On a recent drive to work, I put a Duran Duran CD into my car’s stereo.
One of the best-known songs Duran Duran ever recorded was “Rio,” the title track of the album that pushed them into the mainstream. The birth of MTV helped Duran Duran at least as much as their music did, and the video for Rio is a perfect example of why. But Rio, the song, reminded me of an acronym for RIO. It’s an acronym for something that I’ve only seen once in my lifetime, and until — and unless — I see it again, Theo Epstein and his front office haven’t accomplished a thing, so far as I’m concerned.
RIO is an acronym for Red Ivy in October. Although I had followed the Cubs for a quarter of a century before 2003 came around, I never knew RIO even existed. It turns out that the ivy on the outfield walls of Wrigley Field — that famous ivy that’s as much a part of what makes Wrigley unique as the scoreboard and the rooftops — changes colors in the fall. I had never even considered this before, but it makes perfect sense.
What didn’t make sense is why I, and generations of loyal Cubs fans, had never known this. Year after year, decade after decade, the team failed to make it to the postseason or, when they did make the postseason, they didn’t go very deep into October. It wasn’t until games six and seven of the 2003 NLCS against the Marlins that I discovered the ivy changed colors in the fall. And I have to see that again, in order to think of the new Cubs regime as a success.
For a team that lost 101 games this year, expecting to see the ivy turn colors while there’s still baseball being played seems like a lot to ask. Some will probably look for small improvements instead. Some will probably be giddy at the prospect of .500 — or something remotely in the neighborhood of it — for 2013. For their part, the Cubs’ front office claims to be building for the future, and they won’t put success in the standings as something that will happen for next season.
But I’m not interested in anything less than that. In Tom Ricketts’ letter to season ticket holders after the season was over, there was hardly even a reference to how awful last season’s team actually was. And if Ricketts believes last season’s dismal showing can be wished away by simply refusing to acknowledge it, I will humbly — but emphatically — state otherwise. Last year’s Cubs team was the worst I have ever seen, and that’s saying quite a lot.
I’m now getting to the point in my life where things I haven’t seen before are what I’m most interested in. A Gold Glove, like Darwin Barney won last season, is great, but I’ve seen them before. Cy Young awards, MVP awards, and Rookie of the Year campaigns? I’ve seen all of those, too. I’ve seen division winners, wild card winners, and even a couple of 20-game winners (but not as many as I should have).
In short, the thrill is mostly gone for this true-blue member of the most disappointed fan base in all of baseball. I can think of only three exceptions: I haven’t seen the Cubs get no-hit, I haven’t seen a 100-win season and I’ve never seen a World Series game played in Wrigley Field. And of those three experiences, the World Series is the one I want to see the most. If I drop dead before that happens — as others are now doing, every single day — then Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and the “Cubs Way” won’t mean a thing to me.
To get to the World Series, in this era of wild card play-in games followed by two rounds of league playoff series, there would have to be red ivy on the outfield walls at Wrigley. So show me the red ivy, Theo. That’s what it will take to get my attention again.