Constable: This is the Cubs' year
You might notice today's new column logo and immediately think that my short-billed white Cubs hat, like all Cubs hats, makes me appear nerdish, bordering on pathetic. But I am just following the dress code advice that manager Joe Maddon, the only guy in my age bracket who can make a Cubs hat look cool, told his 2016 Chicago Cubs: "If you think you look hot, you wear it."
I'm rockin' this hat because it isn't just your run-of-the-mill Cubs chapeau; it's a replica of the 1908 cap worn by the last Cubs team to win the World Series.
A die-hard Cubs fan since Glenn Beckert was a rookie, I start every season with a hunch that this could be the year the Cubs win another World Series. This season, my perennial bandwagon of delusion welcomes aboard a host of real, impartial baseball experts who predict the Cubs will win (or at least get to) the World Series.
Fans who believe destiny is defined by goats, black cats, Sports Illustrated covers and other jinxes worry that a columnist donning a 1908 cap and making World Series plans is equivalent to slapping bulky headphones over my Cubs hat and reaching for a foul ball down the left-field line at Wrigley Field. But I look at my personal quest to see the Cubs win the World Series in the same way that the "Peanuts" cartoon character Linus embraces his desire to meet The Great Pumpkin. I give in completely to my hope and will enjoy it until someone (notably the 1969 New York Mets, the 1984 San Diego Padres, the 2003 Miami Marlins, the 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers and last year's Mets again) breaks my heart.
The Cubs open this season Monday night in Anaheim. As a boy, I remember listening to the 1969 season opener on the radio with my dad. Ernie Banks hit two home runs and Willie Smith cracked a walk-off, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Cubs a 7-6 win. That was a truly glorious Cubs team, until it wasn't.
Last season's Opening Night took place on Easter with Wrigley Field and the Cubs both undergoing massive renovations. The bleachers were covered in plywood, Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant was playing in Iowa, and the Cubs lost to St. Louis 3-0 behind three hits by Cardinals right fielder Jason Heyward. Now Heyward is the Cubs' new right fielder.
The last time the Cubs started a new right fielder who attracted this much attention was in the 2008 opener, when Japanese star Kosuke Fukudome went 3-for-3 at the plate and smacked a game-tying 3-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning. And the Cubs still lost.
But the best Opening Day performance in Cubs history belongs to an American who later became one of the greatest sluggers in the history of Japanese baseball. As the new starting center fielder for the Cubs in 1994, Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes hit 3 home runs off New York Mets ace Dwight Gooden and went a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate. And the Cubs still lost. After hitting 3 home runs in his first 3 at-bats, Rhodes cooled off considerably, hitting just five more homers in the following 161 games.
The Cubs and Major League Baseball gave up on Rhodes in 1995. So Rhodes went to the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan, where he slugged 464 home runs across 13 seasons, tied the legendary Sadaharu Oh's single-season homer record with 55 and became the greatest foreign-born slugger in Japanese history. This year, I expect that "happy ending" story to stay with the Cubs and last through the World Series.
These "This is the year" columns will run during the Cubs season. Since this essentially is a fan outlet, feel free to send your thoughts, photos, videos and ideas to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Plans can change, but on the cusp of the 2016 season, it's fun to think we'll all be part of the year the Cubs make it to the promised land.