At the 31st Annual Cubs Convention, the opening ceremonies answered whatever doubt may be lingering with this loaded roster. The overall message was that this Chicago Cubs team is ready for Opening Day and beyond. This year’s convention had a much different feel than in recent years. Instead of the Cubs selling the future of a rebuild, the future of stadium upgrades, and the future of a plan coming together, this year the Cubs were relishing the present, and primed for what is to come.
Friday night’s opening ceremonies packed in the largest crowd ever, and the vibe was simply electric. From the first alumni introduced to Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta bringing up the rear (beard in tact), the ovations were loud and defining. Miguel Montero heard cheers of “We Are Good,” a phrase he coined last year. Ryne Sandberg was welcomed back now as a special adviser to the team. Kerry Wood is still a fan favorite. Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant were welcomed to loud ovations. The new Cub trio of Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, and Jason Heyward were welcomed with open arms. In between, there were chants of “Joe,” “Addy,” and “Jake,” but the loudest was reserved for team leader Anthony Rizzo with chants of “MVP.”
Last year, the Cubs surprised the league with a 97-win season. This year, they are Vegas favorites, and Fangraphs projects the Cubs having the best record in 2016. For most teams, that is a lot to live up to. But watching this Cubs team, they will welcome the task of meeting ever-growing expectations within the city of Chicago with the clear-cut number one goal of bringing home a championship and ending the century-plus drought. What makes this roster that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have assembled great is a strong balance and instant close-knit bonds between 25 guys in the clubhouse (which will be fully renovated this season).
The theme of the night was comfort. The young core instantly felt that comfort level to perform when called upon from day one. Newcomers felt the comfort to join a promising group of players that have the potential to do great things for years to come. Lastly, veterans have that comfort to be able to welcome in these young players and not necessarily view them as rookies. What Joe Maddon has done is like what he has always done, and that is to take the personalities of many and turn their focus into one common goal. “We have a unique strong bond and a real opportunity to do something special.”
Will the Cubs shy away from the expectations and the targets now on their backs? Not exactly. As Jon Lester said, “I think the scary part for everybody now is we know how good we can be.” Bryant, now no longer a rookie does not believe in the sophomore jinx, and he along with the rest of the young players like Russell and Schwarber are ready to go. Expecting Arrieta to relax after an amazing 2015 season? He is not. “I anticipate having a very good season. Whether I go under a 1.70 (ERA) or (have) 22 wins remains to be seen. I think it’s possible. And that’s kind of how I (plan to) attack the upcoming season.”
There were no predictions this year by Rizzo. Instead, there was just a shared expectation that this Cubs team may very well be on the cusp of a memorable season. One of the big takeaways from the show hosted by Ryan Dempster was Jason Heyward responding to mean tweets on his decision to play for the Cubs and not the rival Cardinals. In response to him making a mistake by not returning to the team that has been consistently good for the last 15 years, he responded with, “I chose to join a team that can be consistently good for the next 15 years.”
The 2016 season in Chicago has the makings to be special. All of the selling has led to the current roster enjoying the moment as a strong unit. The Cubs are ready for another deep October run, and with eight more wins they will achieve that ultimate goal. As their 2016 campaign reads, they will do all of that “together.”