Column: Preparing for the annual summer sale puts some Chicago Cubs in a wistful frame of mind

It was a beautiful night for baseball on Monday as the Chicago Cubs returned home to play the Pittsburgh Pirates in a rare two-game homestand at Wrigley Field.

Fans entered knowing it might be the last time they see some of their favorites in a Cubs uniform, whether it’s stars like Willson Contreras and Ian Happ or one of the few relievers likely to be gone by the deadline. August 2 changes.

This marks the second annual summer sale by Cubs president Jed Hoyer, who took his bulges last July for trading Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo, turning the tide of the franchise in a memorable 48-hour stretch that began with Rizzo’s trade to the New York Yankees.

It’s too early to call a return, especially since Hoyer acquired so many low-level prospects rather than those who were on the verge of a major league call-up. But young talent including Pete Crow-Armstrong, Kevin Alcantara and Alexander Canario have shown significant progress in their first year in the Cubs system, and Hoyer is confident the decision to restock the farm at the expense of competing in 2022 or 2023 will pay off. in the long run.

But that’s a long way off, and on Monday fans settled in to see two of the few teams so far out of contention that they couldn’t even pretend to be long shots in the expanded wild-card race.

This mini-homestand will primarily be a chance for the Cubs’ front office to show off their trade cards before the deadline, for fans to say their final goodbyes, and for players in the market to get one last look at the old ballpark. they call home.

“It’s crazy to think that you could wake up one day and not be here,” Happ said. “It’s part of the game. It’s part of what we signed up to do.”

Cubs manager David Ross said before Monday’s game that players should always look around and appreciate “how blessed we are to be able to wear this uniform every day.” That may be true, but when you’re going through the grind of a 162-game season, you probably don’t have time to smell the roses and remind yourself every day that you’re living the dream of millions of children.

A player has no choice but to be a little self-centered and think about his playing time, numbers and chances of getting a big payday as a free agent and taking care of his family. The “look around” part only happens at times like this, when a team is an obvious seller like the Cubs are, and you’re someone who’s having a good enough season to attract the interest of at least one contender.

Naturally, everyone says they don’t want to leave, no matter where the Cubs stand in the standings.

Contreras and Happ grew up in the organization and have been embraced by Cubs fans who have appreciated their ability to overcome early hurdles and become All-Stars. Veterans like Drew Smyly and David Robertson have only been here a few months, but they also insist they’re happy playing for the Cubs.

Sure, there are some players who desperately want to leave the North Side for a chance at a ring, but the unofficial rules of trade deadline interviews dictate that they keep those feelings to themselves.

Ross believes player satisfaction speaks to Cubs ownership and the coaching staff, which he says makes it exciting for them to come to the ballpark every day.

“When I was a player, there were some places I wasn’t excited to go to the stadium,” he said.

Ross refused to reveal which team he played for that made going to the park a bummer, but you can bet it wasn’t his two years with the Cubs.

“I think you enjoy coming to work with your teammates and coaches, and there are some people who just don’t make it very fun,” he continued. “Winning is the most fun, but also coming with people who appreciate the environment of what we have to come to do every day is an advantage.

“Someone with the will to turn the page on a tough loss is important, especially in my seat, moving forward.”

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Happ discussed the vendors at Wrigley Field that he missed seeing after fans were allowed to return in 2021 after the pandemic slowed down, and the fans who “have been here 30-40 years, and at every game they’re excited.” to tell you ‘nice game’ or ‘get them tomorrow.’” He recently met up with a group of homeless people in the left-field bleachers for a group photo, just in case.

“This place has such a special meaning and aura to it, and it’s built by those people,” Happ said.

Saying goodbye to Wrigley Field is never easy. Starter Rick Reuschel was upset when he was traded from the last-place Cubs to the first-place Yankees in the summer of 1981. When starter Steve Trout was traded to the Yankees in 1987, he also left to a struggling Cubs team for a first-place club. It took a lot for him to process the news.

Two days later, Trout held a press conference in the front garden of his mother’s house in the south of Holland, telling reporters: “It was so sudden that my emotions were at the level that I couldn’t talk about it. It happened that way, and that’s the nature of ‘show business’ sometimes. Basically, it was difficult for me.”

Baseball is still show business, and everyone knows the old maxim: “The show must go on.”

Some of the Cubs leaving will miss this place, while others will thrive in their new homes. It’s all part of the game.

But in the end, Cubs fans still have Wrigley Field, a ballpark more indispensable than ever.

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