Sometimes fans put a borderline unhealthy amount of passion, energy and even effort into sports. I’ve been told I do. Maybe the people who say that are right. Then again, who is anyone else to say what I, or you, do is right or wrong? I get emotionally invested in sports. I love the games, I love the players.
There are certain players who connect with fans for different reasons, some with no rhyme or reason, they just do. But any sports fan has a favorite, or favorites, who just mean something extra special to them.
Jake Arrieta is my guy. So many of my favorite memories, not just of the Cubs but of my entire sports-watching life, are somehow tied to him. From when he was pitching like an all-time great to when he struggled with command and couldn’t keep the ball in the park, I was never more excited for a pitcher’s starts than I was for Arrieta’s while he was with the Cubs.
He has the skill the physique, the toughness, the brashness that may brush some away but also becomes endearing to others. He’s cool, he made being a pitcher and watching good pitching cool. The way he carried himself with the Cubs gave off an aura of confidence, sometimes bordering of cockiness, but he always backed it up. It gave you a sense of belief and trust.
Now he’s gone. He’s with the Philadelphia Phillies now, with a three-year contract to pitch in the City of Brotherly Love as the Phillies try to fight back into relevance.
I’m thrilled for him. The guy is a fantastic pitcher who deserves every penny of the contract he received.
But I’m still upset. I’m really upset.
The thing about those special, favorite players is that they take a place in our hearts. They feel closer to us than their teammates. And this doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone, I know my fandom for sports in general is arguably over the top.
So sue me.
I’ve never had as much fun watching baseball as I did during the 2015 run to the playoffs for the Cubs. The whole season was magical, with then-rookie Kris Bryant’s walk-off home run versus the Rockies to the rise of Kyle Schwarber to every single other moment with that team that endeared them to Cubs fans and made us think, “This team really has a chance. We have a chance.”
With all of that in mind, however, I was never more excited for a game than when Arrieta took the mound. Jake had the greatest second half of all time that season, and he was must-watch TV every time he took the mound. I would drop everything to watch him deal that season.
No-hitter versus the Dodgers. Dominating the Pirates in the wild card game. There are too many moments to count from that year that made him seem invincible. He won the NL Cy Young Award. He became a beloved piece of the team, as if he wasn’t already.
Of course, his Cubs career continued in 2016, a year best known for a World Series title that Cubs fans the world over had been clamoring for, for over a century. He threw a no-hitter in 2016, too. He may have slumped (relatively speaking) at times, but he was still fantastic, and he was still my favorite.
By the way, he pitched phenomenally in the World Series that year. The Cubs don’t win it all without his two strong starts.
And of course he pitched in 2017 as well, starting slowly but getting hot late and helping push the Cubs to the third-best record in baseball after the all-star break. In his final start with the Cubs, he faced the Dodgers in the NLCS. He gave up one earned run in 6.2 innings. That was the only game of the series that the Cubs won.
Then again, we all know just how well he did on the field. Obviously he left an impact because of his success on the mound. But to me, he’s going to be remembered for more than his statistics.
I’ll remember the moments. The no-hitters. The unadulterated joy and emotion I felt when the Cubs won big games over the past several years. The excitement I felt every time No. 49 got the start. That’s what I’ll always remember.
Sports are a business, we know that, it’s one of the oldest clichés there is. The Cubs didn’t want to offer what he was looking for, he worked out a deal with the Phillies, it’s as simple as that. Absolutely no ill will, he deserves to make what he thinks he’s worth. I hope he kills it for Philly.
Still, when you get as attached to a player as we as fans do with some of our favorites, you’re never ready for the day when the inevitable sets in as reality.
Personally, the only other time a player leaving has made me this upset is Brett Favre leaving the Packers. Granted, that went south and got messy soon after, but he was my hero. We’ve all had moments when we’re sad about a player leaving.
Maybe it’s a microcosm of life. We all have people or things we love, and one day they may just go away. Even if we know they’ll be gone, we’re still not ready for it.
Maybe I’m just being melodramatic over a baseball player that doesn’t know I exist and doesn’t directly change any crucial outcome in my day-to-day life.
I get really emotional about these things. It’s probably dumb. I also don’t care. I’m going to miss Jake Arrieta as a Chicago Cub. I had so much fun watching him and I’m sad I can’t do that with him on my favorite team anymore.
So thanks, Jake, for all the fun and all the memories. Thanks for being a part of history, for bringing joy and hope to so many Cubs fans. Thanks for making games so enjoyable, for bringing myself, and many others,
In sports (and in life) appreciate your favorite people and things while you can. Whether you get emotional when they leave or you just shrug it off, just make sure you cherish what they mean to you, whatever that may be.