Stars Without Makeup: Not a Fear for Fresh-Faced Future of the Chicago Cubs

Stars Without Makeup: Not a Fear for Fresh-Faced Future of the Chicago Cubs

So I was listening to Fox Sports Daybreak on my way into work this morning and I heard the familiar Chicago accent launch into another typical diatribe.  Yes, it was Mike North, and he was getting his panties in a bunch about Jay Cutler and how he's so awful and has the worst contract in sports, and blah blah blah.

I felt the sudden urge to punch my radio in effigy, so I guess I understand how some of my readers feel.  But I don't need to agree with North to understand that he's lamenting Cutler's lack of those intangible qualities that elevate someone from just another talented athlete to a bona fide star and leader.

You see it all the time on Yahoo or on the covers of the various Celeb gossip mags and tabloids in the grocery store checkout line too: Stars Without Makeup.

Sometimes these are doctored to make you believe that your favorite glamorous Hollywood celebs are really just hideous trolls.  Of course, in watching the Academy Awards Sunday, you might find that some stars are frightening even when they're all glammed up.  Other times, it's to show that they're truly fresh-faced beauties.  When it comes to baseball prospects, we often see the former, and that's certainly been the case for the Cubs in recent history.

You see, to really make it, a kid has to have more than just a strong arm, sweet swing, and a pretty face.  But we sure do love to swoon over those traits, don't we?  I mean, Kris Bryant hits one home run in a Spring Training game and all of a sudden people are acting like he's the next Vance Law or something.  Javy Baez does it and he's the second coming of Jose Hernandez.

Okay, in all seriousness, I do think Bryant and Baez are going to make it.  I feel the same way about Albert Almora and even Dan Vogelbach.  Sure, they all have measurable skills.  But more than their respective slash lines, it's their confidence that most impresses me.  A swagger, a knowledge that they're going to succeed and a will do what it takes to make that happen.

Tommy Cook wrote about Vogelbach's intangibles earlier; Tom Loxas expanded the thought to other heralded kids.  I've seen makeup outstrip measurable skill firsthand, and it's something special.

Our story starts a few years ago, during my freshman orientation at Hanover College.  I had missed the earlier opportunity due to a family vacation and so was forced to test into German, Calculus, and other subjects after having not cracked a book in months.  The results weren't pretty.

In any case, the campus was relatively quiet and the few guys who were there from my floor spent some time hanging out and just trying to overcome the boredom and awkwardness of the situation.

One guy in particular, we'll call him JR, seemed to have sort of an It quality, a charisma that drew others to him.  And not like a scary, Pennywise It either.  The first time I ever got drunk was with a group that included my roommate and another guy down the hall, all ostensibly led by JR.  And mom, if you're reading this: just substitute "euphoric" for "drunk."

My across-the-hall neighbor, Fat Mike, was the oldest guy in the dorm, kind of like Tommy Boy but without the erudite bearing savoir-faire.  He was obnoxiously nosy, prone to theft, and went absolutely apeshit during Xavier basketball games.

Fat Mike's one redeeming quality was that he was more than willing to contribute to the delinquency of minors by purchasing beer for them.  So after a clandestine exchange that felt more like a deal Jesse Pinkman would have transacted, Mike got his $10 and we got a 30 pack of Coors Extra Gold (again, mom, just sub in "Diet Pepsi").  Rocky Mountain refreshment, my foot.

My one regret about that night is that our mini dorm fridge could not achieve a low enough temperature to make the beer more palatable to my as-yet-untrained tongue.  Otherwise, it was a pretty fun time; we headed to a couple of parties, stumbled home from FIJI, and generally acted like dumb college kids.

As is usually the case, friendships ebb and flow and I really didn't hang out with JR much after that.  But we were both English majors, so we had several classes together over the years that followed.  Plus, when your campus has fewer than 1,200 students, it's pretty much impossible not to rub elbows with just about everyone at one point or another.

Both of us leaned more toward the creative side of the major, even though HC really only offered a degree in Lit.  But JR was a theater guy too, so that made sense.  I don't think either of us took our classwork all that seriously, though I am willing to bet I buckled down a little more.

Actually, I'm sure he'll tell you that he partied harder than you.  I had more of the tangibles that lead to success: grades, awards, etc.  In fact, I won the (not so) coveted Meese Literary Award, given to the student most likely to succeed in creative writing.  Actually, I shared the award, but let's not split hairs here.

JR, on the other hand, was a little more of a wild-card, a guy who didn't seem to have to try that hard.  He made it look easy because he just had this way about him that made you feel like he knew what he was doing.

And so it was that I found myself with him following graduation as we turned in our caps and gowns.  Almost too cheesy to say, but things had come full circle for us.  There in the room with us was Dr. Smith, one of our English profs.

"So, JR, what are you planning to do after graduation."

"I'm going to get on a plane, fly to LA, and become famous."

Those are his exact words, at least to the best of my recollection.  And he said it with nary a trace of irony, sarcasm, or humor.  Dude was dead set that he was going to make it.

I, on the other hand, was not confident in what others had told me were my God-given abilities.  Thus, I headed from college to a commission-only job selling life insurance.  Then to a job waiting tables at Applebee's.  Sure, I would get ideas, thoughts, inklings that could lead to stories or even books.

But five Long Island Iced Teas and a couple Bud chasers have a funny way of erasing both motivation and memory alike.  Writing a book isn't riding a bike either.  But I'm pumping a little air back into the tires and putting the training wheels back on.

Who knows, maybe I can be like Josh Hamilton, though I'd settle for just being AAAA at this point.  I'm just happy to be writing.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that Cubs fans have seen plenty of guys come up through the minors and follow my path.  Except, you know, with baseball instead of writing.  They looked good on paper, but when it came time to put in the work and to have faith in their own ability, they came up short.

But if everything we're seeing and hearing is true, several of the guys coming up are a lot more like JR.  They have the skill and the will, the substance and the swagger, and it's the latter of those those combos that will help them the most.

We love to heap adulation onto the Next Big Thing, and sometimes we do so before said hyped-up prospect has warranted the praise.  Or perhaps he's simply not strong enough to shoulder the accumulated weight of history and expectations.  This new crop of kids, though, they seem to get it, to want the pressure that comes with performing on the biggest stage.

And while it's not The Globe, the playhouse at 1060 W. Addison has seen its share of characters.  And while many have too closely resembled Falstaff, it appears that Romeo, Hamlet, and Othello are on the way.  Except, you know, for the tragic ends those characters all met.  Maybe Macbeth?  No, no, that's just as bad.  Well, you get my belabored point.

Rather than goofy and bumbling (while still being subtly witty and complex at times), the Cubs are soon going to have a younger, sharper edge.  And that's a performance I'd pay to see.

Now, some of you are probably wondering about my classmate, JR.  Well, he did indeed fly out to LA and he's made quite a name for himself.  I don't want to ride his coattails into a couple more page views, so I'll just say that he's been on a  few TV shows, most notably one on HBO about vampires and werewolves.  Oh, and then there's the little website he started; something that pairs well with sour cream in potato chip flavors and has spawned a brewery, a registered 501(c)(3) charity, and a wildly successful line of apparel.

Keep Calm and Cub On!

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  • First of all, although I'm practically illiterate, I do not think that you should ever stop writing. Second, I think that you and Tom are correct about Baez, Bryant, and Almora being a cut above previous Cub prospects. This group is not Patterson, Pie, and Kelton, that would be BJax and Vitters.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    Thank you, assuming you meant me in particular and not the general idea of writing. For a long time, it just wasn't fun for me; I still struggle with the fear that people aren't going to like what I write.

    A lot of the kids who have come up seem to have needed quite a bit of coddling, or they had some flaws that they couldn't fix or were unwilling to work on. But my hope is that these guys are more like Harper and Trout, in that they are going to be able to hit the ground running.

    Only time will tell, but they're certainly fun to watch right now. If Bryant even has half the savvy I think he does, that kid's going to be a superstar in Chicago. His baseball skill is one thing, but he could easily be the face man this team has longed for. And that extends well past Chicago too. First things first though, let's just get him settled in.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    I did mean you, but the general idea of writing not bad either.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    In that case, thanks again. It's kinda like baseball; you have to keep going up and taking your cuts. It's not possible to hit a home run every time, but the key is to be consistent. Some folks may feel like I'm more like Adam Dunn, just without the power; but I enjoy it and I hope that I can bring some enjoyment to at least some of those who read.

    And while it's never my goal to anger someone, I do want to stir up some kind of emotion. I consider it a swing and miss when everyone who reads just says: "meh."

  • Thanks Slug, it's going to take some tough kids to deflect what they will put up with.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Exactly! When competing for the Cubs, one is trying to beat the opposition and tradition.

  • Hope everyone is right about these guys. My dream is not just a World Series Championship, but a dynasty that eclipses even the most famous Yankee teams. Players talked about in shorthand -- like when you say "The Babe" everyone knows whom you mean; or when you talk about movie stars and just say "Marilyn" everyone knows whom you mean; or basketball and you just say "Michael"; or rock and roll and you say "John, Paul, George and Ringo" and no one asks you "Who was that?" And then the icing on the cake would be the Yankees then suffer a decades-long slump, or rebuilding program, and become the "Lovable Losing Yanks." Asking for too much? Of course, but it's only a dream! Or fantasy.

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    In reply to Floyd Sullivan:

    Now that would be awesome. While he certainly tarnished his image, Sosa was a huge star on a nationwide level; I think at least one of these kids could be the same.

  • I thought I would give your articles one more chance, but I will stick to Tom's articles for now on.

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    In reply to Clark and Addison:

    Well, thanks for trying. Tom and I are definitely different people with our own unique styles. I'm not for everyone, but I'm glad you have something else on the site that suits you a bit more.

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    In reply to Clark and Addison:

    Wait, not even this one:

  • You mean someone listened to Fox Sports Radio, instead of something more relevant like nonscholar athletes on college and Curie basketball teams on Mully and Hanley? At this point who cares about Cutler, including Kristin?

    And, as for Falstaff, it was reported that before Bud, Harry Caray was into Griesedieck. I'm sure you and Jockish can do something about that.

    Maybe more relevant is the article today that the Reds are worried about season ticket sales, and they ended the season 24 games ahead of the Cubs.

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    In reply to jack:

    I'm not sure what you're talking about, but yeah, that's pretty much what's goin' on here. Well played on the Falstaff call.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    If you mean the Reds, it was in the Daily Herald.

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    In reply to jack:

    Nah, just a Joe Dirt-ism. The Reds not selling well isn't a surprise at all. When the Cubs were good, it was basically Wrigley South there, to the extent that I'd say it was at least half Cubs fans. Even when they're good, the Cubs contingent is really large. Of course, a Cubs/Marlins game in Miami would also be half Cubs, and a game in Anaheim would probably be at least 25%. I guess that's more of a testament to the Cubs fanbase than those of the other teams.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    Maybe also a testament to WGN Superstation, in which case maybe the other teams have an interest in the Cubs TV contract.

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    In reply to jack:

    WGN indeed created Cubs fans all over the country. I went to a game in Denver in which everyone seated around me was in blue and red. A Cubs network would net more money for the team, but would probably be much more regional in nature. Of course, WGN's reach was decreased significantly by the move to more night games and the proliferation of cable/sat channels. Prior to the 90's, there really wasn't much competition for eyeballs, particularly in rural areas that only picked up a few stations and didn't have access to cable.

  • thing that irks me with Cub fans is the seem to relate everything to a past failure.. these prospects get compared to failed prospects..its so tiring. but no one seems to remember M Sczur was one the cubs prospects pre epstein era. and now he is struggling to even stay on the list of current top prospects.. the amount of talent epstein has added in just 2-3 yrs has been astonishing. but everyone wants to speak to the negative. and thats "the Curse" of the cubs organization.. the overall negativity a large group of cub fans toward everything. but this site does have a lot of positive fans who have a good outlook on things. Wish everyone could stop being so negative all the time. it only produces more negativity.

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    In reply to CubfanInUT:

    Well put. It's funny how many of us (I'm just going generic with Cubs fans as a whole) are all doom and gloom and then act surprised when the team doesn't succeed. Listen, I have my share of negativity, but it's more toward the inability or unwillingness of the business arm to make things happen.

    But you almost get the feeling that people don't want things to get better, like the enabling family members of an addict. People are lamenting the failed prospects of the past, kids who were rushed out to satiate the fans' appetite for the Next Big Thing. And now they're using those failures as testimony against the current crop, while at the same time asking why the kids aren't up with the big league club.

    It's frustrating all around, to be sure. But we've all been waiting our whole lives, so what's another couple years. I'm sure some would be happy to burn me at the stake as a company-line-toeing bootlicker, but it's more of an understanding of, or resignation to, the way things are.

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