As I write this, I’m ready to jump out of my skin. I’m beyond ready and excited for Feb. 14. It’s easily the greatest day of the year.
Oh, you thought I was talking about Valentine’s Day? Please, don’t flatter me. I’m talking about the start of Spring Training.
Cubs pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Arizona Feb. 14 and position players will come Feb. 17, signaling baseball’s officially back after four long, painful months. I say painful because Chicago sports fans have had to suffer through the Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks’ lackluster seasons while waiting for baseball’s triumphant return. At least we have the Ramblers, right?
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’m excited for Cubs baseball to restart. The team has made a flurry of moves this offseason — despite the slow market — and I can feel the optimism building.
The Cubs signed four notable pitchers this offseason: relief pitchers Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek, and starting pitchers Tyler Chatwood and — the Granddaddy of them all — Yu Darvish. The Cubs also return their entire starting infield and outfield from last season. There’s so much to be excited about.
Morrow and Darvish are the two most significant signings. Both shut the Cubs down in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) last season. Morrow developed into one of the best relievers in the game, going 6-0 with a 2.46 ERA in 46 appearances last season out of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bullpen. In the postseason, he had a 3.95 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 13.2 innings pitched without giving up a home run.
Darvish, Morrow’s teammate last season after being traded to Los Angeles from the Texas Rangers, was one of the most prized free agents on the market. He has the nastiest slider in the game and, despite going through Tommy John surgery on his elbow after the 2014 season, is still one of the most dominant starters out there. He has 1,021 strikeouts in 832.1 career innings pitched spanning five seasons. That’s pretty good, and I’m ready to see him on the home team at Wrigley Field.
Cishek threw well for the Seattle Mariners last season, going 3-2 with a 2.01 ERA in 49 games. He also played for the Cubs’ arch rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, in 2015, which makes his signing even more special because he’ll be throwing against them.
Chatwood had a rough season for the Colorado Rockies last year, going 8-15 with a 4.69 ERA. However, he was 3-8 at Coors Field — the Rockies’ home field — and 5-7 on the road, so he has the potential to thrive at Wrigley Field.
Manager Joe Maddon also revamped his coaching staff for this season. After letting pitching coach Chris Bosio and hitting coach John Mallee go, Maddon brought on Jim Hickey and Chili Davis as their respective replacements.
Hickey was Maddon’s pitching coach while Maddon managed the Tampa Bay Rays and I fully expect him to help with the bullpen woes the Cubs suffered from last season. Davis is one of the best baseball minds I’ve ever seen and is already working hard with outfielders Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, who struggled at the plate last season.
Everything seems to be coming together for the Cubs after getting trounced by the Dodgers in the NLCS last year and, in my totally expert and non-biased opinion, I’m having visions of seeing the Commissioner’s Trophy make its return to the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.
Baseball season’s always been my favorite time of year. There’s something about watching grown men throw a ball around for 162 games over seven months. It also signals warm weather, which is much needed after 18 inches of snow was dumped on the Chicago area last week.
While the start of Spring Training is a good start, Opening Day is still 43 days away. But, who’s counting?