What a difference a year makes

By Brooks Taylor, Mt. Pleasant News


I started noticing the signs in mid-April and during the time that has followed, the signs intensified rather than dissipated.

Yes, 2016 was great if you are a Cubs? fan, and regardless of your baseball allegiance, the Cubs? World Series win was good for baseball if for nothing else, not having to be constantly reminded that it had been 108 years since the team?s last championship.

I am taking a little risk here. These columns are generally written a week or two ahead of publication, so what the world looks like today and how it appears when the ink hits the paper may be two different things.

Often the term ?hard-core fan? is used in sports. I am not sure exactly what that means. I guess it would mean the fan has much more than a passing interest in the team he/she follows. But it is somewhat of an ambiguous term.

Does it mean that person is generally dressed in team gear, knows the statistics of every player on the team by heart? Watches the team on television whenever possible? Lives and dies by the team?s results on the field?

Probably most of those questions would apply, I presume. I have been a Cubs? fan since the 1960s, have quite a bit of memorabilia and watch parts of Cub games a couple of times weekly.

That being said, I would prefer to be labeled a realistic rather than hard-core fan.

Throughout the years, I have noticed something about baseball prospects. If they are prospects of teams in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles, chances are they are vastly over-rated.

Of course, that isn?t always the case, but exuberance does reign more often than not if the prospect is property of teams in those cities. There have been so many Cub prospects ? Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, Bobby Hill and Kevin Orie ? come to mind immediately as can?t-miss superstars who did miss and missed badly.

Throughout the 2016 baseball season and during the offseason, we were told how young the Cubs are. The word ?dynasty? was being thrown around with regularity.

They?re still young, but you aren?t hearing much about a dynasty these days. Instead, it is what?s wrong with the Cubs.

Thanks to a very weak division, it is very possible the Cubs could repeat as National League Central champs. Beyond that, I have my doubts.

This isn?t your 2016 Cubs. The two most significant problems facing the team are a lack of hitting with runners on base and a deteriorating pitching rotation.

Joe Maddon, manager of the Cubs, said he expected the team to be a better hitting bunch this year because the young players will have gained a year of experience. Instead, nearly all of the young hitters regressed.

Secondly, nearly all of the Cub hitters are ?boom or bust? hitters, meaning that while the team has an abundance of power hitters, those power hitters are prone to striking out.

Likely even more important than the play on the field has been the loss of leadership. Those would fall under the ?intangibles? heading. You may be able to replace bodies on the field but not their presence in the clubhouse. Dexter Fowler and David Ross may not fit in the superstar class on the diamond but they were irreplaceable off the field.

It is not fair, however, to put this all on the players. The front office had a dismal offseason. Sitting on your hands rarely improves anything. Expecting a pitching staff to perform reasonably close to a year ago is naive at its worst.

A leadoff hitter and a dependable starting pitcher would do wonders but not solve all the ills.

Oh well, 2016 was a lot of fun and those memories never can be taken away.