CHICAGO -- For the players, it's simple. This is a weekend that could define them forever."That's why we came here," Cubs pitcher Jon Lester said. "This is it right here. This moment."This moment.:: Complete World Series coverage ::That's why the Cubs would like to soak up every moment. To embrace
CHICAGO -- For the players, it's simple. This is a weekend that could define them forever.
"That's why we came here," Cubs pitcher Jon Lester said. "This is it right here. This moment."
:: Complete World Series coverage ::
That's why the Cubs would like to soak up every moment. To embrace expectations. To understand the larger meaning.
• Shop for Cubs World Series and NL champs gear
"You go out and have people coming up and hugging you," catcher David Ross said. "I think they feel part of this group."
Now here the Cubs are about to play the Cleveland Indians in Game 3 of the World Series tonight at Wrigley Field. The two teams are tied 1-1 after splitting games in Cleveland on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Cubs wonder if the atmosphere can be any more electric than it was last Saturday when they beat the Dodgers to win their first National League championship in 71 years.
When the Cubs returned to their home clubhouse from Cleveland at 2:30 a.m. Thursday morning, they saw electric fans blowing the carpet dry.
That was a reminder of the celebration they'd had after winning the pennant. It's not just that their fans in the stands were loud or that they had Wrigley Field rocking to its brick and steel soul.
It was that they simply refused to leave. They stayed to cheer and to laugh and even to cry some. They'd waited so long for this moment that they were unable to let go.
• Wrigleyville buzzing on eve of WS history
They were still there when the Cubs came back on the field almost an hour later to celebrate with their families and take photos.
"We knew it was going to be nuts," Ross said. "We come back out on the field, and every seat is full all the way over to the rooftop decks across the street.
"These people were just locked in, staying around. It was amazing. I think they've fallen in love with this group."
The Cubs finally left for a party at Lester's house around 1 a.m. Saturday, and hundreds of people were still lined up around the park.
Those crowds were a reminder that this team owns the heart and soul of their fans in a way teams seldom do.
If the Cubs win this World Series, it will touch people in all sorts of ways. There'll be reminders of the grandfather who loved his Cubbies. Or the father who took his son to Wrigley Field, just the two of them.
The Cubs were not very good for a long time, but fans still cared. They still loved the ballpark. They loved Harry Caray and Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, and all the other things that made the Cubs special.
Winning 103 games this season has only intensified the passion. Because these fans never lost hope. They were forever optimistic about the next hot prospect or the most recent free-agent signing, the one that just might get the boys over the top.
Regardless of what happens here this weekend, there'll be memories created that will endure.
The Cubs haven't been able to write their own ending in 108 years, and this young, athletic team with baseball's best starting rotation is good enough to do that.
• World Series return meaningful for former Cubs
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has made his franchise a model for every other by hiring brilliant people, like his top baseball guy, Theo Epstein, and giving them the resources and patience to do their jobs.
This season, the Cubs won more regular-season games than any club had won in seven years. They play lots of kids, five and six who are 25 or under some nights. But they've got a veteran rotation that sets a tone for everything.
The Cubs eliminated the Giants and Dodgers in the first two rounds before going to Cleveland to play the World Series.
Now they're three victories away from winning. When Lester was recruited off the free-agent market two offseasons ago, part of the pitch was showing him his photo on the scoreboard winning a World Series for the Cubs.
As Lester said, that idea sold him. He could have gotten similar money almost anywhere. But he was intrigued by the idea of what it could be like to win a World Series with the Cubs.
"I hope people understand that it's just as exciting for us as it is for them," Lester said. "It's something we want to be part of as well. If we're able to give them that joy, that's awesome to be part of it."
One of the first things manager Joe Maddon does before each game is look way up in the right-field seats, to the very last seat.
He loves seeing that the seat is occupied, that the Cubs have packed the Friendly Confines once more.
He has told his guys to embrace how special all of this is. Expectations? Love 'em. Pressure? No sweat.
"Not lost on me whatsoever," Maddon said. "It's going to be an absolute blast. I know that people have been waiting for this for a long time and are going to savor it, and hopefully we can do something to really make it even better."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U.