Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 2, 2014

KEIM'S KORNER: March brings hope for Cub fan

Goshen News

---- — It’s coming.

The it I’m referring to is spring time.

While there have been times during this winter with all the snow and bone-chilling temperatures and bitter wind-chill conditions we may have thought spring was going to bypass us all together or just take longer than usual to reach us.

But have no fear there was a sure sign of spring’s coming last Thursday afternoon.

No. I didn’t see a robin. It was a Cub sighting that has gotten me anxious, enthusiastic and waiting for the arrival of the season like a child waiting for Christmas.

The Chicago Cubs played their first exhibition baseball game of the season Thursday afternoon out in Mesa, Arizona.

Watching the game on television, seeing fans dressed in shorts and enjoying the 73-degree temperatures made me forget for awhile about the fact the that the thermometer here was barely in double digits and the wind-chill factor was well below zero.

One of the announcers had the right idea. He suggested to fans suffering through the brutally-cold winter in the Midwest to close the curtains, turn up the heat and kick back to enjoy the game.

It worked. For those brief couple of hours my mind was lost on the coming baseball season.

Spring is the season where things are reborn after being dormant during the winter and that is my hope for the Cubs this baseball season. While my expectations are not for a World Series championship they are for an improved season over last year when the Cubs finished 66-96.

Tom Ricketts bought the Cubs in January of 2009 and one of his first moves was hiring Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations. Epstein has a remarkable reputation in baseball. He became the youngest general manager in baseball history when the Boston Red Sox hired him in 2002 at the age of 28. Hiring the young man worked out well as the Red Sox captured a World Series title in 2004 ending a streak of 86 years without Boston’s faithful fans celebrating a World Championship.

Trust me as a long-time Cubs fan I’m well aware of lengthy streaks without wining a World Series title.

Cubs fans are hopeful Epstein can do the same thing with the Cubs.

Fans of the team matched my enthusiasm for the Thursday spring training opener as a Cactus League-record crowd of 14,486 attended the contest.

The Cubs lost the game by a 5-2 score. While it’s still early there were a couple of good signs of things to come. Former Notre Dame standout wide receiver Jeff Samardzija pitched two shutout innings and shortstop Starlin Castro, trying to recover from a season where he batted a career low .245, was 2-for-2 at the plate.

One thing Ricketts and Epstein have done that gives me reasons to be optimistic about the future is the rebuilding of the club’s farm system. Previous general managers had depleted the farm system by trading away prospects for veteran players in an effort to win right away.

There are times when clubs have to trade away prospects, but one has to look no further than Chicago’s biggest rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, to see the importance of homegrown talent.

A year ago, a Cardinal team that was devastated by injuries still came within one game of winning the World Series thanks in part to the performances of players coming up through the ranks of the St. Louis farm system. Time after time the Cardinals would seemingly put a pitcher on the disabled list and call up another, who would pitch just as well if not better than the one he was replacing.

The Cubs are hopefully heading in that direction. Baseball America recently released its list of the Top 100 Prospects and the Cubs have seven youngsters on the list. Shortstop Javier Baez is No. 5, third baseman Kris Bryant No. 8, pitcher C.J. Edwards No. 28, center fielder Albert Almora No. 36, outfielder Jorge Soler No. 41, pitcher Pierce Johnson No. 87 and second baseman Arismenay Alcantra No. 100.

“The public perception and the reality of what we’re seeing out there — it’s legitimate,” said new Cubs manager Rick Renteria in an article by Patrick Mooney on the Cubs Insider Web site. “It’s something that the organization should be proud of. (All these) guys in the system have done a great job in acquiring and developing the talent that we have. It’s just showing in what people are reading and writing about.”

Ricketts said in the same article: “The nice part about the last couple years is you see all the pieces start to fall in place.”

That is what I’ve been waiting for. The pieces starting to fall into place.

To old saying is “Good things come to those who wait.”

Well fellow Cubs’ fans we have done our share of waiting. I want to drink some of that Cubs “Kool-Aid” after we win a World Series.

Maybe not this season, but hopefully in the not too distant future.

Contact sports reporter Greg Keim at 533-2151, ext. 326 or by email at greg.keim@goshennews.com. Follow him on Twitter at gkeim_tgn.