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Sports Authority

O’Connell: MLB better when Cubs are good

| Thursday, March 3, 2016

For a Chicago sports fan like myself, there is a special thrill that always accompanies the closing days of February. Despite the horrendous weather — which seems determined to lead us on every few days with another tantalizing sampling of spring before ruthlessly burying us beneath a fresh wave of snowfall — doing its best to ruin my mood, I must admit that the winter weather in South Bend, Indiana, becomes a little more bearable once March is around the corner.

Why is that? It’s because pitchers and catchers reported to spring training about a week ago. To me, that means winter is officially over. Baseball season is back, and I couldn’t be happier.

To be honest, I don’t know whether my love of spring came before or after my love of baseball. Perhaps it’s something of a Pavlovian reaction at work; pair the turning of the season with the glee-inducing sights and sounds of the ballpark enough times, and eventually, you’ll just get giddy at the slightest sign of the springtime. Some of my fondest baseball memories circle around spring training. After all, from the yearly enterprise of getting my little league gear in order after a winter spent collecting dust to my memories of making the long trek to Arizona to watch the Cubs play against a backdrop of dark mountains and green cacti, spring break always meant more than just a few days off of school.

Today, though, spring training feels a bit different than it has in the past. As a Cubs fan, I am in the unfamiliar position of actually being excited for the results of the upcoming season. Not that I haven’t been hopeful for good seasons in the past, but this year carries with it a certain set of expectations for what has become one of the youngest, most talented and most exciting teams in baseball.

It’s a bit cliché to say that baseball is at its best when the Cubs are good. And, to be honest, it’s a difficult claim to argue, since that would basically mean that baseball hasn’t been at its best in roughly 100 years. But honestly, I think that statement might hold true. That Cubs fans are excited about the product the team is putting on the diamond of late comes as little surprise. What does strike me as interesting, though, are the number of fans of other teams — or even people who don’t claim to follow baseball at all — that suddenly seem invested in the Cubs’ quest to claim a pennant for the first time since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

More than merely a baseball team, the Cubs have become a cultural institution in America — one that serves to foster baseball as both a sport and a brand when they are firing on all cylinders.

There’s no telling whether the Cubs will win anything at all this year. The baseball season is astronomically lengthy, and there is no predicting with any sort of accuracy what may or may not happen. Still, for the first time in a long time, I get to look forward to seeing good baseball being played at the corner of Addison and Clark.

I suppose I can’t speak for anyone else, but that’s more than enough to get me through the last dredges of winter with a smile on my face.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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