The Cubs, who haven't won a World Series in 513 days, open the 2018 season at 11:40 a.m. today in Miami with expectations that couldn't be higher for Cubs fans.
Opening Day has no limit on hope. For generations, we Cubs fans celebrated every Opening Day as if it were an omen of glory. We saw the tiniest of sparks and assumed it would grow into lightning in a bottle. Here are things I actually have said on Opening Days:
1975: "That Pete LaCock is going to anchor first base for the next 15 years."
1978: "How can we lose with that Murderers' Row of Bill Buckner, Bobby Murcer and Dave Kingman?"
1983: "Mel Hall is the leadoff man we've been waiting for."
1985: "We almost won it last year, and now we've got Rick Sutcliffe for an entire season."
1986: "Bryan Dayett is going to make us forget that Mel Hall fiasco."
1991: "Even Ron Santo says Gary Scott is the best third baseman since Santo."
2002: "You can pencil in Corey Patterson's Hall of Fame induction for 2023."
2004: "Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Greg Maddux and Carlos Zambrano? This team can't lose."
2008: "Felix Pie is going to make fans forget what happened to Corey Patterson."
2013: "The Cubs could be the first team to go from 100 losses to 100 wins if Jeff Samardzija reaches his potential."
2018: "This team is so loaded with talent, our fifth starter would have been the ace for most Cubs teams."
This year is different, of course, as our sky-high expectations are grounded in reality. The Cubs just missed the World Series last season, and the team got better.
Reading Bruce Miles' coverage in the Daily Herald, I don't have to predict that Kris Bryant will be the Cubs' best third baseman since Santo because Bryant already has piled up accomplishments including Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and a World Series ring. Anthony Rizzo is the Cubs' anchor at first base.
Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, Addison Russell and Javy Baez already have etched themselves into fans' memories of the greatest Cubs postseason in our lifetime, and all could be even better this season. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist is healthy again. Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr. and Jason Heyward are primed to be better than they were last season. A rotation of Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood is formidable. The bullpen should be better than last season. Even backups Tommy La Stella and Victor Caratini are solid.
"Do I think they're going to win it? Absolutely!" says lifelong cubs fan Dan Nallen of Palatine as he and his family lunch at Alley 64 Bar & Grill in Palatine, where he plans to watch today's game. He and his wife, Kim, just got back from watching the Cubs play spring training games in Arizona.
"They didn't lose a game while we were there," Kim Nallen says. "Can they win the World Series? Absolutely!"
Like me, the Nallens have been wrong before. "In the 1980s, I thought it was going to happen," admits Dan Nallen.
Scarred by 1969, 1984 and 2003, I learned how to leave my expectations at home and just enjoy the ride in 2016, when the Cubs won the World Series, and even last year, when the Cubs fell a series short of a repeat trip to the World Series. No matter what happens in 2018, having 2016 in my memory bank puts me ahead of generations of Cubs fans.
"I really think this team will be around for the next 10 years as contenders," Dan Nallen says.
I agree. So no matter how high our 2018 expectations soar, we've got a safety net of 2016 and the hope of the coming decade to ease a fall. Of course, fans won't need that as I just have a hunch that the Cubs will be the 2018 World Series champs.