‘World Series or Bust’ is the New ‘Best Shape of His Life’

Is there a more hackneyed trope in all of sports than reporting that a baseball player has reported to Spring Training in the best shape of his life? Such platitudes are the bane of baseball’s return, though they are fast being supplanted in Mesa by a new set of banal buzzwords. While talk of winning had largely been reserved to the masturbatory monologues of team ownership in recent years, the success of The Plan has got players and journalists alike singing a different, if still monotonous, tune.

From ESPN Chicago:

Ben Zobrist returns home with win-only mentality

Teammates again, Jon Lester and John Lackey aim for another title

Cubs catcher David Ross looking to go out a winner in final season

From CSN Chicago:

Cubs will open spring training with World Series-or-bust mindset

From the Chicago Tribune:

World Series or bust? That’s not the way the Cubs are thinking

Say hey, J-Hey: Classy new Cub Jason Heyward is serious about winning

From every website ever:

Cubs X-1 odds to win World Series (I was going to include a link to another ESPN article, but it just felt like piling on at this point)

This isn’t supposed to be a hit piece or anything, as I think most of what’s contained in the links above is solid stuff. I just want to point out how easy it is to get caught up in a narrative, even one that might feel kinda new given the circumstances. I also want to point out just how much of a gilded lily Spring Training can be. Yes, it’s great to have baseball — real, live baseball — back. But just as players are knocking off the winter’s rust from their games, they are doing very much the same with their media relations. For the Cubs, that means a whole lot of talk about winning and expecting to win and not buying into the hype about the expectations and about how expectations and hype and hyped expectations won’t prevent them from winning. Sound about right?

And I get it. I mean, lust is the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst and all that, which is to say any port in a storm. Besides, if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with. Which is also to say we’re all so starved for baseball that pretty much any coverage of it will do. But until actual scores are kept and there’s something more exciting than Rick Sutcliffe observing side sessions or John and Jon jauntily jawing about the joys of joining together once more, jejune is the name of the game. So that’s cool and all, but surely we can come up with something better than the idea that a team coming off a 97-win season that ended in a sweep in the NLCS and that then added a boatload of talent and payroll is intent on winning.

I’m admittedly in the position here of calling the color of my fellow cookware into question, so I suppose I should back down now. My (belabored) point is that of course the Cubs want to win and are not going to be satisfied with anything short of the title for which they’re favored. Nor should they be. But we’re going to keep hearing about it until this ship gets blown out of the doldrums. Only then can we finally get down to hard-hitting accounts of Kyle Schwarber’s time-travel adventures or Foul Ball Dad. The Cubs may have shown up to camp in the best shape of their lives, but it’s probably going to take us writer types a little while to round into form as we follow this World Series-or-bust adventure.

Featured image via Jesse Rogers’ Twitter timeline.

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