Cubs look to buck the trend

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The Crosstown classic begins tonight, and continues through until Thursday. The teams appear to be on different arcs, with the Cubs playoff-bound and the White Sox thinking about who they can trade away at the deadline coming up. But none of that matters when the two teams take the field tonight at U.S. Cellular Field.

On paper, it looks like the Cubs will be able to take it to the Sox, especially since Sox ace Chris Sale is out of action. This should be a mismatch, right?

But there’s an undercurrent that Cubs fans should be aware of, and it doesn’t bode well.

This year MLB has decided to create an interleague “home and home” series for every one of its teams. There were two games played on Monday and Tuesday in one city, with the action switched to the other ballpark for Wednesday and Thursday. Four days, four games, two ballparks. Fun, right?

Some of the matchups are geographically obvious, like the Cubs and the White Sox and the Giants and A’s in the Bay Area. But others are harder to understand. Boston and Atlanta are in the same time zone, and the Atlanta Braves were once the Boston Braves, but somehow they had an interleague series against each other already this season. The Red Sox took three of the four games of the series, so that counts as a win for the American League.

You might think that 4 game series like this should split two games apiece, with neither team able to declare victory over the other. Everyone ties, and nobody loses. But in only one of the 11 series so far this season has this happened. The Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins–bound together by being located in the upper midwest, I suppose–split their four games this season. But in 10 out of 11 series played so far, a winner could be declared.

Guess how many of these ten interleague series were claimed by the National League team? Five, right? After all, that’s half of ten, and it makes sense for the two leagues would split these series in this way.

But no, it isn’t five series for the National League, and five for the American League. In fact, that’s not even close to being the case.

Well then, let’s be optimistic and say that seven series went to the NL team, and three went to the  the AL team. After all, the American League pitchers have to bat sometimes, and that must work to their teams’ disadvantage, right?

But no, that’s not the case. In fact, you’re getting further away from the correct answer. You’re getting colder, I might say.

6 series for the AL, and 4 for the NL? Warmer.

7-3? Warmer, but not there yet.

8-2? Now you’re really warm.

9 wins the AL, and 1 for the NL? Congratulations.

Yes, the breakdown goes like this:

The Miami Marlins of the National League took 3 out of 4 from the Tampa Bay Rays when they played over four days back in May. And it’s all downhill from there, for the Senior Circuit.

Houston (AL) took 3 of 4 from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Detroit (AL) took 3 of 4 from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The LA Angels (AL) took 3 of 4 from the Dodgers back in May.

Seattle (AL) took 3 of 4 from the San Diego Padres.

Kansas City (AL) took 3 of 4 games from the Cardinals to claim Missouri bragging rights.

Oakland (AL) took 3 of 4 games from the San Francisco Giants last month.

Toronto (AL) took 3 of 4 games from the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Cleveland Indians (AL) outdid everyone by sweeping the Reds and claiming the Ohio Cup (or whatever it’s called).

So after 44 games of interleague play in these eleven “home and home” series, the American League has won 31 games, to just 13 wins for the National League. That’s a beatdown, no matter how anyone decides to look at it.

After the Cubs and White Sox play their series this week, there will be only the Mets and Yankees, Nationals and Orioles, and Rockies and Rangers left in this new format. I like the idea, and I hope it continues in the future.

But anyone thinking the Cubs will mop the floor with the White Sox needs to understand the odds of this happening aren’t real good.

With that said, Go Cubs!

 

 

Going for the sweep

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The Cubs don’t really need to win today against the Pirates at Wrigley Field. They’ve already won the series, and have a commanding 11 and a half game lead in the division on Father’s Day. But a lifetime of waiting for this has also made this Cubs fan greedy.

Today we’ll find out if the NBA’s Golden State Warriors can follow up the winningest regular season in history with a league title. If LeBron James  and his teammates can take it away from them, the Warriors’ season will be judged a failure, and rightly so. Winning a title is what matters most, as Vince Lombardi once said.

So a win today by the Cubs may end up being meaningless, because it appears they’re going to win their division easily. But Cubs fans will hopefully be forgiven for our gluttony. It’s been a long time, and an especially difficult road these past few years. So let’s go Cubs!

Play ball!

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It’s no accident that “Baseball” is the biggest topic in the wordcloud associated with this blog. Nor is it an accident that the first thing I wrote on this site related to baseball in some. Without baseball, I might not even have a blog in the first place.

Today it’s Opening Day, and what I’ve been looking forward to since last October has finally arrived. And this year, 2016, is the year that the Cubs will finally get to the Promised Land of the World Series. I’m beyond happy about that.

Enjoy the baseball gallery, and more importantly, enjoy the season ahead. Go Cubs!

Goodbye Goose

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I still remember so many things that happened twelve years ago tonight. I’ve relived some of them here so many times. But try as I might, I haven’t just let them go. I’ve been like Maverick in the movie Top Gun, wishing things had turned out differently than they did. And the only way to finally get past it is to wind up and let those dog tags go. Here’s the music that plays during the scene, if the audio experience is desired.

So goodbye, memories of a champagne bottle that was never acquired, much less consumed.

Goodbye, Bernie Mac singing “Root, Root, Root for the Champions” during the seventh inning stretch.

Goodbye, Moises Alou jumping up and down like a baby.

Goodbye, Mark Prior melting down at the worst possible moment

Goodbye, shortstop who couldn’t start the double play that would have ended the inning.

and most importantly of all, Goodbye Steve Bartman. I’ve written about you a dozen times and more without ever typing out your name. It was my way of trying to respect you as a person and a fan, and not make things any worse than they must already be. But dredging up that moment over and over again wasn’t helping anybody out, so I won’t do it anymore. May you find peace one day, if you haven’t already.

Great things are ahead for the Cubs in the coming two or three weeks. I predicted this early in the year, before Spring training even got started.  And only through clearing away the past will this celebration be complete. This is my one last time of rubbing the dog tags, and

away…..

they……

go!

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There! I feel better already.

GO CUBS!

Right Now

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I must be one of the few people who prefers the Sammy Hagar era of Van Halen over the David Lee Roth incarnation of the band. I’ve written about Sammy before, and his solo work and the songs he wrote and sang for Montrose are great examples of what rock and roll sounds like. Dave, on the other hand, has a couple of clownish videos to his credit as a solo act.

The piano intro to Van Halen’s Right Now sets a tone of immediacy and urgency, as the opening lyrics suggest.

Don’t wanna wait ’til tomorrow

Why put it off another day?

So much of my personal energy is tied up in the Chicago Cubs. One glance at the things I’ve written for this blog and many other websites confirms this fact. Baseball is my game and Chicago is my home, and the Cubs have sustained me on things other than success since I was a very young child.

But games are played to have winners and losers, and this is finally the year when the Cubs win everything. There’s no division title, as I predicted in several places last spring, but the biggest prize of all–the World Series championship–is still out there, waiting to be had.

Right Now! There’s no tomorrow

Right Now! Come on, it’s everything

Right Now! Catch that magic moment,

Do it right here and now!

First there’s a game to win on Wednesday night, and the Cubs will have to take the game away from Pittsburgh on their home field. It will be done, though. I’m close to being able to explain why, too. Details are coming soon in this space, I hope.

So many Cubs fans have already waited so long, and so many others couldn’t hang on to get to this point in time. Were the Cubs to come up short this season, a few more Cubs fans wouldn’t make it to next year’s opening day, let alone the postseason. I think about them as much as I think about myself when I say that the winning has to happen this year.

“Next Year” is for losers and fools, and I’d like to believe I’m in neither category. To partially steal a idea from Justin Timberlake, Yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery, and today is ours for the taking. There’s no day but Today. Let’s do it Right Now. It really does mean everything.

Andy Grammer gets it right

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I’ll be the first one to admit I don’t keep current with today’s popular music. I have one actual teenager, and a second on on the cusp of becoming one, and they want to listen to their music instead of mine whenever we’re out riding around together. Many’s the time that the almost-sacred sounds of Led Zeppelin have been lost to the head-scratching mumbles of some rapper. Such is life with two adolescents.

But today I heard an exception. The sign of a really good pop song, at least for me, is wanting to believe the song’s lyrics have some relevance to your own life. And so it was when Andy Grammer’s “Good to be alive (Hallelujah)” song came on the radio today.

I’m a huge fan of the Chicago Cubs, and have been ever since I was a young kid. But the catch to being a Cubs fan is that you have to be ready to be disappointed with how they play on the field. You expect failure because there’s comfort in it. Twisted, yes, but that’s been my reality for the past 39 years.

And yet this year is different. So vastly different that it’s hard to describe, except to say it feels good. I’ve lived to see a Cubs team that will make the playoffs, get to the World Series, and put this stupid run of futility and jinxes and whatever else it is to bed, once and for all. I could get used to this, as the song says. Practically every line of the song’s lyrics describes the way I feel right now, as my team marches through what’s left of the regular season and looks ahead to meaningful games in October.

I doubt very much that the song has even the smallest intended connection to baseball or to my team in particular. But I’m going to graft those associations onto the song, and hope I hear it on the radio again sometime soon. This run to–and eventually through–the playoffs needs a sonic backdrop. It could be a whole lot worse than this one.

Go Cubs! Hallelujah!

Time for some baseball memes

SchwarbtemberI’ve made a few memes before, and posted them in this space. I enjoy the opportunity they offer for some creative expression. So it was only a matter of time before I made some for the Cubs, I suppose.

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And there’s still some time to catch the Cardinals in the division race, too. This is Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. I can see some fear in his eyes. for sure.

I love this time of year, for once.

September Redux

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Making predictions, or at least trying to divine what the future may hold, is a tricky business. The end result can either make one appear to be prophetic or stupid. That’s the peril of hazarding a guess about something that hasn’t happened yet, and might not ever happen at all.

The Chicago Cubs have been my principal muse, ever since I started writing this blog in the summer of 2011. They put the blue in my batting helmet.  And blue has been an apt metaphor for the sadness and frustration that has come from following a losing baseball team for forty years.

Even when the Cubs win in the regular season–and it has happened a few times over the years–they find some way to make it hurt even worse in October, when the playoffs come around. And the World Series? I see it every year on television, but never once have I taken an active role in cheering on my team in it.

Three years ago, the Cubs were in a terrible state. They had decided to rebuild the franchise by jettisoning their highest-priced players (Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, and so on) in favor of developing younger talent, instead. It wasn’t something I wanted to see, because losing isn’t fun. Believe me when I say that.

At the beginning of the final month of a lost season back in 2012, I reminisced about an unusual September of success in 2003, when Dusty Baker was managing the Cubs. That was twelve years ago, which in a player’s years is a lifetime. The aforementioned Ramirez is the only player from that team still playing at the major league level, and at age 37 his career is winding down. But for a fan, twelve years can disappear in the blink of an eye.

So I used a happy memory from a rare good season for the Cubs to help me get through a particularly bad season. And at the end of the piece, I tried to strike a hopeful note when I wrote this sentence:

But the memory of that September from almost a decade ago lives on,

sustaining me in the hope that a similar September will come along someday,

and then give way to an even more glorious October.

Today the Cubs are trying to sweep a three-game series from the Cardinals in St. Louis. They’re six-and-a-half games behind the Cardinals in their division, with just three-and-a-half weeks left in the regular season. But they’re surging at the right time, as September comes around.

This year appears to be the September I was hoping for, when I wrote that post from three years ago. This time it appears that I’m prophetic, or at least partially so; the glories of October have yet to be determined. But for now, I plan to dance as much as I can in the coming weeks.

Go Cubs! 

I was once a Cardinals fan

Can't go there anymore, April 14

Forty years ago, I was a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. My dad took me to my first baseball game–a doubleheader against the Mets at the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis–in late July of 1975. It was the most exciting thing I had yet experienced in life, and the result was a love for baseball that continues to this day.

My time as a Cardinals fan was brief, however. I found the Cubs and Wrigley Field on a TV broadcast in late September of 1975, and they have been my choice team ever since. I couldn’t watch the Cardinals on TV in those days, and that was enough to shift my loyalties to the team from the north.

Had I remained a Cardinals fan, which there are more of than Cubs fans in the city I grew up in, life would be different, I’m sure. The Cardinals are accustomed to winning, and their success makes them the red yang to the Cubs’ blue yin.

This season could offer more of the same, as the Cardinals have the best record in the game, and the Cubs are trying to chase them down over the last six weeks of the season and into the playoffs. However it turns out, I’ll always look back at that short two-month period in 1975 as an example of how life can bring about changes.

And with that in mind, go Cubs!

There’s baseball in the air

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With less than two weeks left until Opening Night in Chicago, it’s time to start thinking about the return of baseball. There will be new story lines every day, for the next seven months. And winter will disappear at the same time. How can anybody not love that?

Here’s my 2015 Cubs preview on ThroughTheFenceBaseball, and here’s my White Sox preview for the same website. Yes, I worked both sides of Madison Street this year.

And the NCAA tournament will help get us all through the last full weekend before the season starts. I can’t ask for much more than that.

A lifetime of following the Cubs

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I recently had an opportunity to take in a beautiful view of the Chicago skyline, Lake Michigan, and Wrigley Field at the same time. I enjoyed them all, but the one shot that I wanted to have with me in it was the Wrigley Field vista. That speaks volumes as to who I am, really.

I started following the Cubs by watching their games on WGN, Channel 9 in Chicago. The first time I tuned in was late in the 1975 season, when I was seven years old. And now, almost forty years later, I realize that it has been a large part of my identity over the years and decades. There aren’t too many things in life that are more deeply-seated than my attachment to the Cubs.

And they’ve disappointed me in so many ways over the years. Losing is the most obvious way, which forces me to watch while baseball’s other teams taste success instead. And even when they win, it’s just a prelude to more losing in the end.

After so many years and so many disappointments, I am, quite frankly, embittered. I have no faith in the rebuilding process that has been going on since 2012. I don’t think it will pay off with the championship that I and other Cubs fans are craving, at least not in my lifetime. And if it happens after I’m gone, what’s the point?

I don’t have any terminal diseases that I know off, and it’s not like I’m expecting to die anytime soon. That’s not the motivation for writing this. It’s just that every season should be treated as though it will be the last because for many fans, that’s exactly what it is.

A Cubs fan just like me will probably die over the next week. I won’t know who it is, but they’ll be a victim of this process of a still unknown duration. The younger men than I am who run this team can afford to take the long view of the process. The rest of us–who just want to see it once before we pass from this earth–don’t have that luxury.

It only cost a quarter

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On opening day of the 2014 season–at least from the perspective of Wrigley Field–I couldn’t resist driving past the ballpark in the morning, before the gates opened and the crowds arrived.

It was a cold and gray day, the kind that nobody would ask for if ordering up the weather were possible. But that isn’t possible, and a miserable opening day is better than a sunny day in the offseason. That’s what  this baseball-deprived fan thinks, anyway.

The brick walls along Sheffield and Waveland Avenues have always been left bare in the past, but this year they have become a canvas for images from the Cubs’ long and mostly fruitless history. It was good to see this done, in the 100th anniversary of the opening of Wrigley Field. May they never again be plain old brick walls.

I pulled out my camera and snapped a quick picture of one historical image. It was a program cover from the 1945 World Series. Every Cubs fan knows that they haven’t been back to the World Series since then, meaning that no one under the age of about seventy has any memory of this. It’s a heavy burden that every Cubs fan has to bear (no pun intended).

1945 was a terribly long time ago. To put this into perspective, consider what a quarter can buy in today’s world. It’s not very much, that’s for certain. Even a pencil to keep score with probably costs more than a quarter. So looking at the program’s cost in the lower right corner is a jarring reminder of just how long ago 1945 is.

Fun times at Wrigley Field

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This year is the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, since it was opened for the Chicago Federal League team (called the “Chi-Feds” and then the Whales) in 1914. To celebrate this, the Cubs have planned special promotions throughout the season, and have put up the numbers 1914 on the left of the Clark Street marquee, and the numbers 2014 on the right.

I drove down to Wrigley Field today, to see the work that’s being done to get the park ready for next week’s home opener. Other than a couple of large inflatable rats–as the result of a union picket line–there were workers coming and going, getting the old park ready. And as I went to turn left, at the corner of Clark and Addison, I found myself in front of the famed marquee. I took out my cell phone, since I was stopped at a red light, and snapped a few pictures. But I couldn’t take in the entire view with my cheap smartphone camera. Instead, I got the marquee in the middle, the final 4 from the 1914 on the left, and the 20 from the beginning of the 2014 on the right.

I like the way this picture turned out. If somebody just wants a pretty picture of the marquee, there it is. And if someone wants to notice the numbers on either side of the marquee, they can do that, too. And now we’re a few minutes closer to the start of the baseball season, as well. Only a few more days until the season begins, and then winter goes away, once and for all.

On the radio

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Today was a new experience for me. I spent the week brushing up on the rest of the National League’s Central division–since I could already talk about the Cubs in my sleep–and I went on the radio this morning to discuss the division with Steve Bortstein of Fox Sports radio in New Mexico. Thanks to the internet, I was able to listen to the interview after the fact, and can even present it here for anyone who wants to listen.

I enjoyed the experience, and will be happy to do more of it if the opportunity presents itself. Anything to share the game with those who are interested in it. And opening day is now less than a week away. I can’t wait for it to arrive.

An apt metaphor

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I’ve not been writing much in this space lately, as I’m sending off pieces to other websites instead. But I can always link to them here, so here’s a Five Wide piece I wrote, and here’s a TTFB piece. Another piece should run on FiveWide soon, but the Cubs stuff has pretty much come to an end for a while. Or at least I say that now….

The picture above shows a black container and a blue container, sitting side by side in an alley in Chicago. Neither one is any bigger than the other, or newer than the other, and they appear to co-exist with each other pretty well. The Cubs wear blue, and the White Sox wear black (I can’t claim to understand why, but that’s what they do).

But when you consider that their purpose is to collect all of the refuse that builds up inside a house or an apartment, the metaphor of these two receptacles becomes even more fitting.

Both the Cubs and the White Sox were fit for trash collection this year, but nothing more than that. So I’ll put this picture up as my way of saying good riddance to a very trying baseball season on both sides of town.

Another lost season

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I wish that I had more productive creative muses than the Chicago Cubs. It’s such a draining and aggravating experience following this team. But baseball is my game and Chicago is my home and I  would rather eat my keyboard than become a White Sox fan. So here I am.

I ruminated again about how bad the Cubs have been this year on ThroughTheFenceBaseball. It’s like that old poem about gathering rosebuds: Bash your baseball team while ye may. Winter’s coming soon.

Writings about Sandberg and Monday

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It’s been hard to find some time to write lately, but there are a few baseball things happening. And to feed my new column (I do like the way that sounds), I sent them in to ThroughTheFenceBaseball.

The first was a piece about a Rick Monday bobblehead that was given away at Dodger Stadium the week. You have to be of a certain age to know about Rick Monday and the flag incident back in 1976. But it’s a great story, and one that I’ve retold in this space already. If these bobbleheads can help to memorialize it and call attention to it, that’s a good thing. I certainly wanted to do my part, too.

The Ryne Sandberg piece that I wrote last night was a hard one to get together. I loved Sandberg as a player–more than I realized at the time–and it will be difficult to consider him as a part of another organization besides the Cubs.

The piece also takes Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to task for not choosing Sandberg to manage the Cubs. Sandberg meant a lot to many, and Sveum meant nothing to no one. So of course we ended up with Sveum. If that makes any sense, please leave me a comment explaining it below.

Perhaps other topics will emerge besides baseball in the days ahead. But the winding down of the baseball season means that a long offseason isn’t far in the distance, either. So it’s best to enjoy it while it lasts.

Link to a post on ThroughTheFenceBaseball

MarkPrior

Yesterday brought a strange bit of baseball convergence, as the Atlanta Braves retired Chipper Jones’ number 10, while the Cincinnati Reds released Mark Prior. Ten years ago, in the first round of the National League playoffs, Prior got the better of Jones in game three, retiring him three times.But in the end, Chipper Jones is going to the Hall of Fame, while Mark Prior is struggling to make it back back to the majors.

I wrote this piece as a lamentation of sorts for the way it has been for Cubs fans since 2003. And I hope that one day these memories will be supplanted by something more celebratory. But for now, this is all I have.

Best of luck to Mark Prior as he moves on from here. I’d like to see him pitch again in the majors one day.

Operation Goose: An Introduction

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Ten years is long enough.

Ten years can sometimes feel like an eternity. And yet, for an event that took place almost a decade ago, the 2003 NLCS still feels close at hand. That’s because we have collectively frozen the moment in time, as if to preserve it somehow. It’s a natural response to something that seems like it should have never happened, but unfortunately it did.

The best parallel for this from a movie is Top Gun. The death of Anthony Edwards’ Goose character, as a result of a plane election gone wrong, has a profound effect on Tom Cruise’s Maverick. To mourn the loss of his friend, Mav carries around Goose’s military dog tags, and they comfort him on some level.

But they also serve as a distraction, in a flight scene where Maverick disengages from a combat exercise. Maverick’s head was not in the game, because he was thinking about Goose instead. And that put everyone at risk.

The emotional catharsis comes later in the movie, when Mav throws Goose’s dog tags into the sea. It was a very difficult, but also very necessary, act of letting his friend go. Since his friend was not coming back, Maverick chooses to release his friend’s memory, thus freeing himself up to shoot down some bogies and cover Iceman’s ass. And yes, I know all about the movie’s gay subtext, too.

I hope that all Cubs fans who still carry Goose’s dog tags, in a metaphorical sense, get to the point where they can finally cast them into the sea. As crushing a loss as 2003 was emotionally, we need to put it aside, and realize that we’ll never move forward until that burden is lifted.

The first step in this process is to go back and revisit the entire series. For many people—particularly those who aren’t even Cubs fans—the NLCS was a single, winner-take-all affair that happened in Wrigley Field on Tuesday, October 14, 2003, Mark Prior started that decisive game, and pitched with great skill until the eighth inning rolled around. And then an unfortunate play happened in the left field corner, and the one-game series was irretrievably lost. It’s as if the Cubs didn’t even bat in the bottom of the eighth inning that night, and the ninth inning never happened, either.

But there was a full baseball game played that night, just as there had been five full games before it. There was even another game played the following night, and that one actually was the winner-take-all game that Game Six is often presumed to be. And in the course of each game, there were several moments where things could have gone the other way on the field.

Over the next few months, I’ll identify those moments, ponder what they mean for the series as a whole, and demonstrate that the professionals—both on the field and in the dugout—decided what actually happened back in 2003. The fans in the stands–every last one of them–had nothing to do with anything, in the big picture that I’ll be laying out.

I’m aiming for the whole series to be nothing less than cathartic, so that fellow Cubs fans can make their peace with it and then move on. But for now, just think about Mav and Goose.

Link to a post on ThroughTheFenceBaseball

HawksCup

While the Blackhawks have come back from Boston in triumph, the Cubs are now dropping into last place in Milwaukee. The opposite nature of these two teams–the yin and yang, if you will–was not lost on me as I wrote a piece for ThroughTheFenceBaseball last night.

I don’t care too much about hockey, but it does feel nice to be around a winner. And the Cubs have forced me to wait nearly my entire lifetime for a winner, and all of it in vain so far. There’s a lot more to life than winning, but I can’t imagine that winning isn’t important, either.

I’ll be watching the Blackhawks’ victory parade on Friday, while becoming edgier by the day over the Cubs and their complete failure in this regard. And I hope I’m not the only one to feel this way either. It’s Hooray for the Blackhawks, and WTF for the Cubs.