You can’t know until you live it.
At this time last year, I certainly thought I was ready for the 2017 Chicago Cubs season to be its own bright, shiny, huggable thing. The roster was at least a little bit different from the year before, the goal was slightly different, and that surge of excitement accompanying the start of any new baseball season was palpable.
Except the roster was mostly the same. The difference in the goal was simply appending the word “again.” And that surge of excitement? It was there, but it was accompanied by a then-inarticulable gnawing sensation. A sense that one of the chair’s legs was just a touch askew. A desire to feel something just a little more than we did.
A residue, it turns out.
It would have been criminal to call ourselves out for it last year, literally not having experienced this in our lifetimes. Until we lived it, how could we have known that the season that comes after the Cubs finally doing the thing was going to feel … flat. You know, fine. But just fine.
It’s so much easier to see and define now, not only with distance, but also with the benefit of the build up to this season. I’ve felt it. I’ve heard you say it. And we’ve heard the players say it. The energy and excitement is back for this season in a way that simply was not there last year.
Because last year was still entirely about the 2016 World Series win.
And I don’t just mean the lingering plaudits and ceremonies and celebrations that follow a World Series win during the following regular season (as much as I enjoyed those things). I mean there was no accomplishment in the 2017 season that wasn’t going to be conjoined with what came before.
Think about it. As much as we wanted to be excited for a new experience in 2017, any newness was actually tied to what the Cubs might accomplish *in succession* with the 2016 season. Could the Cubs be the rare team to repeat? Could the Cubs do what they did the last time they won the World Series, and go back-to-back? Could they avoid, in the regular season, the hangover that we always hear about? Would this team be as good as THE team that finally did it?
I won’t speak for the players, but for the fans, every moment all year was still contextualized through the lens of having just won it all. The “now-ness” of it all was utterly absent. The 2017 season was an echo of the greatest sports moment we’ll ever experience.
The proof? How many other 90+ win, division-winning, NLCS-appearance seasons give way to an offseason with so much talk about “disappointment”?
On paper, and on the whole, there was absolutely nothing disappointing about the 2017 Cubs season except that by which is judged against 2016. Had 2017 happened in 2007, sure, it would have been disappointing to see the Cubs miss out on a trip to the World Series, but the whole would have been remembered so fondly. For years, we were wracked by the ghosts of the 2003 NLCS, but that whole season has always been beloved by Cubs fans who re-live it over beers.
In hindsight, so much of it is easy to see. But, what I couldn’t do at this time last year, I’m very comfortable doing now: I’m leaving that in the past.
Because I really do feel differently re-excited about this coming season. Yes, much of that is because the Cubs look incredible on paper (better than 2017, I should say). I really dig the offseason the Cubs had, and I love their chances to win the NL Central for a third straight season, and head to the playoffs for a fourth straight season.
But I think a lot of that buzzy feeling is a combination of freedom from the hangover of 2016, AND freedom from the weight of all the seasons that came before it. This year? We’re excited about this Cubs team maybe doing fun things in this season. It’s not about repeating. It’s not about finally doing it. It’s just baseball comin’.
This is a great Cubs team with a chance to do great things. I’m really excited to take it all, without framing it against something I’ve otherwise just been through. Heck, the feeling actually reminds me most of the years in my much younger days, long before I felt like I’d suffered through all those World-Series-less seasons. Back when the new-ness of the season was enough to breathe life into my day. My week. My summer.
Of course, I can’t know that I’m right about any of this. For all I know (and haven’t experienced), I could be sitting at my computer in 365 days pecking away about what it really is this time.
But I don’t have to know that I’m right to know that I feel differently than I did last year at this time.