Cubs fans hoping next year is finally here

col-tbuzz-2The opening day of baseball comes with high hopes for fans of the Chicago Cubs, which is nothing new for those of us who are used to losing with the Lovable Losers. For the past 108 years we have welcomed April with unseasonably warm optimism, convinced that “next year” is finally here and the baseball gods that have cursed us are about to smile on Wrigley Field.

But this year is different. It’s normal for Cubs fans to have unrealistic hopes in spring only to be mathematically out of the race for a first World Series title since 1908 is just around the corner. What isn’t normal is for folks outside the Cubbies’ fold to hold the same beliefs. It seems Cubs fever is sweeping the nation and National League in the 2016 season.

Baseball “experts” have named the Cubs the favorites to win it all this year, which doesn’t make sense to the rational side of my brain. How can you go more than a century without winning a World Series, and more than 70 years without making the Fall Classic, then suddenly be the frontrunner to take the crown? It’s like saying the Whig Party will win the White House.

But the irrational side of my brain can’t help but get excited about the prospects of this young team the Cubs have assembled being poised to hoisting a championship banner in Wrigley. The kicker came in the mail the other day with Sports Illustrated’s season preview, featuring the Cubs on the cover. That’s all we need – an SI cover jinx to go along with our Goat Curse, Black Cat Curse and Steve Bartman Curse. As if the real world isn’t hard enough on the Cubs, the paranormal Tarot cards also seem stacked against us.

I always think of my late grandfather this time of year. He introduced me to the Cubs, an act I both thank and blame him for all these difficult years later. We used to listen to the Cubs games on WGN Radio after a long day in the tobacco fields, but only when they were on the road and the darkness allowed the AM radio waves to reach Tennessee. He lived a full life to the age of 90 and was witness to some great moments in history – victory in two world wars, the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall – but a Cubs win in the World Series was not one of them.

Now at the age of 50, I’m starting to wonder if I will share his fate. And I bear the responsibility of passing on the curse of being a Cubs fan to my lovely wife, Stephanie, who you couldn’t pay to watch a baseball game before we met. And we have passed it along to our sweet daughter Riley, who is too young and innocent to realize the heartache that faces her for years to come. God only knows how many of my future offspring will be doomed to disappointment, unless we can break the curse this year.

But there is something magical about believing, the same sort of blind faith that kkeps mankind going in its darkest hours. It’s that belief that the sun will come up again, even if it hasn’t risen on the corner of Sheffield and Addison Avenues for over 100 years. Cubs fans are accustomed to dealing with hardship and heartbreak, almost to the point that we start to expect it. But then after a long, cold winter comes some sunshine and a small degree of hope that blossoms into full-blown belief by Opening Day.

This year I can feel it in my bones. Happy days are coming soon and 108 years of frustration are building up for a huge celebration in Wrigleyville. Although I won’t be there to witness it, I feel a lot closer to it now that the Myrtle Beach Pelicans have affiliated with the Cubs. Last year’s Carolina League championship was a small taste of the big-league celebration to come. This is the year, but this year I mean it.

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