Hanukkah has passed and Christmas approaches. Cub fans should count the gifts they have received this year, starting with an incredible season that no one expected as quickly as it came. Fans saw new bleachers in Wrigley Field, even as construction continued during the season, they were treated to great baseball and shattered records. Pitching was outstanding, especially the second half of the season, and the team as a whole won 97 games.
The Cubs took fans on a ride to the post season, winning the Wild Card game in Pittsburgh, then defeating the St. Louis Cardinals to win the Division Championship, and they did it at home for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately, the ride was cut short by the New York Mets in the League Championship series. But what a ride it was!
After the season ended, Cubs fans were treated to more gifts as Jake Arrieta won the National League Cy Young Award, Kris Bryant won the National League Rookie of the Year Award and Manager Joe Maddon won the National League Manager of the Year Award.
In November, those feats were on the minds of fans who looked to next season with renewed hope, interest and excitement. But during the Winter Meetings in Nashville, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein offered even more gifts to Cub fans signing free agents John Lackey, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward. And in a final signing just last week, fan favorite back-up catcher John Baker rejoined the team as a special assistant to baseball operations. Along the way, fans had to say goodbye to Starlin Castro and his infectious walk-up music that had everyone at Wrigley clapping along by the end of the season.
It’s hard to determine which one of the four signings will have more impact on the team and the fans. Fans are excited about Zobrist and Heyward, and Zobrist and Heyward seem just as excited to be on the team.
But a lot of what happens on the field starts off the field and behind the scenes, which makes the Baker signing especially important. Fans will recall that on July 29-30, 2014, the Cubs were playing a marathon game at Wrigley Field against the Colorado Rockies. The Cubs ran out of pitchers, and Baker, the back-up catcher, was called upon to pitch the 16th inning. Not only did he pitch a scoreless inning, he also scored the winning run in the bottom of the inning to give him and the team the win and what turned out to be a perfect pitching record that he would take into retirement. It was the type of game and win that songs are written about.
Just like Jon Lester, Arrieta, Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and others, Zobrist and Heyward will be around for a few years. Baker made an impact during a single year as a Cubs player. As a special assistant he will have a hand in every aspect of the baseball operations side, with a special focus on catching and mental skills.
Cub fans owe their thanks not only to Epstein, but also to Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts for opening his pocketbook. This has made for a very happy holiday season for all Cub fans.