There is Still Joy in Cubville, Mighty Rizzo Has Walked Off

It seems like just yesterday that I was writing about how I’ll miss the Cubs when the regular season concludes at the end of this month. In point of fact, it was about a week and a half ago, and things have happened since then. Kind of a lot of things, actually.

At the time I wrote it, the Cubs were coming out of of a winning August and had just completed a sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers. Ah, those were heady times for this young ballclub and I was swept up in the emotion of and speculation of winning baseball for years on end.

Then reality hit me in the downstairs with all the subtlety of a 320-pound nose tackle as the Cubs embarked on a losing jag that reminded me of the dark side of having a youthful team. At the same time, both the college and NFL football seasons conspired to steal my weekends from me, not to mention Thursday and Monday nights.

And as if having another sport to usurp my Cubbishness wasn’t enough, my television viewing habits got in the way as well with the advent of the final season of Sons of Anarchy. Without turning this into a commercial, I can only say that if you’re not watching this brilliant program, you should be. It is, without a doubt, one of the best television shows ever made.

I’ve recommended many shows to friends and family in the past, but never I have I seen people become so immediately enthralled as when they begin their ride with SoA. As a viewer from the start, I feel a certain pride in having been along from the jump, but it sure is fun to proselytize and share the show with others. And while I could go on, and on…and on, I’ll get back to my not-yet-belabored point.

Just like the waxing and waning of the lunar cycle, my desire to watch the Cubs has been fluctuating over the past few days. Does that make me a fair-weather fan? Hardly. One look at the back of my leg will cast aspersions on that thought. But I’m absolutely an opportunist when it comes to my sports viewing, and laces have been winning out over stitches.

It even took over at least a small portion of my editorial cycle, as the Bears inspired me to write about them. One post was born out of frustration and the desire to use the most awesome sentence in the English language, the other out of incredulous happiness and clothing references.

But such is the draw of the Cubs, even in the midst of a flagging stretch run, that they were able to cut through the mental tractor beam of football and provide a little joy on Monday night. You see, I was actually in attendance for the Colts/Eagles game at Lucas Oil Stadium, taking in my first live NFL game in quite some time. When it comes to baseball, I love being there at the park. Football, on the other hand, has always be a TV game for me.

The game got exciting late but I wasn’t really able to get into it. The Eagles D didn’t have a sack all night, nor did Colts O-coordinator Pep Hamilton’s play-calling. And based on the updates coming through on my phone showing nothing but zeroes, much the same was true of the Cubs game. But then, shortly after 10:51pm EST, I received the following message:

Final: Cubs 1 Reds 0. WP: CHC H Rondon (4-4) LP: CIN P Villarreal (0-1)

With my battery dying and a tight game unfolding on the field before me, I quickly turned to Twitter to see what had happened. It didn’t take long for me to see that Anthony Rizzo had gone yard in walk-off fashion in his first game back from, well, back issues. So while those around me were cheering for their respective teams on the gridiron, I was beaming as a result of something that had just taken place about 190 miles to the north.

One hit can’t erase 8 losses in the last 10 games, nor can it guarantee that this team will compete as early as next year. But it can serve as a capstone of sorts of Anthony Rizzo’s breakout season. Tom wrote earlier about Rizzo’s emergence as a leader and the face of the Cubs franchise. That was on full display Monday night.

The walkoff home run is probably the most enjoyable hit in all of baseball, at least for the winning team. But Rizzo’s walk-off meant so much more than just a win for the Cubs, their 66th of the season. Faced with coming back from injury to play for a team that had recently been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, many players might have chosen to simply shut it down for the remainder of the season.

But Anthony Rizzo is not most players. I’m learning more and more about the importance of saber stats in determining a player’s value, but there will always be some qualities that no amount of advanced metrics will ever be able to quantify. Rizzo’s leadership and the confidence he instills in his teammates are among those immeasurable traits that make him so important to this team.

And it’s not just his teammates; Rizzo’s presence in the lineup gives Cubs fans a sense of ease. When he’s in the game, people feel as though he’ll find a way to make good things happen for his team and, by extension, the fans themselves. For a franchise long devoid of someone behind whom both players and fans could rally, Anthony Rizzo has stepped forward in a big way.

There is much work to be done with this Cubs team: top-line starting pitching, Kris Bryant’s promotion, Javier Baez’s continued growth, renovations…the list continues ad infinitum. But there is no question as to this team’s anchor, the pivot around which all of these various and sundry people and events will orbit.

Oh, soon enough in this favored land the sun will be shining bright. The band will serenade the Cubs as burdened hearts grow light. And somewhere men are laughing, at the optimists they scoff. But there is still joy in Cubville — mighty Rizzo has walked off.

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