Cubs may have long season; but on Opening Day anything can happen
BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist March 30, 2014 8:55PM
Updated: March 31, 2014 9:45AM
PITTSBURGH — It snowed here early Sunday. Of course, it did.
Whoever is in charge of the weather wouldn’t want those of us visiting from Chicago to get cocky. Next thing you know, we’ll be thinking we can get through life without a parka and a sled dog.
But it’s perfect, really. After the winter we’ve been through, after the mountainous snow and ridiculous cold, it makes sense that nature would force us to bundle up one more time. We’ll appreciate Opening Day and the expected warmth that much more.
The forecast for the Cubs-Pirates opener Monday calls for a high of 61 and lots of sun — the sun being the round, orange thing in the sky that purportedly emits heat. It means that baseball and spring weather will be arriving on the same day, which is a beautifully synchronized occurrence. Hope springs eternal, sources say, and no more so than on Opening Day, when anything seems possible.
It’s usually just a tease for the Cubs, but let’s forget that for now, shall we? We’ll have all season to bemoan this team and this franchise, which, barring catastrophic earthquakes in all the other major-league cities, will see its 106th consecutive season without a World Series title.
Monday is for green grass and the summer sensation of sunshine on your face. It’s for hearing the crack of the bat and cupping a hand over your eyes to see where the ball went. You know, the things we used to take for granted before the Winter From Hell slammed us.
I know what you’re thinking: Bad baseball will be replacing bad weather. It’s probably true, but, again, forget about that for the moment. If you’re into baseball as a metaphor, Monday is about rebirth. If you’re not into that, perhaps we can agree it is about something more concrete: the necessary next steps for shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Can they make them? I don’t know. Castro seemed to be a natural hitter and then, mysteriously, wasn’t. It’s impossible to say whether his struggles last season were a fluke or an example of the cruelty of baseball, which will renege on a promise in a heartbeat. We’re about to find out. And we’re about to find out if the money the Cubs gave Rizzo and Castro was misspent.
Monday is for rookie big-league manager Rick Renteria, who will look out from his dugout at PNC Park and see his team, the Cubs, and the team that selected him in the first round of the 1980 draft, the Pirates. What will be going through his head, the dues-paying minor-league stops he made as the manager of the Brevard County Manatees and the hitting coach of the Lake Elsinore Storm or the thought of how he can squeeze some victories out of these Cubs? It figures to be an emotional day for the Cubs’ new skipper.
Monday is for Jeff Samardzija, who will be making his second consecutive Opening Day start. Ballplayers say every Opening Day is special, but for a pitcher getting ready to throw the first pitch of the season for his team, it means you’ve arrived. These being the epically rebuilding Cubs, it also means you probably are going to be traded sometime soon.
Monday is for players such as third baseman Mike Olt and outfielder Junior Lake, who are starting a season in the big leagues for the first time. No hopping on a minor-league bus to begin the season. Major-league amenities from the get-go. Sweet.
Monday is for Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora, which is to say it is for all the Cubs fans who can’t help but think about the future. The Cubs’ long-term hopes start with those three players, who will begin the season in the minors but never will be far away from fans’ thoughts. Those fans are likely to share those thoughts with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein by, oh, mid-April.
And, yes, Monday is for Epstein, who is living for better Opening Days ahead. His master plan is at the mercy of the monetary limits placed on it by Cubs ownership. For now, he has to wait for a better fiscal forecast from the Ricketts family. It sounds frustrating, but it could be worse. It could be January and snowing.
But not here in Pittsburgh. Not anymore. Clouds gave way to sun Sunday afternoon. It was still chilly, but it hinted at something better moving in.