Constable: For Chicago Cubs fans, 'Wait Till Next Year' has a different meaning this year

Cubs fans' dream of a World Series championship repeat flew out of Wrigley Field Thursday night as if it had been launched off the bat of the Dodgers' Kiké Hernandez. The Los Angeles' left-fielder had two home runs and 5 runs batted in before the Cubs even got a hit off Dodgers' ace Clayton Kershaw.

As Hernandez's grand slam in the third inning dumped the Cubs into a 7-0 hole, it was as if someone had thrown a giant wet blanket over what was supposed to be a party atmosphere in a rocking Wrigley Field. A beautiful October evening instantly turned into a dark and quiet night. Then Hernandez hit his third homer and drove in his National League championship series record seventh run in the 9th inning to put a capper on the Cubs' 11-1 season-ending loss.

But just as this Cubs team is not like those old lovable losers that we have endured for most of our lifetimes, this exit from the postseason doesn't leave the same scars on fans' hearts.

“It's sad, but it's not soul-crushing,” said Jessica Hickey of Algonquin, who came to the game with her husband, Brad, and their sons, Jacob, 7, and Owen, 5. “Last year, there was a vibe. It was magic.”

Ah, last season. In the 2016 crucial series-clinching game against the Dodgers, the Cubs roughed up Kershaw early, and Cubs' starter Kyle Hendricks and closer Aroldis Chapman combined for a 5-0 victory. That ignited a wild champagne-fueled celebration for a Cubs team going to its first World Series since 1945, where they captured their first championship since 1908. Those 2016 memories will survive Thursday's massacre.

“Let's go, Cubbies!” the faithful chanted in the 9th inning as catcher Willson Contreras lined to shortstop to end the game, and the season.

“We're still reliving last year,” Brad Hickey acknowledged. Mourning Cubs fans still have a couple of weeks to brag about the reigning World Champion Chicago Cubs, reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant and reigning World Series MVP Ben Zobrist. Bryant even smacked a homer and turned in a pair of nifty fielding plays to put the Cubs on the board and remind fans of what can be again.

“It's sad because they worked so hard that second half of the season,” said April Coffell, 26, of Wheaton, who attended Thursday's game with her husband, Michael. “It's not the end. We know next year they'll be back.”

To fully understand how fortunate today's Cubs fans are, we don't need to go back to 1908, just 2014. At the end of that season, new Cubs Manager Rick Renteria was getting respect for winning seven more games than fired Manager Dale Sveum had won in 2013, The workhorse of the pitching staff was Travis Wood, as expected ace Edwin Jackson went 6-15 with an ERA of 6.33. Gold Glove-winning second-baseman Darwin Barney was traded for a pitcher who would peak with the Kane County Cougars. Starlin Castro played a frustrating shortstop. Luis Valbuena and his .249 batting average held down third base. Welington Castillo hit .237 behind the plate. An outfield of Chris Coghlan, Arismendy Alcantara and Nate Schierholtz failed to inspire. The only Cubs regular from that team who remains is Anthony Rizzo at first base.

On Nov. 3, 2014, the Cubs held a news conference to introduce Joe Maddon as the team's new manager. Two years to the day later, the Chicago Cubs were World Series champions.

In three seasons, the Cubs have gone from a fifth-place team with a losing record and a century of postseason failure to a team that has made three consecutive postseasons, won two straight Central Division championships, won a pennant and won a World Series. Maddon has won more World Series titles in his brief tenure than the combined total compiled by the 51 Cubs managers who preceded him.

“This is our third year in a row that we've been in the playoffs,” said longtime Cubs fan Joni Kotche, 60, of Wayne, who was in Wrigley for the only Cubs' victory of the series in Game 4. “For us longtime Cubs fans, that's a big deal. I still see a lot of excitement for next year.”

Or, as we Cubs fans used to say, “Wait till next year.”

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  Owen Hickey, 5, catches a ball thrown by his father, Brad Hickey, as Jessica and Jacob, 7, play catch, too. The Algonquin family was in The Park at Wrigley before Game 5 of the National League championship series in Chicago. John Starks/
  Brad, Jessica, Jacob and Owen Hickey, of Algonquin, hang out in The Park at Wrigley before Game 5 of the National League championship series at Wrigley Field in Chicago. John Starks/
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