CHICAGO – Let’s talk about tomorrow.
Yeah, yeah, I know that it’s today. And I know that today is not just any old today, but a special today. Because it’s Opening Day, which always – I mean, always – knocks yesterday out of the park.
And, hey, that’s great. I’m all for today. After all, it’s the gateway to tomorrow.
Today, the Cubs and White Sox will open their seasons. The Cubs will visit the Pittsburgh Pirates, while the Sox will host the Minnesota Twins. Big crowds will pack the seats, cheerful organ music will dance across the stadium, and an umpire will yank a mask across his face and bark, “Play Ball!”
Today will be fun.
Tomorrow will be amazing.
Because tomorrow means summer vacations and hot, sunny days and open windows at night. Tomorrow means backyard barbecues and fireworks and sprinting through the sprinklers.
For the Cubs and the White Sox, tomorrow means a chance to contend.
Maybe not tomorrow tomorrow, but one of these tomorrows. Because trying to build a World Series contender is kind of like playing a game of Jenga, and, well, let’s just say that the last go-round resulted in a heaping pile of failure on both sides of town.
So both teams brought in deep thinkers to try to create a Jenga pile that will endure.
On the North Side, Cubs president Theo Epstein sits comfortably on his throne as the king of tomorrow. Epstein and his loyal underlings are in their third season of the Cubs’ tomorrow project, which appears to be taking shape, except we can’t know for sure because we’re stuck on today.
On the South Side, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn enters his second season in his increased role of building toward tomorrow. Granted, Hahn’s tomorrow is closer than Epstein’s tomorrow, if only because Sox fans will stop showing up to the ball park if too many todays start to stink.
Still, Hahn has proved that he is capable of tossing sentimentality out of the game, shipping off familiar veterans for young prospects. Last year, Jake Peavy headed for the departure gates while a promising outfielder named Avisail Garcia showed up at arrivals.
Instead of overpaying to re-sign Paul Konerko, Hahn offered Paulie walnuts (or maybe it was peanuts) while stacking $68 million at the feet of Jose Abreu, a Cuban power-hitting sensation.
Sox fans also can ponder tomorrow while watching centerfielder Adam Eaton, a self-described “dirtbag” who might swipe bases and chase down fly balls like a younger, more skilled Aaron Rowand. Fans also will see second baseman Marcus Semien, a speedy runner with some pop, and hard-throwing pitcher Erik Johnson. Eventually, slugging third baseman Matt Davidson will join the mix.
As for Cubs fans, they know all about waiting for tomorrow.
This time, however, Cubs fans’ long-tested patience might actually pay off with big rewards. Because the North Siders have a stockpile of young prospects that every other team in baseball should envy.
At the top of the list is Javier Baez, a 21-year-old shortstop who slugged 37 (37!) home runs in the minor leagues last season. Barring injury, Baez should be in the big leagues at some point this season, and his at-bats will be must-see TV for anyone who enjoys watching baseballs sail through the night.
The list goes on for the Cubs. Kris Bryant, the second overall pick in last year’s draft, carries a big bat and has the potential to slug 40-plus home runs a season. Jorge Soler is a hard-hitting outfielder with a wild streak, and Albert Almora will roam Wrigley’s outfield sooner rather than later.
On the mound, right-hander C.J. Edwards weighs nothing and throws everything. And third baseman Mike Olt, a young pup abandoned by the Texas Rangers, has found a happy home with the Cubs.
So, by all means, go ahead and study today’s lineups. Opening Day is fun.
But if you want the good stuff? As in, the really good stuff? As in, the ceremonial playoff bunting and the delightful chill of October baseball and the mother of all World Series parades?
Hang in there. It’s coming.
One of these tomorrows.