With Opening Day Upon Us, Hope is Higher Than Ever in Cubdom

Opening day is a nearly perfect moment. It’s that one time in the season where, no matter who you root for, anything is possible. One year ago, Cubs fans did something they hadn’t in a long time. They dreamed of a having a season that ended in a World Series title. We let ourselves believe.

What transpired over the following seven months was nothing short of amazing. Lifelong dreams came true in a fashion suited especially for this team we all love so much. Escorted by a graying wizard, that team astounded us. It gave us every reason to turn to those that didn’t understand our passion and say, “This. This is what we knew would someday come. This is our reward for all those years of love and loyalty.”

And now we find ourselves on top of the baseball world, with expectations as high as they could be. As much as I’d ever dreamt about what it would feel like to watch the Cubs win the World Series, I spent a surprisingly small amount of time thinking about this day. The day when the Cubs would start defense of their title.

We’ve looked back on Cubs history so many times that it’s become second nature. It’s something we’ve mastered as fans. This offseason was no different, it was just much better. Whether it’s the newly ordained “greatest leader in the world,” Theo Epstein, or the man I think much of the credit really belongs to, Tom Ricketts, it’s easy to see the leaders of this team are truly world class. It’s something Cubs fans have always deserved and now finally have.

The narrative of Opening Day 2017 is actually quite similar to last year’s. This team is young, talented, and led by a group of coaches and executives that form their own veritable dream team. Of course, the biggest difference is that big shiny World Series trophy sitting on the mantle.  Oh, and the expectations that come along with it.

If there is a recurring theme from pundits as this season begins, it’s that the Cubs are going to have to deal with the pressure of being defending champions. How will they handle it? Some say it could be too much. To that, I can only shake my head and chuckle. This is a team that just won a World Series title with more pressure than I’ve ever seen, and perhaps more pressure than any team in the history of organized sport.

Rest assured, the Cubs welcome the pressure of living up to expectations. They’ll look that pressure straight in the eyes and laugh heartily as the season transpires. This team is good. This team is better than last year’s team, more suited for any challenge that comes it’s way.

The Cubs won 103 games last year. There are lots of people who make predictions and, invariably, they’re all wrong. FiveThirtyEight says the Cubs will win 98 games in 2017, FanGraphs thinks the Cubs will more likely win 94 games. Last season I predicted 105 wins and fell just short.

In my narrow and admittedly biased view of all things Cub, I find it hard to believe that a team as good as this could possibly regress. Of course, this is baseball and unpredictable things happen all the time, both good and bad. I get it.

Believe me when I tell you that we are getting ready to see these guys lay their claim to something we, as Cubs fans, had only imagined in the years that preceded that final out. This team is concerned with one thing: Winning it all again.

Remember that feeling? Remember when the ball left Kris Bryant’s hand and settled into the back of Anthony Rizzo’s glove? Remember when Theo Epstein held the Commissioner’s Trophy on the top of his head with the look of a man who’d just found water after days in the desert? Of course you do. It was all those things and so much more that we’ll never forget.

Epstein has seemingly done it all. He’s a lock for the Hall of Fame…at age 43. The only question left is really, “What else can he possibly do?” The one thing that perhaps the greatest baseball executive in the history of the game can do is actually quite obvious. He can build a dynasty like baseball has never seen.

We’ll never hear him say it and, honestly, he may never let the word “dynasty” cross his lips even off the record. But rest assured, that is the only thing this man hasn’t really done and it’s well within his reach. Hold on tight, because this is going to be something to behold. Did you think all your dreams had already come true? Epstein and his team are ready to show the world exactly how they dream.

The Cubs will not regress this year. They will win more games than they did last year. They were 28-26 in June and July of 2016, mainly due to a tough stretch from June 20 through the All-Star break when they went 6-15. And even that was only salvaged by a sweep of the lowly Reds. You can bet they learned from that losing streak and that they will take that wisdom into this season.

The Cubs will win 110 games in 2017.

To get to that number in 2016 they only would’ve needed to win one more game a month. They’ll win the division by more than 20 games over the second place Redbirds. If the Cubs can come out of the gate the same way they did last year, when they were 35-15 at the end of May, they may even set the record for wins in a season. When you look at winning percentage, it’s a record that is held by the 1906 Cubs, a team that fittingly went on to win back-to-back World Series titles in 1907 and 1908.

Let your imagination run wild this year. Enjoy every pitch, every hit, every single moment. But whatever you do, don’t wait for this year to be like last year, because nothing ever could compare.

We’re past having to wait for something bad to happen. This year, we can sit back and watch, love and cheer with reckless abandon, knowing that we’ve been to the harsh depths of the bottom and survived. Knowing that all those we’ve loved and hugged in those hopeless seasons are now smiling from above or maybe just from across the room.

This year, the Cubs are the kings of the baseball world.

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