Most of my columns seem to have a date stamp, making them marginally relevant. So what to write about in mid-April? Tax Day? My father does my taxes. And I’m not 40. Earth Day? Just a ploy by environmentalists and Hallmark to sell more greeting cards. Arbor Day? I have plenty of trees, even if you are willing to offer me one with no interest until 2005. Baseball’s opening day? There is a real holiday.
Last year’s postseason, arguably the best in history, galvanized interest in America’s national pastime, and that interest has helped make this the most anticipated April in recent baseball history. I can’t remember ever being this excited for the season. My Chicago Cubs are among the favorites to win the World Series. And here in New England, Yankee and Red Sox fans are chomping at the bit for an October showdown.
The Cubbies appeared to have made all the right moves in the off-season — acquiring Derrek Lee from the World Champion Florida Marlins, picking up Greg Maddux to shore up the already formidable pitching staff, and welcoming the two Todds — Walker and Hollandsworth — to town. We even exorcised the demons inherent in our 96-year championship drought by blowing up the infamous Bartman ball in a public spectacle. Everything seems to be shaping up perfectly. And then, the ship sprang a leak. And for cynical, fatalistic Cubs fans like me, despite the fact that it’s only April, our ship might as well have hit an iceberg. Do you hear that faint screaming? That’s all the talking heads of the sports world jumping off the Cubs’ bandwagon faster than you can spit.
First we learned that star pitcher Mark Prior’s Achilles tendon is actually made of string cheese. I’m ready to firebomb the Newark newspaper that just destroyed my April by reporting that certain “intimate friends” of manager Dusty Baker deemed Prior’s prospects of return “bleak.” Who are these “intimate friends”? Does Dusty Baker really have “intimate friends” in Newark? If they’re really intimate friends of a big league manager, what are they doing still in Newark? Why do they torture me so?
Our starting second baseman, Mark Grudzielanek, also has an Achilles problem. He’ll be out for a couple weeks. Achilles problems galore. What is this, Troy? I feel like Paris — the son of Priam, not the Hilton or the French city — has moved to Chicago and is terrorizing the North Side of the city with machete swipes aimed at the heels of my beloved Cubbies.
And the first week of the season hasn’t actually gone according to plan. Greg Maddux is pitching like a Little-Leaguer with control problems — it’s painful to watch. Teams like the lowly Reds and Pirates are pounding the Cubs. And we end a frigid first week of the long baseball season in the basement of the National League Central.
Now you may say, Robby, how can you be such a neurotic loser? It’s only the first week. There are still 155 games left. How can you fret so much about your team when daytime temperatures have yet to hit the 60-degree mark? And plus, it’s only baseball. Don’t you have bigger things to worry about?
Indeed, perhaps I do. But as one who gauges his self-worth according to the success or failure of his favorite sports teams, I appear to have a problem on my hands.
What will happen if this slide continues? What will happen if Paris strikes again and continues to slice and dice his way through the Cubs’ pitching rotation? What if the pre-season favorite Cubs, the pride of Chicago and the thorn in the collective side of the city, fail to even make the playoffs? What if the temperature never rises above 60 degrees? All worthy questions.
I’m beginning to think I’m just bad luck for whatever sports team I follow. The Chicago Bears haven’t been good since I wore feetie pajamas. The Bulls, after bringing so many championships home in the nineties, enriching my youth and utterly destroying the childhoods of basketball fans in the New York metropolitan area, have now regressed to the level of a bad high school team. I’ve recently become a fan of lacrosse out here on the East Coast, and the first two games I’ve attended this year have ended in heartbreaking Yale losses.
Who knew I could engender such bad luck?
The only logical conclusion — it must be my fault that my favorite teams consistently choke. I think I’m going to become a diehard Yankee fan. A 200 million dollar payroll’s got nothing on my ability as a fan to destroy a team’s chances for success.
Well, this Opening Day didn’t exactly live up to my hopes. At least I still have Arbor Day. I never liked trees anyway.
Robert Schrum is a deadline machine in need of an upgrade.