There was a baseball game on the Northside of Chicago last night. I didn’t watch it. I haven’t watched any of them. But Twitter tends to tell me if there’s anything that happens of note with the Cubs. I can’t say I’m not informed. I just don’t have to watch Marquee Network’s high school AV Club level production to get it.
But I couldn’t help but smile at Willson Contreras collecting his 100th career home run. It’s not a huge number or anything, piled up over six seasons and change. Whether your Cubs fandom has moved into the past tense or not, it’s hard not to love Willson. He homered on his first career at-bat, and pretty much seized the starting catching job for the eventual champs at that moment. Somehow that gets lost in the narrative the Cubs themselves keep pushing about David Ross, the third catchter on that team who couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a banjo that year, perhaps to justify his increasingly empty managerial run.
And pretty much from that moment since he homered on his debut, Contreras was the heartbeat of the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo copped all the attention of fans as the team’s “leader,” even though it’s become more evident that Rizzo was happy to film the commercials and be the subject of any social media meme he could find while it was Contreras was actually the one to hold teammates accountable. Of course, as soon as Ross got in charge, he would punish Contreras for doing so while letting his drinking buddy Rizzo make five outs on the bases per week.
But Contreras’ emotion was infectious, and kept the Cubs ticking (such as it was) in the years after the World Series with his energy. He’s also worked tirelessly on his framing, which used to be horrific and is now pretty good. Combined with the howitzer attached to his right shoulder, he’s been just about everything you could ask for a catcher and a pivot of a team.
So a landmark, as modest as a 100th homer might be, should be a time of reflection and celebration of what Contreras has meant to the Cubs and their fans, and thanks, and appreciation and joy for the years to come.
But of course, Contreras is due to hit free agency after the season, and assuredly would like to be paid in something more than fish heads, and will soon be departing. And after the game, that’s basically all he was asked about:
This garbage ownership has turned everything into a swan song now. Anyone who bothers to show up or watch (and 31,000 attended last night’s game which is at least 20,000 more than this team deserves) has to do so with the knowledge that it could be the “last time” for something. Which it’s been for a year and a half for no reason other than the Ricketts family had to save some money for things like making sure that the victims of rape and incest are forced into giving birth.
The Cubs aren’t alone in making fans go through separation anxiety simply to save money they’ll never notice, but they’ve been the most naked. Cubs fans use a list of teenagers as their “Krusty Is Coming” security blanket. But why would anyone believe that if any combination of the prospects the Cubs have acquired for the actual Major Leaguers they once had do make it to the big club, and do actually produce, that they’ll get paid either? We’ll do this cycle all over again. And not every rebuild is a guarantee of success. How’s it going in Kansas City?
I fired the Cubs so I wouldn’t have to go through that on a daily basis, but you can’t escape it entirely. I see the highlights, read the quotes, and still feel the small pang knowing that Willson will be wearing another uniform in a month or two. This is what’s asked of Cubs fans, and others now. To pretend, even for a night, that things are how they are supposed to be, that Willson hitting a grand slam on the first gorgeous night of the spring feels right. But too many of us can’t shove it aside, and see right through the facade. I wish more did, as crooks like the Ricketts clan have been outed as buying the Cubs for the exact reason that fans will go right off this cliff religiously like lemmings. They know the tickets will still get sold.
There are some of us, though, who see every moment like this as yet another indictment. I’m sure there are groups in other towns, wondering what to even bother with anymore.