Facing Boston Red Sox Shows Cubs What Could Be

Facing Boston Red Sox Shows Cubs What Could Be

The Prodigal Son won't be making the trip east to see his current team face his old charge. No, Theo Epstein will be staying home due to the equally ubiquitous and amorphous "family reasons." Then again, I suppose that's fitting, given that the Boston Red Sox are Epstein's estranged family and the Cubs his dysfunctional one.

Besides, he doesn't need to be reminded of what he and his team accomplished in the shadow of the Green Mawnstah, just a short trip from the hah-buh. Suffice to say, he feels the weight of expectation that those two World Series titles have heaped on his shoulder with every step he takes in Chicago.

This would have been his first trip back to Boston as the Cubs president, as he was still running the show in Beantown when the Cubs were last there in 2011. Maybe Crane Kenney will return to the top of the wall to try to redeem himself from his home-run-catching exploits on that last trip. Kenney did have a decent excuse for not throwing the ball back though.

But as the Cubs hurtle toward their fifth consecutive losing season, perhaps they can learn something from their former kindred spirits in futility. About a year and a half ago, the Boston Red Sox were still reeling from a 93-loss season, the franchise's first sub-.500 campaign in 15 years.

But as the sun rose on the morning of Nov. 2, 2013, a phalanx of duck boats ringed Fenway Park's interior, ready to transport a group of bearded champions through the streets of Boston.

While it was their third World Series title in a span of 10 years, this was the first the Red Sox had won in front of their home crowd. The Chicago Cubs know all too well the pain and bitterness of 90+ losses, but they've experienced no such rising from the ashes yet.

When you walk from Fenway's concourse into the main seating area, you can't help but notice the large electronic display boards and the advertising that festoons every available surface. This does nothing to distract from the in-game experience of MLB's oldest ballpark, but it does provide extra revenue streams.

I challenge you to find a Red Sox fan who was complaining about seeing his team's ultimate triumph displayed in real-time on a giant video screen. Now I'm not naive enough to believe that LED ads and a huge TV are enough to win a title. But Boston has proved that you can exorcise the ghosts of an old ballpark without destroying its character.

There's no doubt that Kenney and Tom Ricketts look to Fenway as the model for the future of Wrigley, and that this trip to Boston will further remind them of what could be. Perhaps Cubs fans can see that changes, even relatively drastic ones, aren't necessarily a death knell. I, for one, have repeatedly said that I couldn't care less if they paint Wrigley pink, so long as I can watch a winning team.

But more than the presence of bright flashing lights and billboards in the ballpark, it's important to see what can happen when business and baseball interests actually work in concert, as is the case in Boston. I'm just an interloper at Fenway, but the changes and updates don't appear forced and the atmosphere seems authentic.

Then again, winning has a funny way of making everyone feel better. With a positive (14-13) month of June, keyed by an early 5-game winning streak, the Cubs had fans stepping back from the ledge, however tentatively. But those damn Pirates; the Buccos took 5 of 7 from the Cubs in June.

At the risk of becoming the boy who cried "light at the end of the tunnel," I believe the incremental improvement of the big league club gives reason for hope. Couple that with the ascension of prospects like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and the continued growth of Javier Baez and there really is light at the end of the tunnel.

Well, unless that's just the flashlight from the guy up ahead, telling us to go ahead and turn back because there's nothing but death and despair ahead. Or an express train, rocketing toward us with no regard for human life. But I'm going to say that the light is honest-to-goodness daylight, that we'll make it out the other side before too long.

That said, no matter how good a return the Cubs get on Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel and how much the payroll increases, we're not likely to see a World Series rally in Chicago next year. But the right moves on those fronts can at least make dreams of a title seem less like a bad joke or a pipe dream.

Follow me on Twitter: @DEvanAltman

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