Finding Ron Coomer. The story of Mauricio and the 2001 Cubs

For the fortunate our childhoods provide us with the types of yellow memories that can still resonate into old age. For those of us that are lucky to remember a simple photograph or an object from ages ago can reduce us to tears of happiness and longing. For those who can still hold on to some semblance of youthful optimism and retain some of the joire de vivre that we held when we were still learning how to ride a bicycle without training wheels these memories can reach across time itself and pull us to a time that was more innocent.

And if you’re one who can remember back to the days when youthful exuberence was a limitless resource you’ll always remember the first time you fell in love. You’ll never forget what that emotion felt like; what it’s like to recall with clarity how excited you felt to encounter the object of your young and hopeful affection. In that time you give your heart more freely; you don’t quite understand how rare true and real love is and you’re willing to simply surrender your emotions to the first thing that strikes your fancy.

This is an article about love and baseball. This is an examination of the first time I gave my heart away to a squad of men whose accomplishments seemed to be the stuff of legend to a young and idealistic 14 year old baseball fan.

This is about the time I fell in love with the 2001 Chicago Cubs.

There are a few things to remember here: my age and what it was like to watch Sammy Sosa and Kerry Wood on a somewhat regular basis back then. I didn’t know that Sosa’s body was abnormal. I didn’t catch the implications of what he and Mark McGwire were doing to the record books and to the history of this game. All I know was that Sosa was mentioned with the legends of a time before my grandfather was even an abstract idea.

Kerry Wood was a spectacle unto himself. He was the first Cub who I admired and wished to be. My pitching hero was Nolan Ryan and I developed a subconcious affinity for Texan righties with a power fastball and a deep and viscious breaking ball. It makes sense in retrospect, Wood and Sosa both provided tangible and immediate results. I hadn’t learned to swim in the nuance of the game yet, I was simply there to watch the spectacle that was the Sammy Sosa and Kerry Wood show.

And it was very real. The exploits of the 2001 Cubs are rightfully forgotten but that was a fun baseball season full of romanticized moments with equal parts tragedy and heartbreak mixed in. The moment that I knew that I loved this team was a heartbreaking moment.

Bill Mueller was the Cubs starting 3B at the outset of 2001 and was carrying a surprising .317 average heading into a May date with the St. Louis Cardinals. Batting Average is a somewhat silly stat to love considering all the other numbers we have but back then it was still a golden measure of a player’s ability in the mainstream. To me, Mueller’s .317 was indicitive of something larger. When I think about what he meant to the 2001 Chicago Cubs I understand that the moment he went sliding for a foul ball and completely shredded his knee was when I knew that I was in love with the Cubs. Before then baseball had been all positive for me. The losses never bothered me much because I was a very young child. Such things to a child seldom hit home the same way they do as an adult. But then, in that moment as I saw Bill Mueller writhing on the ground I experienced baseball sadness in a way that I hadn’t before. Then, in that awful instance I understood how invested I was in these Cubs.

And so it went as the season moved along. The Cubs managed to recover after the Mueller injury but in what would become a familiar verse in my journey through Cubdom they faded in August and September and I was left with the aftermath of a season which was really the first one I retained from start to finish.

Their names haunt my dreams from time to time and every so often one former 01 Cub will seep over from my subconcious into the real world (I saw Ron Coomer at a south side Jewel once). I’ll forever remember what it was like to not understand what the hell Julian Tavarez was doing when it was his turn to throw the ball to first base. I’l remember fondly that time I thought Jon Lieber was an ace. I’ll recall the promise that Little Pedro AKA Juan Cruz once had. I’ll never forget how automatic Fassero-Farnsworth-Gordon was, nor will I ever leave behind the memories of Julio Zuleta invoking his inner Pedro Cerrano and perfoming voodoo on his bats.

Should I be fortunate enough to make it to my deathbed I’ll have visions of what my life was. I’ll hopefully be surrounded by loved ones whose shared memories will have shaped me into the man I became. I’ll recall their faces with love but I can almost guarantee you that as I lay withering away and clinging to this existence I will look back fondly on the faces of the 2001 Cubs and smile.

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  • That was a fun year. The Cubs surprised everyone and were in the pennant race for a long time. I think Tapani started 8-0 and finished around .500. He collapsed along with the rest of the team but it was still a fun year because nobody expected much.

  • In reply to JV36:

    If I remember Tapani's 2001 correctly there was a stretch when he went 8-2 with a 4.00+ era. His next stretch, he went 2-8 with an era around 2.50.

  • Great stuff Mauricio. We did give our hearts away a little too readily back then. I kind of miss those days -- at least when it comes to baseball.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks man, I do miss just loving a guy because he's in the uniform. It's just a little different now.

  • In reply to Mauricio Rubio Jr.:

    I can also tell from your style that you are a Marquez fan ;)

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    Thanks guys for sharing your stories. It's been great filler but I'm ready to get this season started. Been a fan since 71 and I really feel the team is moving in the right direction. Keep up the GREAT work at the den.

  • When you guys started this series, this was the season I thought of for myself as well. I had followed the Cubs since '88, but I was more of a football fan during most of my childhood. There was something about the surprise of 2001 given the horrible years of 99 and 00, and the craziness of that August 7th game that is still burned into my mind. Either way it was a fun year for the most part that really switched my allegiance to baseball for good.

  • Nicely written, Mauricio. And now we have Mueller back. Let's hope he can help some guys put those 3s in the front of BAs.

  • In reply to cubs1969:

    Agreed. Loved the idea of Mueller at 3B. Thought that for the first time since Ron Cey, they might have a 3B for several years in a row rather that that seeming revolving door they had at 3B between Santo and Ramirez.

  • Great article Mauricio. FInally a story about a team i was alive for! I was only about 10, but this is when i started to fall in love with the cubs

  • I'm not old. Stop making me feel old.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Ha you can blame my youth. I would gladly add thirty years to my life if I got to see all these teams live!

  • In reply to mjvz:

    I agree

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Uh....65 IS the new 45...right?

  • In reply to Hubbs16:

    I actually am not old (at least I like to tell myself that), despite what my graying hair and body breaking down from past sports injuries is telling me recently, I'm only 32. I'm just trying to come to grips with the fact that I'm not young anymore and comments from people born in the 90s make the truth hard to ignore.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    32 is young. Hell, you could still be playing ball. I was playing competive rugby until I was 39. Yeah I was bald, and grey and guys used to taunt me by calling me "old man".

  • 2001 had great storylines with a great cast of characters. Sosa had his best season. Rondell White (when he played) gave them another solid bat. Matt Stairs and Ron Coomer were just solid, professional hitters. The team had a great bench that year, Delino DeShields, Michael Tucker, Miguel Cairo, Joe Girardi, Augie Ojeda, Julio Zuleta, Roosevelt Brown all had their moments. Picking up Fred McGriff in season for a bag of balls was a brilliant move, but even though he really hit well in the second half it just wasn't enough. Even the bad of the season had some elements of great theatre: rooting in vain for Little Sarge and Corey Patterson to breakthrough. And the nightmare of Todd Hundley getting into 0-2 counts more often than any hitter I had ever seen. He would take every first pitch and pitchers would literally never throw a first pitch ball to that guy, it was unbelievable.

    Bill Mueller was my favorite player on that team. He had always stood out whenever the Cubs had played the Giants and I was stoked when the Cubs picked him up that winter for Todd Worrell. I really thought he was going to win the batting title that year (he did go on to win one with the Red Sox). I too was heart broken when he destroyed his knee.

    The starters were solid but unspectacular and the bullpen was half great, half brutal. They stayed relatively healthy and in the midst of the steroid era kept the Cubs in every game. Wood stayed healthy. Jon Lieber went from innings eater to a solid #2. Juan Cruz came up in the second half and pitched really well as some of the veterans began to falter. The bullpen had the reliable 7-8-9 of Farnsworth/Fassero/Gordon and Todd Van Poppel was also excellent that year. he might have been their best reliever actually. I do remember being realy impressed with Scott Chiasson when he came up late that year, I really thought he was going to become a great setup guy. They just never could get the last couple of spots in the pen settled. David Weathers was okay when he came over at the dealine but Felix Heredia, Courtney Duncan, Manny Aybar were all kinds of terrible. Carlos Zambrano also had some inauspicious outings when he debuted that season, train wreck may actually better describe the results.

  • Lots of different themes around the 2001 team. It always bothered me how Baylor awarded so many ABs to Ron Coomer after Mueller went down and the misfire of the trade for McGriff when we really needed to replace the lost offensive production at 3B after Mueller went down in May.

    No matter, the Cubs folded for a multitide of reasons, all of which do not sting as much now as they did in the summer of 2001.

  • Kinda forgotten about that team, but many of them were also part of the 2003 Cubs that lost in the NLCS due to collapsing with the 3-1 series lead. I remember Sammy, Kerry, Farnsworth(bouncing a Reds player off the pitching rubber, Vince McMahon should have signed him immediately.)

  • Mueller deserves a medal for coming back from that injury. He was really hurt and the team lost their field leader. Had he stayed healthy, that would have been post season year.

  • This has been a great series of articles. It brings back a lot of fond memories for me. At the risk of revealing my age, my first memory is going to a game with my father and an uncle. The Cubs, with Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and Lou Brock, were playing the Reds with Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson. What I remember most about that game is being sprayed with beer when a vendor was opening some bottles next to my aisle seat! Since that time my father and I took my son to his first game when he turned five in 1987 and we will be doing the same this summer as my son and I take my five year old grandson to his first game. Thanks for the memories!

  • Man, I had forgotten much about this particular season, so it is fun to relive some of those memories. There is something that struck me that Mauricio wrote, that is very true. You will always have stronger feelings for the first team that you followed for a whole season. For me, it was 1987, which in many ways was similar to the 2001 team. They were both two years ahead of an eventual playoff team, so they were building the foundations for some success, and there were some injuries that really interfered with what could have been a great season.

    I really love this series of stories, and I think that it reflects on why baseball is different than any other sport. You can love football, basketball, or hockey, but you really bond with a team over 162 days in a way that you can't do in 16 or 82.

  • I agree this was an entertaining season. Seasons of 88 wins don't come along very often for the Cubs. I remember that Don Baylor's small ball really drove me crazy. I've never seen so many sac attempts! There was a great nickname for the big 3 in the bullpen. They started calling them F-Troop for Flash, Fassero and Farnsworth. They were a solid group. I attended 2 games at Wrigley that year. A Friday and Saturday towards the end of September against the Astros. The Cubs were not eliminated yet, so there was at least a minimal amount of drama. The Cubs won both games 6 to 2. Wood won his 12th game on Friday and Leiber won is 19th on Saturday. The most memorable part of the two games for me was the Cubs hitting back-to-back-to-back HR during the first inning of the Sat game. However, I have to admit that I had to look up who actually hit the HRs. I was thinking Sammy must have hit one of them, but the record shows it was McGriff, White, and Hundley (of all people).

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    This series of articles has been wonderful, guys. Looking forward to Felzzy's piece.

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