#WeAreGood

What these Cubs mean to me…

By Steven Johnson

“We Are Good.”

Three simple words by Miguel Montero that became the rallying cry for the Chicago Cubs in 2015. It has been not only the rallying cry, but a factual statement for the last three seasons. The Chicago Cubs are good at baseball.

No, like actually… well, good. Good as in you expect them to make the postseason every year. Good as in you expect them to win their division every year. Good as in you expect them to contend for a World Series every year. Good as in you no longer have to watch games thinking about how the curse is going to burn us this time.

“We Are Good,” indeed. As a die-hard Cubs fan, this team means the world to me. At only 25-years-old, I have already seen my fair share of heartbreak as a Cubs fan. It started in 1998. I was only six-years-old, but my Dad had me following along much like he did during the Bulls’ dominance in the 90s.

I had all the gear. Sammy Sosa was the greatest player ever to me. I thought Henry Rodriguez was a legend. Mark Grace was that dude. The Cubs were the greatest show on Earth. I remember Michael Jordan throwing out the first pitch in a Cubs jersey. My childhood was pretty awesome.

wild-card-game-3

In 1998, we won Game 163 vs the Giants. We then proceeded to get swept three straight by the Atlanta Braves. I was devastated. Even after the Bulls had clinched another three-peat and Michael Jordan hit “The Shot,” I was still devastated that my Cubs had lost.

There is nothing like the sport of baseball. The excitement I felt whenever my Cubs were kicking ass trumped the excitement I had watching my Chicago Bulls and Chicago Bears kick ass. This was something special.

As I got older, I got smarter. My love and knowledge of the game increased. Sammy was still the man to me, but I discovered Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds and Jeff Bagwell.

I learned to root against the Cardinals. I learned how pesky those Houston Astros were. I always wondered why there were six teams in the NL Central.

I was used to the losing as well. The 1999 and 2000 seasons were very trying. I remember in 2001 when they got off to a great start and “swooned” throughout the remainder of the season. We won 88 games but didn’t make the playoffs. We struggled hardcore in 2002. Don Baylor was relieved of his managerial duties and we were back to square one.

“In Dusty We Trusty.”

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When the Cubs hired Dusty Baker, I was excited. Here was a man who led the Giants to the World Series. He was the man who was going to do the same with the Cubs. That team was stacked from top to bottom.

The lineup was insane, including the likes of Sosa, Moises Alou, Alex S. Gonzalez, Mark Grudzielanek, Eric Karros and Damian Miller. We also boasted one of the most dominant pitching staffs in recent memory. Five arms, five studs: Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Clement & Shawn Estes.

In-season trades made by Jim Hendry were beneficial too.

The Cubs acquired a pure leadoff hitter in Kenny Lofton and the best third baseman in Cubs history at the time behind Ron Santo in Aramis Ramirez (Yes, I’ve heard about Kris Bryant and Yes, he will undoubtedly supersede Ramirez and Santo when it is all said and done). Other veterans acquired: Doug Glanville, Randall Simon and Tony Womack helped lead the charge.

Every move hit and everything was going the Cubs way. We won the NL Central with 88 wins and we got past the obstacle that was the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. We were up 3-1 on the Marlins in the NLCS. And then…

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Yea, that happened. The Cubs blew a 3-1 lead before it became fashionable.

Sorry, we had to relive it for storytelling purposes. I never blamed Steve Bartman. I instead concentrated on this play. Not enough attention is paid to the potential double play that could’ve preserved the lead and gotten out of the inning.

No, fans like narratives and the narrative was Steve Bartman cost the Cubs Game 6.

The narrative was that “The Curse of the Billy Goat” was indeed real. The narrative was this was exactly what the Cubs were destined for and nobody should really be surprised. The Cubs bowed out in Game 7 and the Marlins went on to win the World Series.

The devastation for the Cubs and the city of Chicago was real. They were so close, yet so far away. It was another season where they caught lightning in a bottle and had a chance to go all the way. It was 1998 all over again. The Cubs choked down the line in 2004 (Much like 2001) and missed out on the playoffs.

Not even acquiring Nomar Garciaparra could get the Cubs over the top in 2004 (I had to bring it up). Did I also mention the Cubs brought back Greg Maddux? So much wasted potential and talent on that 2004 team.

In 2005 and 2006, the Cubs were back in the cellar. 2005 was awesome for me because of the breakthrough of Derrek Lee. Competing for the Triple Crown throughout the season with Albert Pujols was a treat to watch as a Cubs fan.

2005 was also the year the Cubs traded Sammy Sosa and the Chicago White Sox won the World Series (Yes… they actually won the World Series). In a single year, part of my childhood was gone and the crosstown rival had just won the damn World Series.

I was not a hater. I was congratulatory. I was happy for the White Sox and their fans and they were happy to pour salt into the wounds of myself and other Cubs fans.

Privately, I always held out hope that our time was coming sooner rather than later. Until then, it was time to take all the jokes that were about to fly… for 11 more years.

“From Worst to First.”

Alfonso+Soriano+Chicago+Cubs+Photo+Day+2PKzevuQP9Yl

For the 2007 season, Baker was relieved of his managerial duties. The Cubs brought in Lou Piniella. They then proceeded to go on a spending spree, completely retooling the roster.

They signed Alfonso Soriano for $136 million over eight years hit leadoff and (originally) play center field, even though he had just converted to the outfield one season prior.

They brought in Ted Lilly, Mark DeRosa and Jason Marquis. They selected Josh Hamilton in the Rule 5 Draft too, but he eventually was purchased by the Reds from them.

The Cubs won 85 games and the NL Central. They got swept three straight games by the Diamondbacks. “It’s Gonna Happen” did not happen, but hey, just wait until next year.

In 2008, the Cubs won 97 games and the NL Central again. They got swept three straight games by the Dodgers. That was just cruel and unusual punishment. That just hurt.

“The Lost Seasons.”

cubs-tickets

For the 2009 season, the Cubs signed Milton Bradley. The Cubs won 83 games and missed the playoffs. It was their third straight winning season, however. This was the first time the Cubs accomplished that mark since 1972.

The 2009 season was not a complete loss at the time as Tom Ricketts and his family purchased the team. You take what you can get, because a World Series was not an option at the time.

cubs-owner

In 2010, the Cubs regressed… winning only 75 games. The 2011 season was even worse, as the Cubs only won 71 games. Here we go again… lost seasons and a high payroll with high-priced aging veterans and a farm system that was in rough shape.

No entertaining baseball in sight. It was the same old status quo that Cubs fans had become accustomed to, unfortunately. Change needed to happen, change was on the way.

“The Plan.”

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In late 2011, Theo Epstein arrived in Chicago. He was the Cubs new President of Baseball Operations. Jed Hoyer joined him as the Cubs new General Manager. A plan was set in place to completely rebuild the Chicago Cubs as a franchise and organization.

The Cubs were able to ship off high-priced, aging veterans. Soriano and Zambrano were both traded. Epstein and Co. made several astute signings and deals:

  • They traded for Anthony Rizzo in 2012 and signed him to a seven-year deal in 2013.
  • They also acquired Kyle Hendricks in 2012 in a deal involving Ryan Dempster.
  • In 2013, they acquired Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop in a deal for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger.
  • In 2014, they acquired Addison Russell in a deal with the Athletics for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel (who they signed back for the 2015 season).
  • They hired Joe Maddon as Manager.
  • They drafted Kris Bryant in 2013, Kyle Schwarber in 2014 and Ian Happ in 2015. All three are currently producing at the Major League level.
  • They developed Javier Baez, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr.
  • They signed Jon Lester, traded for Dexter Fowler and Miguel Montero and then signed John Lackey.

“The Plan” indeed was something worthy of a book one day. Ricketts, Epstein, Hoyer and Jason McLeod rebuilt this team and organization from the ground up. It was something the Cubs and their fans were not used to. A healthy farm system, a consistent big league product and a front office that was all-in when it came to winning a World Series.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Chicago Cubs

“We Are Good.”

For the 2015 season, the Cubs blew away everyone’s expectations. In a total surprise, the team won 97 games. Arrieta won the NL Cy Young Award and led the MLB in Wins. Bryant won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and made the All-Star Team. Rizzo made his second All-Star Team. The Cubs went 42-18 from August-October to finish the season.

They beat the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game. They took out the Cardinals, our arch rivals, in 4 games during the NLDS where Schwarber gave us a moment. What a time to be alive as a Cubs fan.

cubs cardinals

Then another match-up with another rival presented itself. We faced the Mets in the National League Championship Series. We were swept four straight.

It was, in my eyes, a rite of passage. This young team had to experience heartbreak before they experienced doing the unthinkable. They had to know what failure felt like so they did not have to be afraid of it anymore.

“It happened… I saw it.”

For the 2016 season, our Cubs were all in. It was World Series or bust for this team.

They brought back Fowler on a 1-year deal (“You go, we go.”). They signed Jason Heyward and John Lackey away from the Cardinals.

They traded longtime Cub Starlin Castro to the Yankees and signed World Series Champion and All-Star Ben Zobrist.

Throughout the season, slowly but surely, the Cubs added the right pieces to compliment the squad:

  • They reacquired Chris Coghlan.
  • They acquired superstar closer Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees.
  • They acquired a pitcher in Mike Montgomery who would go on to be a part of possibly the greatest footnote in Cubs history.

The Cubs won 103 games (if only they could have won 108), the NL Central and finished with the best record in baseball for that season. This was too good to be true… it felt real, it felt genuine. It just felt right.

We were matched up with the Giants in the NLDS: a stiff test in its own right. It was the even-year dynasty. The Giants had won World Series Championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014. It was 2016… get those narratives and curse stories ready.

We passed the test with flying colors. Javy was “Must-See TV” when we absolutely needed him to be. KB wouldn’t let us go out like that in Game 3. In Game 4, the magic was just beginning. We took out the even-year dynasty in 4 games. One series down, two to go…

cubs giants

Bring on the Dodgers. It was time for payback for that 2008 postseason fail. In Game 1, Miggy, who coined the rallying cry “We Are Good,” went and backed it up… the Game 1 Hero. Games 2 and 3 were tough… we did not score a run and were down 2-1 in the series. It was go-time. The city knew it, the fans knew it… they knew it.

We came out swinging in Game 4. We tied the series at 2. Addison Russell and Jon Lester stepped up in Game 5… We took a 3-2 series lead. In Game 6, it was time to enjoy it together. We won the pennant. The Chicago Cubs were heading to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

cubs dodgers

The passion and celebration in Wrigley Field would only be second to one thing: Winning. The. Whole. F*cking. Thing.

We were finally there. The Cubs were in the World Series, man. I could not believe it. I was most happy for my Father.

My Dad literally had seen it all, from Muhammad Ali to the 1985 Bears to six NBA Championships to the Fire’s MLS Cup victory and three Stanley Cups. But the one thing he had never seen, his favorite team winning the World Series in his favorite sport.

It was time for the Cubs to do it. I don’t care what anyone said. It was time to nut up or shut up. Bring on the Cleveland Indians. This World Series was too perfect. Someone’s curse had to go, whether that’d be the damn Billy Goat or Ricky Colavito’s.

tribe-vs-chc-full

Schwarber, who had been out all season with a serious knee injury, made it back to join the World Series roster. He was there to DH and do whatever he could with the bat to help the Cubs make history. He became a Cubs folk hero.

And so we began… getting shutout in Game 1. Corey Kluber had got us and we knew we had to get him back at some point.

Jake the Snake picked us up in Game 2 and we tied the series at 1. We were heading back to Wrigley with a chance to make history in front of everyone. The Indians had other plans… they took Games 3 and 4 from us on our field. It was a 3-1 lead.

It couldn’t end this way… not like this. This season felt too good, too perfect. Everything was in place for us to end this damn “curse.”

We were not going to give up that easily though. We were going to get that Game 5 win, no matter what it took. KB delivered again and Chapman carried the team to the finish line. We’re heading to Game 6.

In Game 6, Jake the Snake came through for us again. KB, Rizzo and Russell put an exclamation point on it. The World Series was going to a Game 7 and we knew we were going to pull it off.

Every setback (108 years’ worth of them) was to culminate in a major comeback.

Game 7 was here, and yes, the beginning of it was something that you could predict. “You go, we go” happened one last time. We got to Kluber, payback for Game 1. We took a 6-3 lead into the 8th Inning… and then:

“You got to be f*cking kidding me.”

 

Not again… no, seriously?! It really sucks being a Cubs fan…

 

We just saw it with our own two eyes.

This was some sick joke… we’re literally at a loss for words. Those guys in the dugout have to be feeling the same way we’re feeling right now. If they tell you they don’t, they’re full of it.

“What the f*ck just happened? Why did that happen? Is this real life?”

“Are the Cubs really cursed to the point where their fans have to consistently live through sh*t like this?”

Then, you can’t make this up, it’s like God himself heard the prayers and saw the devastation within every Cub fan on his green Earth.

Heaven opened up.

We had a rain delay in Game 7 of the World Series. It was time for the players in the Cubs dugout to collect themselves. We still had a ballgame to win.

Jason Heyward gave the greatest pep talk in sports history. The Cubs refocused on the task at hand: it was time to go win a World Series. Let’s go do it, fellas.

Extra-inning magic: ‘Zo came through for us. Miggy added some insurance. We were now 3 outs away. Just because we had a flare for the dramatic, we did not want to make this easy.

Michael Martinez was at the plate and Mike Montgomery was on the mound. A slow roller was hit to a smiling Kris Bryant.

Bryant to Rizzo; the Cubs were the World Series Champions.

Say it with me now: “The Chicago Cubs were World Series Champions!”

I saw it. My fellow Cubs fans saw it. My family saw it. My Father saw it. Since 1985, every major Chicago Sports franchise in the NFL, NBA, MLS, MLB and NHL had won championships. The Cubs were finally initiated into the fraternity.

We did it for Ronnie, Ernie, Billy, Fergie and Ryno. We exercised the demons of the Billy Goat, Leon Durham’s error and Steve Bartman.

Look at us, we were the captains now. We ran the league. It was our championship to defend. I still can’t believe I can put these emotions into words right now. It’s still so surreal.

I came home from work at 2:30am that night. Me and my brother stayed up and watched continuing coverage. I couldn’t sleep. I was too excited at what I just saw, what I was just a part of covering. I finally saw a team that I rooted for passionately win a championship.

cubs world series champions

This was such an awesome feeling… a feeling that I was not used to. I did not want to let it go.

After I finally got to bed and woke up later, I saw my Dad sitting in the kitchen. I told him: “We finally did it, man. We finally did it.” I remember my Dad’s eyes were a little watery. It was a moment that I would never forget.

We bonded over our favorite team going all the way in our favorite sport. Seeing my Dad happy made me happy all over again.

The Cubs were World Series Champions… and I immediately said to myself: “Let’s do it again.” I don’t care how hard it is, I want more.

Chicago is spoiled, anyway. The Bulls had two separate three-peats. The Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups in eight seasons. Why can’t we be a little greedy when it comes to rings?

It’s 2017 and the Cubs are going back to the postseason to defend their World Series Championship.

Another NL Central Division title clinched and another postseason run awaiting. Why not win another one? I know it’s tough, but nothing worth having is easy. The best thing about all this: we can watch Cubs postseason baseball without the weight of the world on our shoulders. We can just enjoy the ride.

This is what these Cubs mean to me: moments with my Dad, feelings you cannot describe, watching every pitch and every at-bat and being able to say: “My team did it.”

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“The Cubs are World Series Champions!” Damn right, they are. #ThatsCub, baby.

Published by

Steven Johnson

Creator of http://IAmStevenJohnson.com . Host of "The All Day SJ Show." @Cubs, @ChicagoBulls & @ChicagoBears fan. Let the Good Times Roll. #StayMe7o.

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