STATESIDE: Chicago Cubs back in the swing of things

Steve Brenner 17:51 23/04/2017
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The Cubs aren't the only champions to start slowly.

The ticker tape has barely stopped fluttering. Memories are still fresh.

Every Chicago Cubs fan will forever party like it’s 2016 yet the somewhat inauspicious start to the new campaign had some fearing that magical World Series triumph was nothing but a dream.

Even the MLB TV channel last week were debating whether despite being at this truly embryonic stage of the longest season in sport, it’s already a write off.

One thing is sure: going into last week’s home series with the Brewers, they were 6-6. Not a disaster but for an all conquering team of supposed superheroes whose shirts top the best sellers list, not great.

Yet bang on cue, the Cubs took to the field last week and reignited some of the magic which enthralled not only Chicago, but the rest of the United States, last November.

Championship style inconsistency isn’t new. Kansas were 12-11 come April at the start of their defence in 2015, while the yearbefore saw the San Francisco Giants slump to 9-13.

A shorter off-season and supremely relaxed spring training amounts to feet being taken off the gas for longer than normal. Considering the savage physical and mental strain of finally ending 108 years of pain, it was well deserved.

Defeats have arrived but with one brilliant swipe of Addison Russell’s bat, everything was forgotten. His dramatic ninth-inning homer saw the Cubs come back from the dead twice in consecutive days to deflate the Brewers.

Cue bedlam in the stands. No, they weren’t jumping around to keep warm. It was a joyous relief.

That powerful offence which helped see off the Cleveland Indians so memorably came to the fore while the bullpen has been forced to proved their worth early on.

Pitcher Jon Lester, however, is being overused to make up for the disappointing start to the season from Kyle Hendricks. That’s not ideal. Winning a mighty 25 of their first 31 games last year was a serious statement of intent.

“That was an unbelievable win,” Hendricks said after that triumph over the Brewers. “There’s been a lot going on. A lot of outside factors pushing against us, so to be able to focus on the game and get big wins. These teams we’re playing are coming for us.”

So getting away from home for a nine-game stretch couldn’t have come at a better time. A defeat to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday was followed by a slugfest 12-8 win 24 hours later.

When over 40,000 packed into Wrigley Field to see the ceremonial handing out of the World Series rings at the start of the month, the famous old stadium hummed with intensity.

A few hours later, the LA Dodgers turned party poopers and set in motion a difficult run which has posed plenty of questions.

Yet you have to appreciate the historical significance while pondering the impossibility of not being distracted by the sheer majesty of their sparkling rewards.

It was the first time the franchise had their hands on a piece of celebratory jewellery – their two previous World Series wins in 1907 and 1908 came at a time when such pageantry didn’t exist.

What a shame considering each ring – 1,908 have been made for all staff members – is composed of 214 diamonds with rubies and sapphires to boot. The Cubs logo was encrusted with 108 of the diamonds to signify the amount of years passed since their last triumph.

“It’s tasty but I’m not going to wear it, “ smiled manager Joe Maddon. “I can’t steer my car with that thing.”

Every player had their initials inscribed onto the club flag while ‘We never quit’ and ‘Cubs win’ were also included. And, just when you thought there was no space left, a goat to commemorate the cursed animal which was blamed for them failing to reach the World Series for 72 years, was squeezed in. No team since the Yankees in 2000 have won two titles on the spin but if history is repeated, at least the jewellers won’t have such a hard time.

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