invited back for a big ceremony. Loving history, tradition, and dressing up in old clothes, this is the kind of event that sends my nerdometer to its boiling point. You mean my favorite baseball team is going to dress up in uniforms from another team that lasted only two years in the 1910s, and their opponent will wear the also defunct Kansas City Packers uniforms, and they’ll hike their socks up and have collars? Yes please, and may I have another.
The Cubs sent their number 1 pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, to the mound and he pitched 8 innings. The Cubs had a 3 run lead, when Smardj turned the ball over to the closer in the 9th. “So, how did the Cubs lose by 2 runs,” you might ask. Well, there are two ways these days that the Cubs generally lose, which has been pretty consistent over the last 5 years.
Losing strategy 1: The starting pitcher will go anywhere from 7 to 9 innings, allowing anywhere from 0-2 runs. The pitcher will walk few, strike out many, and be anchored by a solid defensive effort. The Cubs will get anywhere from 3-10 hits, however none of those hits will come with runners in scoring position, and without runs it really doesn’t matter what the pitcher does.
Losing strategy 2: The starting pitcher will have a decent outing going from 5-8 innings, allowing anywhere from 2-5 runs, anchored by a defensive effort that is questionable but good enough to stay in the game. The bats will be warm enough to outpace the other team, possibly even outpacing them enough to seem like the game is well in-hand. The starting pitcher will seem to be cruising until a fateful moment in the late innings when he ends up with several baserunners from the opposing team. Coach nervously calls for a relief pitcher who promptly walks the bases full, then gives up a double or other type of multi-run hit. The Cubs, still leading or tied, replace that reliever with another who promptly gives up the winning run. If the Cubs still have the bottom frame, they are rendered completely offensively impotent and are retired very quickly for the loss.
On the day of Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday, the Cubs’ best pitcher was given yet another loss (he doesn’t have a win yet, even though he gives up less than 2 runs a game on average) by Losing Strategy 2, which is the more painful of the two, because for 8 innings there was that feeling of great hope.
Later, I would see video of a young Cub fan crying in the stands at the sight of his hopes dashed to tiny pieces by relief pitching ineptitude. You can’t really explain to a crying child that it’s a rebuilding year, that these are scrap heap relief pitchers who won’t be here next year. You can’t comfort the boy with the red puffy eyes and snot pouring out of his nose that he should have known looking at the roster at the beginning of the year that this would happen. It doesn’t even work for me when I hear it on the radio. I just turned the radio off as soon as the D’backs scored those runs, because I had a good idea what would happen next.
This is because I had that moment the crying boy, who slung his arms and pouted, had many years ago. I had the hope and the all-out belief that things were going to be different. I was excited and confident. And then a few errors, several opposing runs, and a pummeling of my couch later, I was a damaged baseball fan, who could never love with such hopeful idealism again. That boy will learn too. It was a hard lesson for him on Wrigley’s 100th birthday, but an important one.
You can’t pin all your hopes and dreams on one thing. You can’t assume that anything’s a sure thing, because even certainties often don’t happen like you expect them too. However, the boy will also hopefully learn that to become an out-and-out cynic doesn’t do much for your cause either. The real fan isn’t just there for the win anyway. When people ask me how I can like a team who consistently loses, I like to ask them if their kid’s T-ball team lost all their games, would they chose a different T-ball team? What kind of jerk of a fan does that?
So, I went back and turned my radio back on to hear the Cubs not score any runs in the 9th and lose, like I figured they would. But, I had to hear it to make sure, because if they did win, I didn’t want to be the whiner who leaves the game early and misses the greatest comeback of the year. And, after all, it’s just baseball, right? You got to sit in a 100 year old field on a sunny day with low humidity. There’s a lot to be happy about still.
This Sunday, I went outside to find my breathing a little more of a challenge. The air felt heavy, like warm, moist blanket. I recognized that feeling. Humidity was making its return on the waves of some strong Spring storms in the forecast. Things change quick on you. I bet we can find some good in all of it though, if we look hard. So grumble a little about, flail around and tear up if you need to. But, when you settle down, they’ll be something there you still won’t want to miss.