A few years ago, you could start to look ahead to 2021 as a year we, as Cubs fans, might have to face substantial change in the organization. Guys like Kris Bryant, Javy Báez, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, and Jon Lester would be in their final year of team control, Theo Epstein would be in the final year of his contract, and if Joe Maddon was going to get an extension, it’d probably be timed up to match that, too.
But like so much else this year, your expectations and plans and bubble get subverted, are changed, and pop.
Maddon, of course, had already departed last year, and Jon Lester’s team option because a clear decline given how this year played out. The Cubs still have Bryant, Báez, and Rizzo under control, but Schwarber has been let go, and Albert Almora along with him. And, of course, Epstein decided to depart the organization a year early.
Overnight, news broke that TV play-by-play man Len Kasper, who’d been with the Cubs organization much longer than any of those guys, would also be leaving. Even when thinking ahead to what could happen after 2021, that’s not one that was on my prepare-for-change radar.
When I see all this stacked up, it’s a little overwhelming. The farewells piled up on me so quickly that I haven’t even really had a chance to give Lester or Epstein their good and fair due, let alone Schwarber and Almora and now Kasper. I feel like I’m just sitting here blinking, like, what … what? What are we about to adjust to? Because it’s not as though these are a lock to be the only departures, and these are plenty.
The thing that makes this particularly hard is that you’re not just saying goodbye to these figures, whom you’ve followed so closely for so long. You’re also saying goodbye to an entire era of your fandom. Whether it was next year, or this year, or split between the two years, this is an end. Nodding at you with a stern, unblinking gaze. Confronting you with the reality that a chunk of your life – a measurable, sizable chunk of your life – is unquestionably behind you.
When Len Kasper first sat in the Cubs booth, Jim Hendry was the GM (and six years away from being fired). Dusty Baker was the manager. The Tribune Company still owned the team. It was 16 years ago. Mark Prior made 27 starts for the Cubs that year.
The Cubs drafted Kyle Schwarber in 2014. Even the most recent of the people attached to these departures has been part of our Cubs fan experience for seven years. What’s that? Almost 18% of my life?
Things happened. We watched and enjoyed. And all the while you were aging.
I wish the best for all these guys, just as I wish the best for the Cubs in finding their footing in what is quickly evolving into a completely different period for the organization. We’ll still follow them all from afar, but they won’t be part of our daily fandom lives in the same way they had been. That’s gonna be an adjustment that’ll take me a whole lot longer than a week or two.
When the farewells pile up like this, it’s impossible not to step back and take stock. These moments are a mirror. Oh yeah, you think. Time has passed. The next five years aren’t going to look like the last five years for me, for you, for the Cubs, for anything. This is, of course, always true, but you don’t get smacked in the face by it every day.
This morning, my face feels really smacked.