It's the problem we always wanted to have, but now that it's here, the challenge of handling success has many Cubs fans and media members perplexed. As Cubs fans, we don't have a lot of experience in rational optimism or success when it comes to baseball, at least. (Some of us have managed to elude the perils of success in all of life's aspects, but that's another issue altogether. Or is it? . . .)
On more than a few occasions in the past few weeks, I've heard people wonder aloud about what we should consider a disappointment in 2016. Can we be satisfied with anything less than a World Series trophy? To find answers to this and all of life's great mysteries, may I point us all in the direction of a wellspring of wisdom from which Cubdom should freely and liberally drink: the words of Joe Maddon.
(Before I get too far into this, I want to clarify something. This all might come across as tongue-in-cheek, but I assure you, I write every word with the utmost sincerity.)
I know everyone who cheers for the Cubs appreciates having Joe Maddon as manager because of the winning culture he brings everywhere he goes. Winning baseball is the renovation to Wrigley Field for which I'm most thankful, but I have come to appreciate Maddon's contributions beyond the game of baseball. When I listen to Joe Maddon talk, I want to be a better person and to live a better life. And he makes me feel like it's more than just a distant possibility. Joe inspires and energizes at a level very few people can. I truly believe that even if he knew nothing about baseball, Maddon's enthusiasm and leadership would be worth 2.5 WAR. But I digress.
My point in all this is that Joe Maddon's wisdom about winning baseball also applies quite well to being a fan of the team he manages. Allow me to offer up a few examples:
The thing I want our guys to understand is the process is fearless. When you want to become outcome-oriented, that's where you can really run into some trouble. If we can just keep our guys focused on the process of the day, there's no fear in that. If we can think in those ways, in those terms, we're going to do pretty well.
This is the answer to all the questions about where the Cubs need to finish to avoid making 2016 a disappointment. In short, looking at the season with questions like that in mind is a terrible way to approach the season or any one game for that matter. I'll put it another way: I would consider 2016 a failure if the Cubs were to stray from what Maddon calls the "relentless execution of fundamentals and technique." But as long as the Cubs remain focus on playing good baseball, I'll continue to enjoy watching them do so. The wins and postseason glory will come, but at this point in the journey to October, I'll enjoy the process being executed by Maddon and co. Worrying about postseason outcomes at this point is pretty futile. That said . . .
It's all about setting your standards, your goals, high, because the problem, if you don't set them high, is you might actually hit your mark. We need to set our mark high, absolutely. I'm going to talk playoffs. I'm going to talk World Series. This year. I am. I promise you. And I'm going to believe it.
Maddon has said a lot about expectations being a positive word since the popular predictions for the Cubs have risen to more closely resemble the ones Joe had at his opening press conference. But the quote above is the one I will always remember. At the time, in that one should-have-been-frivolous press conference, Joe Maddon made a believer out of me. Do you remember what went through your head when he said that? I do. Something to the effect of, "Holy shit, there's hope. For the Cubs. For me. For the world and future generations."
So to the people expecting a World Series this year, I say (and I believe Joe does too) keep thinking that way. Make a championship your goal, make it your standard, make it the baseline expectation. Whatever. Just keep in mind that there's a difference between expecting to win at all and worrying about how disappointed you might be if you don't. If the Cubs do exactly what they did last year, I'll enjoy the hell out of it. I mean, come on, that's so fun to watch. Isn't that the point? Okay, yes, I hear you. Dual points, fun and championships.
Never permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure.
I'm sure we've all had this tattooed on our foreheads by now, so I won't belabor the point. I'll just say this: if it's important for the players to hold fast to that premise, players whose multi-million-dollar job it is to play an extremely difficult sport in the face of immense fan and media and internal pressure, it should be equal parts important and easy for us to keep it in mind as well. It's baseball. The fun exceeds the pain and disappointment. #thingsthatareeasytosayinfebruary
One round's on me. Shot and a beer.
Don't ever forget this, Cubs fans. Love it. Live it. Repeat.