One hundred sixty-two days — that’s how long it will have been since the Cubs’ last appearance at Wrigley Field. A blink of an eye. A blip in time. What’s that compared with, say, 108 years? It’s practically nothing.
And yet it’s everything.
The changes from then, Game 5 of the World Series, to now, Monday’s banner-raising ceremony and home opener, are many and profound. Needless to say, the Cubs left Wrigley that night trailing the Cleveland Indians three games to two, still chasing the dream of a long-awaited championship, and now they’re the kings of baseball. That’s the mother of all changes.
Yet there’s so much more that’s different — to the heart, the mind and the senses. For 162 days ago, Wrigley was enveloped in tension and desperation, terrible stress and guarded optimism, with some part of every Cubs fan still waiting for the worst to happen. When the Cubs won Game 5 to keep the series alive, it was a moral victory, too: At least the dream didn’t die in Chicago.
We’ve been unburdened of all that. Isn’t it something?
The tension will never again be so high, the stress never again so terrible. By the way, are those good things? Let’s go with 99.9 percent “yes,” but Monday will be — amid one hell of a celebration — the ceremonial burying of a certain romance that can’t ever fully return to Cubdom.
“Wait ’til next year”? It’s not really a thing anymore. But wait ’til last year’s feelings bubble back up as that banner rises — there will be cheers and tears all over again, and then it’ll be back to baseball and on to defending a title. Serious business will be at hand. The spirit of 2016 will begin to dissipate ever so slightly, if it hasn’t already.
“I think we’ve already kind of started the next chapter,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “But it’s kind of a flashback for us, with Monday and [Wednesday’s ring ceremony] on the horizon. I think it’s just one final moment to put a stamp on our 2016 season.”
If that doesn’t sound quite enthusiastic enough for you, know that Arrieta also said that Monday will be “like a playoff atmosphere” and a “blast” for all involved. The Cubs players get it, kind of. Yet how much can they really get it the way your grandmother or your uncle does, or perhaps you yourself do?
Those inside and outside of Wrigley’s walls Monday will cheer for the players, for manager Joe Maddon, for team president Theo Epstein and for America’s Guest — yes, David Ross — who will throw out the first pitch and make like Harry Caray during the seventh-inning stretch.
But here’s hoping that, as they croon along with “Grandpa,” many will have a thought for Harry himself, who never did get to wave his beer-spattered microphone back and forth before the crowd of a World Series champion in Chicago. So let him hear you, good and loud.
While you’re at it, let Ernie Banks and Ron Santo hear you, too. They belong in this moment as much as anyone. Remember the words of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo at Grant Park last November:
“Every person that has worn this jersey won the World Series with us.”
In a sweet sense, all the Cubs fans who didn’t live long enough to see this moment did, too. Cheer so loud that you wake ’em all up.
When you think about it, it’s a shame the Cubs didn’t win the World Series at Wrigley. Wasn’t that always the biggest dream of all? But this celebration will have to do.
It’ll be one more — one final — taste of 2016, after which things won’t ever be exactly the same. That’ll be true no matter how many more times the Cubs win it all. So enjoy it. Drink it in. Get filthy in it.
It definitely won’t suck.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.