LOS ANGELES – A generation or so ago, sons were born to parents in Ridgewood, New Jersey; Bayamon, Puerto Rico; Holguin, Cuba; Caracas, Venezuela; Middletown, Ohio; and Newport Beach, California. They were tiny little miracles and otherwise ruthless diaper-fillers, just as were sons born in, say, San Cristobal, Dominican Republic; or Eureka, Illinois; or Las Vegas, Nevada; give or take half-a-generation.
They’d walked in as two and walked out as three and gotten on with the business of learning to live with each other. Maybe the smallest of them, the son, would grow to be a firefighter or a CPA or a bartender, whatever’d make him happy, wherever made him happy, soon as he became the largest of them.
Instead he’d be a ballplayer, which was fine too, and that introduced the concepts of travel and grass stains and sunflower-seed flicking and so much batting practice. In all, there were a few dozen of these sons, others born in the same broad generation in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela; and Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Tacoma, Washington, all of them born within a decade or so and chosen to stand shoulder to shoulder many years later on a cold, dank night in November.
It was a coincidence, almost certainly, nothing more, that it was these 30 or 35 sons who became champions for the city of Chicago, for the Cubs. Randomness. Thirty or 35 separate journeys, that many separate stories, any one of which could on any day previous have run off in a different direction, so maybe the championship doesn’t happen or maybe it merely happens with some other sons of some other parents. Many, in the thick of it, however, would call it their destiny, that being the hopeful term for scary games that lie ahead and the hindsight term for the wonder (and parades) that came of them.
Either way, whether one believed in destiny or blind luck or whatever mystical hoodoo that happened in that weight room in Cleveland, it was broadly agreed on that field and in that clubhouse and over the following months that these 30 or 35 men from those parents in this city against one big-ass curse was, indeed, destiny. So the question does follow:
What follows destiny?
What’s next, man?
More T-shirts? More batting practice? A hundred-and-sixty-two more games?
This is winning the lottery and waking up early the next morning, head swollen, ears banging, brain sloshing, to roll the trash bins to the curb as the truck rounds the corner.
I mean, are you still afraid it won’t ever happen? Do you still want it as desperately? Need it?
The Cubs arrived here in first place. Also as a ballclub that for two months has been pretty average. So-so offense. OK starting pitching. Uninspired defense. Their record was 25-21 entering Friday, which was, you know, fine. Except it wasn’t 32-14, which is what it was this time last year, on its way to 47-20, on its way to 103 wins and you know the rest. Then come the next seven months, all those todays that follow. Frankly, some go better than others, and baseball hasn’t been very kind to defending champions lately, and here we are.
Coming up on two months in, Kyle Schwarber is hitting a buck-eighty-one, Addison Russell is looking for his regular stroke, there’s other stuff too, and in the meantime they’re hitting .225 (in 400 at-bats) with runners in scoring position, worst in the National League. Then, Jake Arrieta’s not been Arrieta, exactly, and John Lackey’s not been Lackey, quite, and the fifth starter spot’s come with a little funk, and that’s the story of 46 games. Not 162.
It’s certainly possible the Cubs won’t be as good as they were in the summer and fall where not everything, but enough, went right. Baseball careers aren’t linear. Today’s gapper gets caught tomorrow. Today’s backdoor slider catches too much of the plate tomorrow. Last year’s target was imaginary. This year’s sparkles with 108 diamonds and a million toasts.
“What do I know now?” manager Joe Maddon repeated. “Well, the primary thing, you know, it’s not going to be the same path. It’s not going to be the same way. Guys are not going to look exactly the same as they did last year. But, given the opportunity, maybe they will.”
The game is thick with opportunity, usually around injuries and temporary failure that feels permanent and cold snaps when the bat must be two pounds heavier than it was yesterday. So Maddon reminds himself that this is supposed to be fun still, that everybody needs a little nudge sometimes, that the human condition in the hours following the arrival at one’s destiny might also come with weary legs and minds. It’s not an excuse. It’s not a rationalization. It just is. And the other guys are pretty good, too. Maddon’s plan is to play the long game, to resist the tremors that come with a .500 record and a fan base that maybe lived with mediocre for too long to go back to that heartache. So his plan, so far, is to get them off their feet and out of their heads when possible, to cede to the efforts of a couple extra months of baseball over the past two falls. Take that as you will.
“I know these guys are young,” he said. “I know their birth certificates are favorable. But it’s about their brains.”
They did, many of them, lug a good part of a large city around, along with more than a century’s history, for a couple years. If any of it looked easy, like doing it again was going to be that easy, then you probably weren’t paying close attention.
Remember, other people have destinies too.
“It’s my group, our group, and it’s the way we have to do it,” Maddon said. “The path is going to be different.”
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