By Tim Baffoe--
(CBS) It should torque off anyone who falls anywhere between "diehard Chicago Cubs fan" and "person who hates arguing about stupid issues." Talk of garbage fires was supposed to be reserved for bad baseball on the field, but it seems it will find a way to ignite no matter what.
On Sunday night, the Cubs play their first game of what has the potential to be that ever-elusive Next Year. Or, for fans who don't need tired slogans to grease their wheels, the year Theo Epstein said would be when the organization's plan starts coming to fruition.
New manager Joe Maddon will hand over a lineup card that includes an exciting young squad featuring Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jorge Soler, along with new staff ace Jon Lester. The Cubs have been given the cap tip by the league and ESPN of playing the introductory game of the 2015 MLB season against its biggest rival, the St. Louis Cardinals.
This is supposed to be exciting and fun in much a different way than the Cubbie Kool-Aid drinking has been in years past, when the fans were encapsulated by one of the many bad novelty T-shirts sold outside the ballpark and barfing near a statue. But what should be legitimate emotions of spring are being tainted because this is the Cubs, and that means jabbering about things that are asinine.
Top prospect Kris Bryant will begin the season in the minor leagues. This was assured to happen months ago. Fans were explained this explicitly and sat down and gently told that sometimes team mommies and hot prospect daddies need to spend some time apart but that it isn't your fault and we both love you very much and how about some ice cream, champ? Bryant will be absent from the big club roster 12 days in order to obtain 162 games of what the team hopes will be one of the game's superstars in 2021.
Dave Cameron is a lot smarter than you and me, and he begins a solid explanatory piece with this:
"While it won't be a popular decision, it's clearly the correct one. They are in essence trading roughly 10 games of 2015 value in exchange for a full season of Bryant in his prime, and while the Cubs clearly want to win this year, no player is so great that missing 10 games would meaningfully alter a team's expected results. Even Mike Trout, clearly the best player in baseball, is only expected to add about half a win to his team's ledger every 10 games, and Bryant is no Mike Trout."
This shouldn't be a discussion. But it is because one of the lingering festering sores of the Cub culture of old that the new ownership and front office have tried so hard to kill is the insatiable need to light garbage on fire and breathe in the fumes. And the Bryant fire was just about quenched, until agent Scott Boras did his Boras thing and had his client do an interview Thursday in which the budding star punted a lot of his faux martyrdom.
"I'm extremely disappointed," Bryant finally said about a thing he always knew was going to happen. "I'll use this as motivation, fuel a little fire. I've been told a lot in life that I couldn't do it, kind of going back to my high school days when people doubted me."
I would ask who doubted a high schooler who played all four years on varsity, was named to the USA Today All-USA Baseball First Team and was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 18th round of the 2010 draft, but never mind. Paint your own motivational poster, kid.
But at least Bryant's absence actually has (admittedly minimal) impact on real hits and runs and outs. The garbage fire over in the other corner of Cubdom is along Sheffield and Waveland avenues as, gasp, the renovation of the Wrigley Field bleachers won't be completed for a while. Again, it's something known a ways back -- but inhaling the noxious hot takes is just so addictive.
Oh no, the park is going to look bad on national TV and people will make jokes about the Cubs that fans will take personally because they're irrational bags of fragility. For shame, the yuppie drunks who can afford to call off work Monday will be denied their rightful thrones. Who's going to throw back the inevitable Jason Heyward home run?
Unlike the Bryant crap, with this issue the players are at least talking about an actual important thing — the exciting baseball planned at Wrigley.
"It looks like Baghdad," Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel said. "But you know there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow there. I'm excited, man."
How dare Hammel distract from crucial analysis of renovating a historic ballpark that people lie to themselves about actually being a dump. Let's make him apologize for offending people's Wrigley religious sensibilities by pretending he offended people's pro-Baghdad sensibilities.
Wait, forget the apology because they're putting up the Jumbotron! Aggregate the social media photos of the Jumbotron, post haste!
"We interrupt this program to go now live to the birth of electricity at ol' Wrigley. Oh, 'tis truly a brave new world we are in, ladies and gentlemen…"
Castro -- whose three All-Star Games before the age of 25 will be grossly insufficient in about two weeks when people start questioning him mentally -- said, "We don't have bleachers, but it doesn't matter. We feel very good (about) starting the new season, with new people here, and I think it's going to be really exciting."
But what could be more exciting than debate over fiscal and strategic responsibility regarding a prospect and how distracting Ernie Banks' head will be from the unfinished construction?
Too bad so many can't hear the Cubs shortstop, because senses have been dulled from huffing these fumes from the flames of non-baseball handwringing. To the rest of Cubs fans covering their mouths from both inhaling the bad and exhaling a contribution to it — those quietly fidgeting for what they know will be a really interesting season between the white lines at Wrigley Field — cheers to making it to Sunday night.
To, ya know, actual baseball.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.
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