It was inevitable that whenever the Cubs rebuild showed promise that the world would jump on the bandwagon.  When dozens of “experts” pick the Cubs to win the World Series, like they have this year, it’s as much for the story as it is the team.

The Cubs quest for a World Series trophy is the white whale of American professional sports.  There isn’t a bigger potential story in sports than this, and so, as soon as the team got good, everyone was going to pile on.

But oh, what a team they have to pile on top of.

The Cubs team that finally breaks through and wins it all will have to be really good (of course), but deep, and feisty, and somehow, against all odds, they’ll have to be loose enough not to be overwhelmed by the moment.

And that said, I give you the 2016 Cubs.

There’s no guarantee that that this team will win the World Series, or the pennant, or even the division.  But unlike many years in the Cubs past, there’s no talking ourselves into them being good.  They just are.  Everyone can see that.

We know it’s a long haul.  Baseball seasons are designed that way.  So we’ll get all excited and we’ll stay up past our bedtimes tonight and watch our heroes open “the championship season”1 and we’ll get too excited if they win and too disappointed if they lose.  And eventually we’ll settle into the normal rhythm of a season.  Not every game will be do or die.

But for those of us who have loved watching the Cubs play baseball for decades, this promises to be a real treat.  It’s a fun team, full of guys we don’t have to hold our noses to root for.  Even the stuff that doesn’t really matter, but does matter–like the TV and radio broadcast teams, and how the games are broadcast–is done right.

Tonight’s just the start.  But we’ve already proven we’re better behaved than we were just 12 short years ago.

Like 2004, 2016 is a season that comes right after a rare Cubs NLCS appearance.  And like 2004, the Cubs spent the offseason patching every hole.

The 2004 Cubs were, on paper, one of the best Cubs teams ever.  Until this team, they were the most talented group of Cubs I’d ever seen.

I won’t understate how the ends of the 2003 and 2015 seasons were polar opposite.  Last year’s Cubs ran into a good Mets team that was playing great. The Mets kicked their ass four times.  And it was over.

The 2003 Cubs season ended in bloody trauma.  The Marlins didn’t kick their ass, they just let the Cubs kick away the pennant.  All of us who lived through it are full of scar tissue from game six.  Game seven was a tease and then a kick to the balls.

The 2004 Cubs never had a chance.  We treated every April home game like it was game eight.  They were mentally weak, and led by a manager who had lived through an epic Giants collapse in the 2002 World Series and then the Cubs NLCS flop in 2003.  Dusty was more than a little disengaged for long stretches.  The 2004 Cubs were just an awful, horrible, detestable mess.  The only good that came of it was Chip Caray got launched at the end of the season.

There is none of that desperation surrounding these 2016 Cubs.

It has to do with the definitiveness of the Mets loss and the fact that unlike just about any other Cubs team since the 19-oughts, this still feels like a beginning.  This team is built to contend for years.  We want it to happen now, of course, but it doesn’t feel like a one-off, this-year-or-bust.

We’re looking forward to years of this team being really good.  It’s a rare moment in Cubs history.

So settle in, and get comfortable.  We’re going on a long trip with these guys.  How it will turn out and where we’ll end up we don’t know.

Hop on board with the Gonzo 2016 Cubs.  As the man said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

Is there anybody else you’d rather be going with?

Here are those annoying footnotes.

  1. Which just means the regular season, but sounds fancier.