They say that even playing a game for a living can feel like a job when the team is spiraling downward.
I don’t think millionaire athletes ever deserve pity from the fans, but that doesn’t mean the players don’t feel the negative effects of losing. Whatever the cause of the dysfunction may be (poor play, distractions, business issues, etc.), deal with it long enough and resentments start to take root. The same morning-excitement a player once felt knowing they get to suit up and play eventually transforms into morning-dread; it’s only the true professionals who can be at their best even when they’d rather be doing something different.
That’s exactly where the Chicago Cubs find themselves: searching for the pro’s pro who will step up and accept the burden of bad days. After losing eight of their last ten, and 13 of their last 15, the team limped into the All-Star break desperate for a change of routine.
For Cubs fans, even watching their talented team must feel like drudgery at this point, so no doubt the players are spiraling as well. Eight games behind the Brewers at the break, the Cubbies find themselves in that strange baseball no-man’s land: disappointing, but not out of it; hurting, but not injured.
The failure to live up to one’s own expectations is what gnaws at the athlete most, and the Cubs’ rough first half has obviously taken a mental toll on everyone involved. Staring down the barrel of three more months of losing baseball, the players now face that all-important gut check moment: accept the failure by adjusting expectations downward, or embrace the pain by adjusting them up.
Come together as teammates or drift apart as coworkers; it’s as simple as that.
Veteran catcher Willson Contreras, who enters the break with a major-league-leading 74 starts behind the plate, obviously prefers to give winning another shot as he publicly challenged his teammates to work harder.
But will his pleas fall on deaf ears? If the team has hit the point of no return, then his diatribe may go down in infamy as the nail in the 2021 season coffin. But if Contreras has earned the level of respect bestowed a true pro’s pro, then his frustration may provide the spark the team needs to catch fire at the right time.
“We have to win as a team, but also I cannot ask everybody to play like I do or to play like Báez and I play,” he said. “Everyone is different. I know they might be tired, but I’m here to win. I’m here to compete, and that’s what I like to (get) from everybody else.”
What makes this public drama all the more intriguing is the slew of impending free agents the Cubs have at their disposal. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Báez could all be dealt in the next few weeks after team President Jed Hoyer suggested that a reset may be in order.
If the Cubs do decide to completely rebuild, then the effects will be felt in all corners of the Chicago baseball landscape. Wrigley and its surrounding orbit fetch some of the highest prices in all of baseball—much needed revenue after a year of COVID losses—and would certainly prefer to be supported by a winning team. Not to mention all of the other dominoes that would logically fall if a rebuild takes place; Contreras himself may not even be a Cub in the near future if his fiery plea fails to turn the current team around.
“I think there is a lot going on,” Contreras added. “There are a lot of things I’d like to say, but I’d rather keep it to myself than say it.”
If you’re a Cubs fan, then here’s to hoping that whatever he has to say gets said, privately, and then gets implemented publicly. Immediately.