I'm a bit late to the celebration. The truth is, that I've had a very difficult time trying to find an old piece of John's to share and put some thoughts to. It's hard to put into words how you can miss someone so much that you never met in person.
2015 was the most fun season I'd ever spent following the Cubs. And also the toughest. I struggled with balancing my responsibilities as a recap writer for Cubs Den with being a fan, but also with career, fatherhood, and as a husband. While that season saw the Cubs put together a second half that was as dominating as I'd ever seen a Cubs team play, I have to admit that when the season ended it found me in a dark place. I walked away from writing for Cubs Den to try to find balance again, and to prepare for the birth of our second son.
I have to let you know that I felt I let John down - not only when I left, but at times where I felt I was "mailing it in." Through it all, John could not have been more supportive. When the Cubs made the World Series in 2016, John was on my mind. I wrote him to thank him for guiding us through the rebuild, for preaching patience when the beat writers were pushing to sign Pujols or Fielder, and for fostering a community of mostly rational and civil Cubs fans.
I've often talked as John being our Moses - he led us through some dark times, and had to remind us to be faithful. The difference was that John wasn't just shown the Promised Land; he made it there with us.
Anyway, here are John's words at the close of the 2015 season. It is a prime example of his innate ability to gracefully put into words exactly what we all felt, but struggled to articulate. And of his optimism.
Yeah, I'm disappointed.
Yet this isn't quite like the other years the Cubs have come up short in the end. I don't feel angry or cheated. I don't want to lash out or point a finger anywhere.
I'm only sad this season had to end.
The experience this year was unlike any other. Four years ago we watched a new front office come in and dismantle a past prime team and pare down a bloated payroll. We saw them field teams loaded with waiver wire players and AAAA players.
All along we were asked to be patient. The Cubs avoided the quick fix and built from the ground up. They brought in highly regarded players through the draft and signed top talent from the international free agent market. They signed players and flipped them for young, cost-controlled talent from other organizations.
All the while they were doing this, the Cubs lost a lot of ballgames: 286 of them over 3 years. Don't worry, we were told. Progress isn't linear.
And we believed. We trusted.
We got to know these young players as they made progress in the minor leagues. We imagined what things would be like when they made it to the majors -- even knowing that the Cubs have built promising farm systems before only to see players flame out much too early.
But this time there was a plan. The Cubs called it a process, a word that was mocked in some media circles that only demanded results. The Cubs, however, blocked out that noise. They believed in their process because it had worked before.
For many Cubs fans, however, this was a leap of faith. We had never had a front office come to town and, with full support of ownership, tell us they weren't just going to make the MLB team better, but also make the entireorganization healthy again -- from the ballpark, to the facilities, to the technology, to scouting, to the development practices, philosophy, and, of course, the talent on the field. They said they were going to change the culture in an organization that had grown comfortable with losing and replace it with one that will do whatever it takes to win. And they weren't just aiming to win for a year or two, they were aiming to build an organization that could sustain success indefinitely.
And for three years, we believed.
Then suddenly we started to see glimmers of hope: the strong play at the end of the 2014 season, the emergence of young prospects such as Jorge Soler with many others on the way: Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, and many more.
The Cubs brought in a manager to lead them in Joe Maddon and a support staff that included Jon Lester, Miguel Montero, Dexter Fowler, and David Ross. They wanted to make sure the young Cubs had veterans who weren't just talented, but understood what it took to prepare for the long season and -- perish the thought -- the postseason.
We could see good things coming but few if any of us foresaw this kind of run. The Cubs were good early on, but a 47-40 mark at the All-Star Break still had us thinking that the Cubs weren't quite there just yet.
And then things started to click...
The sweep of the Giants.
Rally buckets. No-hitters. Pajama parties. Magic shows. Wild Kingdom at Wrigley. The Pedro Strop march home alongside Kris Bryant. #WeAreGood.
They became a never say die team that learned to trust each other with everyone taking their turns being the hero: from Jonathan Herrera to Anthony Rizzo to Jake Arrieta and every player in between.
Win or lose the Cubs had each others backs, from the owner to the front office to the manager to the players. They had players unselfishly changing roles for the betterment of the team. Young talent continued to surface to the majors and not just fit in -- but make an impact.
And, of course: Wins. 97 of them and 4 more in the playoffs, highlighted by the dethroning of the Cardinals and the rebirth of a rivalry.
They better get used to it.
It was made all the more fun because we did believe. We did trust. We learned to view things in terms of process before results, but also that results could come at any time, without regard to preconceived timetables. We followed these players from the draft to the majors. We grew alongside them. We shared the burden of 286 losses and the joy of 101 wins.
I'm disappointed because it had to end. The Mets beat the Cubs. For the past 4 games, the Mets were unquestionably the better team. And I can live with that. I can live with leaving it all out on the field and coming up short. When you know your team is good, you don't have to blame goats or fans for losses. You don't blame curses. You lose graciously. You move on. You believe that next time things will be different and you prepare accordingly.
This was a wild, fun ride and I never wanted to get off, but all rides eventually end. This one just happened to end just 8 wins too early.
...And I can't wait to get back on again in 2016.
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