The NFL season snuck up on me this year, so much so that I had almost forgotten that the season opened on Thursday night with the Packers and Seahawks kicking off in a matchup that could have future playoff implications. And this is coming from a guy who is managing 7 fantasy football teams.
What’s more, I was disappointed when I realized that the Cubs had an off day Thursday. Yes, I actually wanted to be able to watch the Cubs on a night when regular-season NFL football was also an option. Crazy talk? Probably.
The kickoff of a new football season had been a welcome salve for the emotional wounds of the Cubs’ campaigns these past few seasons. Even the pre-season games were like nectar and ambrosia for my battered soul and flagging spirit, as “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” took over for “Go, Cubs, Go.”
I mean, whether it was Game 2 of the NFL pre-season or a September game at Wrigley, I was going to be watching guys who had no business on their given roster. But at least with the Bears I could feel confident in the fact that those guys would be gone in a couple weeks. Well, except for Chris Conte.
But this year is different (how dead is that horse, by the way?). Even while the Bears return all 11 starters from a prolific offense and (fingers crossed…hard) have an improved defense, the Cubs have continued to hold my attention. That’s because, unlike the past few years, the team is playing winning baseball in September.
And it doesn’t hurt that Jorge Soler looks like a linebacker out there.
Sure, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara have struggled at times. But if I’m going to watch someone fall short, I’d rather it be a guy on a rookie contract than a veteran pulling down $5 million. And while no one ever expected something spectacular from Darwin Barney or Nate Schierholtz, these new guys are destination viewing.
Baez might only be batting .179, but the potential evident in the other .821 has insulated him from the same derision that accompanied Mike Olt and others. And it could just be a wild coincidence, but the Cubs are 17-13 since Baez has come up, including sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Broors.
The latter of those two was particularly satisfying for me, even if it did mean that the St. Louis Cardinals vaulted into a relatively comfortable first-place lead in the Central. This might not be a popular opinion among Cubs fans, but I simply don’t have a deep disdain for the Cards.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve just resigned myself to the inexplicable power of whatever dark voodoo they practice in the shadow of the Arch. Or perhaps it’s simply because they’ve already had so much success that more of it only incrementally increases their stature.
The beermakers, on the other hand, have had little success of note (blah, blah, Harvey’s Wallbangers) and have drawn my ire with their sort of nouveau riche snobbery. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ll take the Cards’ old-money elitism any time over that.
In any case, the Cubs are beginning to play the kind of baseball that many of us have been hoping they would when Theo Epstein first blew into town and started laying out his grand plan. They’re giving us tangible proof to back up the educated hope we have all been expressing over the last few years.
Last year, if given the chance to watch a Cubs/Rays game or a Bears pre-season contest on a Friday afternoon in August, I’d have gone with the latter every time. But this year, said Cubs game featured the Wrigley debut of Javier Baez, tipping the scales just a little. And it didn’t hurt that I was hanging out with John Cusack in the Executive Suite either.
If I could say anything, it’s that this isn’t the same Cubs team we saw in 2012, or in any year since 2008 for that matter. Rather than searching for its identity and looking like it’d be better off dead, this team is playing with high fidelity. As a result, I no longer feel the need to hop into a hot tub time machine to jump forward several years to when the kids are all up.
But thinly-veiled filmography references aside, the Cubs are actually fun and, dare I say…exciting. Now, it’s entirely possible that I’ll be singing a different tune once the NFL season gets going in earnest, but for now I’m feeling great about being able to actually enjoy watching baseball this late into the season.