Opening Day: The differing measures of hope for the White Sox and Cubs

Opening Day is a herald of summer and warmth. What’s that you say? That it’s a weird herald because the forecast for Thursday’s Cubs-Brewers opener at Wrigley Field calls for a chance of rain and a high of 45 degrees? That there’s the possibility of rain in Detroit on Friday for the White Sox’ opener against the Tigers?

OK, fine. Let’s try this again. Opening Day is about the promise of sunshine. … I see the way you’re looking at me. What’s wrong now? You want me to know that many of the games on a major-league team’s schedule are played at night.

Sigh.

Opening Day is a signal that it’s baseball season.

Happy now, you unfeeling, unromantic automatons?

If I know anything (until you tell me I don’t), it’s that most people are desperate for a diversion from all the terrible things happening in the world. Ukraine. COVID-19. Political division. They want to cheer something. They’ll cheer full-throated for Tiger Woods this week at the Masters, applaud his amazing recovery from a car accident, perfectly willing to ignore the fact that he has never divulged what really happened during that single-vehicle crash.

But baseball, at least for one day, will be pure. No talk about the labor strife that had its hands around the sport’s neck during the offseason. No talk about the insensitivity that owners and players showed toward fans as they argued over billions of dollars. That can wait until, what, Day 2? Unless there’s a sign-stealing scandal on Day 1.

No, the game is back, with all the good things that come with it. I’m not just talking about the cotton-candy sentiments that pop up this time of year — you know, the ties that bind America being the seams on a baseball, etc. I’m talking about the ability to get angry over a Tony La Russa bullpen decision with the Sox winning by a run in the eighth inning. I’m talking about the existential weariness that comes with loving the Cubs and them loving you back with a middle-of-the-pack players’ payroll.

That’s the beauty of baseball, especially in the current global state. If you want to escape the world and enter into a blue-sky fantasy, this is the game for you. You can be carefree with a beer in one hand and a hotdog in the other at the ballpark. But if you want to take your anger over high gas prices and redirect it toward your favorite team, this game is for you, too. Knock yourself and the manager out.

There will be plenty of places for Chicago baseball fans to deposit their feelings this season. The Sox are one of the premier teams in the majors and, barring injury, should be in the World Series conversation all year. Goodness, this is a fun group, with Tim Anderson, Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez having gobs of personality and talent. La Russa steered the club to the postseason in 2021, where it ended too soon, and there will be much more pressure on him and the club. How will his inherent seriousness and his players’ playfulness get along in Year 2 of King Tony’s reign? I don’t know, but I do know I’ll be watching.

One of the best things about an opener is the concept of possibility. For a day, anything’s possible. And maybe a day becomes a week becomes a month. The Cubs aren’t expected to do much this season because they didn’t spend money with the idea of winning. But what if? What if the current players, tired of the public carping about the loss of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javy Baez, perform better than expected?

It could happen, just as I suppose a pig-flying air show could happen. But until that bubble bursts, might as well hold onto it. And when it does burst, you can get back to shaking your fist at ownership. Remember, that’s part of the national pastime. Probably about 75% of it.

It seems safe to assume that Sox fans will have a more pleasurable season than Cubs fans will. But sometimes — oftentimes — there’s as much angst in following a winning team as there is in following a losing team. Do we have enough pitching? When did so-and-so forget how to hit? The front office better not get cheap at the trade deadline!

What a wonderful time of the year it is, especially with reality seemingly bent on kicking us in the shins over and over again. Major League Baseball is more than imperfect. Too often it appears determined to chase fans away with rules and strategy that bring only tedium.

But for a day, we come back for more, hoping the game will get back on track and capture us the way it did when we first laid eyes on it. We hope for sunshine and warmth, never mind the weather forecast.

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