Cubs manager Joe Maddon

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Bernstein: Anxiety On Eve Of Cubs Season

The start of this Cubs season reminds of the angst of returning to school.

Dan Bernstein
March 27, 2019 - 3:04 pm
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(670 The Score) At this point, it has to be easier to be a White Sox fan than it is to be emotionally invested in the fate of the Cubs. There's way more pleasure than pressure when the stakes are lower.

It's nice to welcome the spring thinking about a leisurely trip to the South Side, an inexpensive secondary-market ticket to watch four Eloy Jimenez plate appearances while grazing at the constant food festival that is the main concourse, with short lines for everything as you breathe life-affirming air redolent of grilling onions and sausages. The team is getting better, but now is no time for worry. More beer, more tacos, more churros.

But the opening for the Cubs now feels like the start of the school year somehow, more specifically junior year of high school, when we were told how serious and important everything was from the start, how every result of every test in September counted as much as any other, that everything would be reflected on an official transcript and the evening SAT prep begins this week and make sure you are loaded with extra-curricular commitments and play a sport and a musical instrument and the bus for the first speech tournament leaves at 5 a.m. Saturday and these are the latest class rankings adjusted for course difficulty and make sure you eat well and get enough sleep.

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Even if the expectations had once existed similarly starting in 2015, the combination of youthful exuberance and Cool Dad making sure everybody was happy kept us all from being too conscious of the downside until the season ended. A National League Championship Series loss in 2015 was a crusher, but only to be followed by the season of seasons and a relationship permanently recalibrated from the time that came before. But then came another playoff loss and another even worse -- and now what appears to be one last shot with the essence of this group as we know it, and it had better prove itself in a hurry.  

Cool Dad has been told not to be that anymore. Or perhaps in keeping with an academic analogy, the teacher has been instructed by a stern and disappointed principal that he has to teach to the test. Standardized objective performance is all that matters, leaving scant time for growing the pupils holistically into the best they can be.

This existential dread is the price one pays for success, that sense that you're already down two in the first.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein's end-of-season lament last October was a window into his frustration and dissatisfaction, auguring an offseason of self-assessment and retrenchment amid bouts of public damage control for regrettable off-field concerns. None of it was fun, nor did it deserve to be.

So after imposing new seriousness from the top, the Cubs embark not on some sprightly and pastoral jaunt into spring but something feeling more like picking up in the middle of the third act -- one more run at it with everything in the balance, just past the quick pans and lens-zooms of the girding-for-battle montage, brows furrowed and jaws tight, eyes on the horizon. Perhaps that's what Epstein intended with all of it.

Only conscientious workers get the work nightmare, and only dedicated students get the school version. That's another cost of each mattering to you.

It's time for the big sales presentation to the make-or-break client, but the slides are in the wrong order and can't be fixed and this shows you set it up that way. The crucial cross-examination is next but you look down and the notes are for a different witness in an entirely separate case and the judge won't give you a recess. It's the final exam for a class you didn't know you had, but it was listed for fifth period all semester. The mandatory reading of which you weren't aware was stacked right at the bottom of your locker. Everyone else did it, except you.

Wake up, Cubs fans.

Time for baseball.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.​​​​