Chicago baseball returns Monday with a basis to be genuinely excited about possibilities of the future, but enough about Rosemont.
As for citywide interest in the Cubs and Sox, the list of reasons to drop everything and pay attention is here somewhere between my Blackhawks schedule and Bears mock drafts. I will find it as soon as Derrick Rose wraps up another pre-game shooting session that perpetuates the big Bulls tease preoccupying our thoughts.
To say Cubs and Sox anticipation is in the spring air would be as much exaggeration as a winter-storm forecast. It looks more like an April mixture of acceptance and indifference.
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Ron Santo Statue, North Sheffield Avenue, Chicago, IL 60613, USA
U.S. Cellular Field, 333 West 35th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60616, USA
Welcome to Chicago's forgotten baseball season, 2013.
The Cubs keep focusing on 2014. The Sox appear stuck in 2012. Both teams have the next six months to convince us otherwise, not that anybody seems terribly bothered by either approach. Both major-market teams have been treated this offseason to small-market tolerance.
Lately, local baseball chatter involves Wrigley Field renovations, not Cubs or Sox rosters or whether Anthony Rizzo will hit more home runs than Adam Dunn. April 1 hasn't represented opening day as much as the Cubs' self-imposed deadline to strike a deal with the city — or else. The term Cubs Killer conjures up an image of Ald. Tom Tunney instead of Joey Votto. Hope springs eternal? The fight Wrigleyville rooftop owners are waging seems longer.
I wonder if all the controversy over the ballpark limited scrutiny of our baseball teams.
No Major League Baseball team profited more than the Cubs last year, according to Forbes, yet most people readily accepted why they avoided bidding for pricey free agents such as Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton. The Cubs signed a crafty left-hander but it was new TV analyst Jim Deshaies, whose arrival created a bigger stir than adding three veteran starting pitchers. They professionalize a rotation led by Jeff Samardzija, the majors' most hyped nine-win ace, and Matt Garza, who keeps getting hurt to foul up plans to trade him.
The overshadowed Sox never replaced catcher A.J. Pierzynski, opting to elevate backup Tyler Flowers, and were idle enough to debate whether the best new addition at U.S. Cellular Field will be third baseman Jeff Keppinger or the Comiskey Burger. The rest of the roster, minus Kevin Youkilis, resembles the overachieving one that by spent 126 days in first place last season. Gordon Beckham needs to back up his big talk of consistency. Paul Konerko and Alex Rios can't start slow. Keys remain the bullpen and health. If Jake Peavy replicates his ruggedness from 2012 and John Danks eventually recovers as well as the Sox expect to bolster a staff anchored by Chris Sale, South Siders will react joyously.
Baseball fan bases still react, don't they?
The Cubs lost 101 games last season, their worst in 46 years. The Sox blew a three-game lead in the American League Central lead with 15 left. Yet gauging collective outrage from fans and media around Chicago, present company included, the reaction paled in comparison to a Reggie Rose rant about the Bulls. We applauded the Sox for maximizing potential in manager Robin Ventura's first season and the Cubs for minimizing the damage to the major league level. Both rational responses made sense then and now. It makes them no less fascinating for how they implied a changing culture.
Are we becoming more understanding as a baseball town or just less engaged? Is Sox attendance dropping for the fourth straight year and the Cubs failing to draw 3 million fans for the first time in a decade indicative of a down economy or a decline in curiosity? Are Ivy League executives Theo Epstein and Rick Hahn that good at communicating their messages? Or are we as media members too quick to accept them?
Hearing Epstein in Arizona reiterate his intention to rebuild the organization from the ground up, as no Cubs president ever dared, made it easy to endorse. Nothing else in 104 years has worked so why not? Epstein choreographed his plan to unload veterans like Carlos Marmol and Alfonso Soriano for prospects unless the Cubs somehow surprise the league like the Orioles or A's last year. It sounded as brilliant as it was transparent. Perhaps nobody in Chicago sports ever has been praised more for all but guaranteeing failure.
This promises to be the most encouraging 95-loss season in Cubs history.
As for the Sox, the Indians and Royals improved dramatically in a division that includes the World Series-bound Tigers. Yet any sense of urgency that created was hard to find on the South Side, where pitching and power make the Sox look like a .500 team.
That isn't a wild prediction likely to capture anybody's imagination, which makes it perfect for this baseball season in Chicago.