Sunday, September 2, 2007

As usual, this is The Year.

It's always like this when the Cubs are in contention late in the season. And when I say always, what I really mean is "the two other times I've experienced it." I start to eat, sleep and breath Cubs baseball (Technically, I don't know how you "sleep" Cubs baseball, but I'll find a way). Each day, I devour the Chicago Tribune sports section and read every word pertaining to the Cubs. If the game is on cable, I have to be near a radio. If the game is televised on WGN, I clear my schedule to watch. Conversations frequently consist of rehashing last night's game, complaining about players who are not performing well and dreaming about the road less traveled by that leads to a World Series championship.

Having a steady paycheck only fans the flames of my obsession. I've already bought tickets to two stretch-run games, including a very important rescheduled bout with the Cardinals, and I'm already budgeting for my "Playoff Tickets Fund" that will hopefully be my gateway to October baseball live at Wrigley.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Cubbies still have to survive a month of regular season baseball and that is no short order. If I had to sum up the 2007 Chicago Cubs in one word, that word would be "inconsistent." If I had two words, I would use a hyphen and call them "mind-bogglingly inconsistent." On any given day, one of two Cubs teams might take the field.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the team with the dominant starting pitching, explosively rallying offense and decently effective bullpen will show up. You'll see Ryan Theriot stretch a long single into a double. You'll see a Derrek Lee home run. You'll see Ryan Dempster save a game without raising the collective blood pressure of the Cubs faithful. The entire team runs like a well-oiled machine and they appear nearly unbeatable.

Unfortunately, the Cubs' understudies play on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They wear the same numbers and the same pinstripes, but the intensity is gone. The starting pitchers throw batting practice and the once-proud Cubs hitters can't get the ball out of the infield. There is a listless feel to the so-called action on the field and I'm taken back to the endless seasons of the early '90s, when the highlight of the game was Harry Caray's signature stretch. If they don't win, it's a shame? There was a lot of shame to go around back then.

But the '90s are over. Inconsistencies aside, the Cubs can make the playoffs this year if they really want to. No other teams are stepping up to run away with the Central Division and good fortune appears to reside at Clark and Addison this season. Even when the team has had setbacks, they've still somehow remained afloat. Now they need to take what's being handed to them and not stop until their ring fingers are a bit heavier.

The great George Will once wrote that Cubs fans are 90 percent scar tissue. I believe the percentage has gone up microscopically every season, as we endure the annual exercise of the Boys in Blue squandering another opportunity to end the near century-long World Series drought. Time is running out.

I am a Cubs fan, so I know that this is The Year. There's no doubt! But I am a Cubs fan, so I already know that next year will be, too.

Play it again, Steve. Go Cubs!

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