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An Opener That Felt More Like Closure

An Opener That Felt More Like Closure

It was a strange Opening Day.  Strange because for the first time in any of our lifetimes we were able to call the Cubs the "Defending World Champions".

It was also strange because admittedly it felt less like an opener and more like a chance to reunite and celebrate the Cubs one more time.  Joe Maddon set a lineup that was less about match-ups and more about paying tribute to the players that were on the field for Game 7.  I even proposed a toast on social media.  This isn't going to be a thing for the whole season, but we all felt the need to bask in that glory together just one more time.

As much as the media wanted to make this about the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry, it really didn't feel that way to me.  It was just about the Cubs.  I don't think I would have felt any different if the Cubs had played the San Diego Padres.  That is not to say the Cubs did not take the Cardinals seriously, far from that.

It was just more about wanting to see this team on the field one last time and think about everything they accomplished last season.  We even got the chance to see an old friend in Dexter Fowler while those warm feelings are still circulating through our veins.  Maybe things won't be quite the same when the Cubs face them later in the season.  Soon we'll inevitably start to view Fowler as just another pesky Cardinals player.  Perhaps that process has already started with that somewhat controversial slide into second base.  Fowler's interest now is in helping his new team beat his old team.  How's that for a cold dose of reality?

But for one night at least, I don't think any of us were quite ready to let go of 2016.  There is a part of us, of course, that never will.

The irony is that the game itself did not remind us at all of that magical season, at least not how we like to remember it, and at least not for the first 8 innings.  All those little breaks seemed to go the Cardinals way -- the squib grounders, a couple of close calls, a distracting sign that seemed to have temporarily camouflaged the baseball from Javy Baez.  On top of that, the Cardinals seemed locked in.  Carlos Martinez was at the top of his game and every time a Cubs pitcher made a mistake with their location, their hitters just seemed to pounce on it.  The Cubs didn't play well, but you also have to give the Cardinals credit.  They did not seem to leave the Cubs any room for error that night.

The Cubs did have at least a little magic left. Willson Contreras would hit a dramatic 9th inning, game tying 3 run HR and all seemed right again.  As it turns out, that euphoria would be short-lived.  The Cardinals had been grinding this one out and had outplayed the Cubs all game.  They were not about to let this one slip away.

It was a frustrating loss but maybe more importantly a sobering reminder to put 2016 behind us now and look in earnest to 2017.  Teams aren't going to just lay down and let the Cubs steamroll them on their way to another title.  It was also a reminder that losing still stings.

All that said, even in hindsight, I wouldn't change the way Opening Day was handled and the way many of us viewed it as fans -- even if it could have somehow changed the result.  It was a long, sometimes heart-wrenching journey from the day we first became Cubs fans until that night the baseball settled securely in Anthony Rizzo's mitt.  Nobody can blame us for taking one long look back on it all before embarking on a new journey in 2017.

For this one time, Opening Day served a different purpose for Cubs fans.  It wasn't about forgetting about our past.  It was about embracing it.  It allowed us to close the book on 2016, store it as a treasured memory, and move on to a season that will undoubtedly provide many more moments to cherish.

With Opening Day behind us, I'm more than ready for what's to come in 2017.

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  • I'm predicting a beat down of the Birds today.

  • In reply to Denizen Kane:

    I think the focus will be back. Not to put it all on the Cubs, the Cards played well, but they're going to have to do that every time to beat the Cubs these days.

  • Really good thoughts John, and I agree. It was more like a bow to last year and that makes sense. Last year we opened with hope and dreams and didn't want to think much of the year before and every other year in our lifetimes we've wanted to put the previous year behind us, far, far behind us. Not this year though, we wanted those warm, fuzzy feelings one more time. There I was in the same chair I sat in watching that dramatic finish to game 7 and our guys were back, then Kyle Schwarber obliged and got a hit to start it off. The fact that the game ended the way it did stung a little but not a lot, the Cubs were still the defending World Champions and it's not like they played badly. Now we look forward and set about trying to do the whole thing over again.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Exactly. Well put.

  • In reply to TC154:

    And thank you :)

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    Great article, John. This off-season, Spring Training and Opening Day had a certain "Victory Lap" feel to it. But this is now a new season. We have slightly different personnel. Even if this group comes up short this year--we found out last year just how difficult winning it all would be--2016 will always be a magical year in Cubs Fan's minds.

    Here's hoping for another 100+ win season.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Thanks, Joel. It almost feels like that moment when you you look ahead and you just realize it's going to be long and difficult. You sort of want to take a breath and look back to see how far you've already come. You just want to soak it in before moving on again. Of course, you want to finish this journey just like you finished the last one,

  • John........You mentioned that the line up for Sunday was out of respect for the guys from 2016. What would be a better line up?

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Almora or Jay in CF, as it will be in most games. In fact, Maddon himself said it was a tribute to Game 7.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Who would be left out?

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Probably Baez, but you are missing the entire point. The point is that lineup was a tribute to Game 7 per Maddon himself. Baez isn't a good match-up against Martinez and his slider, doubtful he would have played. Almost certainly would have been Jay in CF on a normal day.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I am not missing the point. I believe that was the best line up to have on the field. A bad match up for Baez is still better then Jay.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    No, it really isn't. Best matchups mean the best hitters against that pitcher and that environment. Maddon said that was not his best lineup for this matchup. The Cubs obviously feel they are a better team with Almora/Jay in CF because they're the starters. That is self-evident.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Fair enough. But I'll take the opening day line up over tonight's line up. Now you have 2 offensive ????? In the field. If anything I'd rather have Jason on the bench. Joe likes to say a lot of things to keep the peace and make all happy.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    On the Score today Maddon talked about it a little and reiterated that it was a bit of a tribute to the guys. He also talked about how difficult his job is going to be day in and day out to get these guys playing time and mentioned that Zobrist is probably going to get the bulk of the time at 2B but that Baez would get his work in.

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    Very well said John. I had much of the same feelings while watching. I admired Lester so much for getting in and getting out of situations. I think that Willson was a bit too hesitant to go out and talk to him but that's understandable, and then he comes up big in the 9th.
    Although I still am aware that the Cubs won the WS, as soon as the game started I was in it, wishing KB wouldn't strike out with that high inside pitch or that Javy wouldn't swing at that low and away one. I was impressed with Martinez--he can throw 100MPH and curve it too. Then we came back and tied it and it was like the two last years.. It's good to be back.
    Thanks again John. Let's win today!

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Thanks Jonathan. Hoping it goes better again today as well. Would be nice to get that first W out of the way.

  • My biggest squabble was that the Cubs didn't get to open the season at home. I don't remember when the schedule was made, if it was before or after the World Series, but even in July, it was obvious the Cubs were likely going to the playoffs and the Cards were less likely. With a few exceptions, the Super Bowl winner gets to open at home, I think any team that wins the World Series should open the season at home. It'd be a great nod to the team, the fans and the city. I'll hop off my soap box now.

  • In reply to Mom2futurecubs:

    Agreed. Should have let the Cubs celebrate and not have to do it on the road against an embittered team who wanted to downplay it as much as possible.

  • That was a playoff game for the cardinals. Lulz

  • In reply to CubfanInUT:

    Yeah, funny how much they want to beat the Cubs now.

  • Anyone else bothered with all the pre-game pageantry the Cards put on? All the Red Jackets and the World Series trophies at home plate. Pissed me off as I thought that was a shot at us. Never seen a non-playoff team feel the need to celebrate like that. Another reason why the World Champs should not open on the road.

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    In reply to rbrucato:

    Other than all the WS trophies being on displayed that was pretty much your typical Cardinals opening game extravaganza. But yeah the trophy thing was a direct swipe at the cubs and if the cards were playing any other team those trophies would of been somewhere getting dusty.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I was amused. Maybe I've put more thought into this, than is necessary. .That when your rival wins it for the first time in a century, you feel the need to show your trophies.....

    Screams insecurities.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Yes. It was over the top and disrespectful IMO. I did dig the Chuck Berry tribute though.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Odd how they are so obsessed with the Cubs and how miffed they are that the Cubs a) are better than they are and b) won the World Series.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I see no big deal with how cards celebrated opening day. Some on here are being overly sensitive and make assumption about cards. Even if they wanted to display their trophy that what makes it a great rivalry.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    What were they celebrating? Missing the playoffs? I don't see the purpose to do what they did other to downplay the Cubs. I think that is a shame MLB gave them the opportunity to do so. After being convicted and sending an employee to the penitentiary, they should have opened Monday afternoon against the Padres.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    It is obvious the cards were celebrating opening day by celebrating the history of the organization. It isn't a big deal. Why would a rival team celebrate what another team did for opening day? I wouldn't expect the cubs to celebrate the cards winning a WS. Cub fans that are bothered by this need to move on.

  • I have to hand it to Dexter too on his slide into Addy.....he could have taken his leg out but didn't....you could tell he pulled back even though he did go a bit out of the baseline to break up the DP. I don't think the Cubs got an interference call also because Russell appeared to be tucking the ball back in instead of making the attempt to complete the throw, it seemed he made his decision to just take the force out and be done with it.

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    I think the cubs are going to bomb Wainright tonight if the game doesn't get rained out.

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