Cubs thinking bigger and better after raising World Series banner

Cubs thinking bigger and better after raising World Series banner

The Cubs walked across the grass on Monday night, like some sort of "Field of Dreams" update, and disappeared under the bleachers. Jake Arrieta rubbed his hands together as they approached Wrigley Field's iconic scoreboard. Three Hall of Famers – Ryne Sandberg (1907), Fergie Jenkins (1908) and Billy Williams (2016 National League pennant) raised the first three flags.

Surrounded by teammates, Anthony Rizzo then began pulling the cord that lifted the 2016 World Series banner, the ceremony running live on ESPN for a team that has crossed over into so many different parts of popular culture. A crowd of 41,166 that must have sat through parts of the 108-year drought waited out a rain delay that would last almost two hours before first pitch.

By 8:38 p.m., Rizzo emerged from the doors that break up the brick wall in right-center field, holding the World Series trophy above his head as AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll) blasted from the sound system.

"I wasn't expecting to get hit by that many emotions," Rizzo said, looking back after knocking a Kenley Jansen cutter into the left-field corner for a 3-2 walk-off win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. "I was fighting back tears."

To be honest, a franchise that doesn't really do subtle or understated created a championship banner that's kind of hard to see. But, whatever, there's room for more flagpoles at the beginning of this golden age of baseball on the North Side.

"The new generation of Cubs fans is spoiled," Jon Lester said. "Our guys are so young – as long as health stays on our side – I feel like we'll compete. Our goal every year is to win a World Series."

[RELATED: Cubs pull out walk-off win over Dodgers in festive night at Wrigley]

If the Dodgers didn't get enough flashbacks from the rain-delay theater on the giant video board – the Cubs showed highlights from last year's Game 6 of the NL Championship Series – Lester again looked like a co-MVP (one run allowed in six innings) against a lineup that has so many issues with lefties.

These two big-market teams appear to be on another collision course. The defending World Series champs started seven 27-and-under players, including an October legend (Kyle Schwarber), a reigning MVP (Kris Bryant), a Silver Slugger/Gold Glove first baseman (Rizzo), an All-Star shortstop (Addison Russell), a rocket-armed catcher (Willson Contreras) and two of the game's best defensive players (Jason Heyward and Javier Baez).

"We're all still hungry," Schwarber said. "We're not satisfied with what we did last year. Obviously, it was a great accomplishment. To bring it back to the city of Chicago was great. But now we got to do it again.

"We know the talent that we have. We know how good we could be for some years down the road. But no one can predict the future."

This night – which actually ended on Tuesday morning – would be bigger than the 25 guys in the underground clubhouse that opened last year with a hyperbaric chamber, an underwater treadmill, an infrared sauna and a party room for postgame celebrations.

One entrance to the clubhouse – around the corner from Joe Maddon's office and outside the press-conference room – now displays the image of the "WE DID NOT SUCK 2016" brick wall that filled up with spontaneous messages written in chalk after the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians last November.

Hanging out in the home dugout before the game, you saw a rock star (Eddie Vedder), a Hockey Hall of Famer (Chris Chelios) and Fortune magazine's "World's Greatest Leader" (Theo Epstein). Watching David Ross on "Dancing with the Stars" became another rain-delay diversion on the video board.

"This is the lowest-maintenance group I've ever been around," Epstein said. "They handled the target on their back last year so well, and this year they're handling the fact that they won and avoiding that complacency better than I could've imagined.

"We don't have to do anything. They're just so focused and so hard-working. They understand that they need to approach this with all the intensity they did last year if they want to get back to a point where they can enjoy that special feeling late in the year again.

"It's been a total non-issue. When first pitch is thrown, they're locked in."

By the last pitch, there were rows and rows of empty green seats. The bleachers had cleared out to the point where you could see the garbage. Chairman Tom Ricketts stood in the first row off the on-deck circle as Rizzo beat an $80 million closer, pumped his fist, tossed aside his helmet and got mobbed by teammates between first and second base. After the biggest moment of their lives, the 2017 Cubs are just getting started.

"In a game like tonight versus a tough team, it builds confidence in our group this year that this is what we do," Rizzo said. "This is who we are."

Cubs' Ian Happ: Anthony Rizzo looks 'absolutely wonderful' after weight loss

Cubs' Ian Happ: Anthony Rizzo looks 'absolutely wonderful' after weight loss

From the press box, baseball writers squinted down at the players taking ground balls at Wrigley Field Friday.

Was that lean first baseman really Anthony Rizzo?

“I looked at myself in the mirror when I got home with (my wife) Emily and I go, ‘I’m either going to gain 50 pounds or I’m going to get back into amazing shape,’” Rizzo said after the Cubs’ first day of Summer Camp.

Rizzo lost about 25 pounds over the baseball hiatus, training with quality assurance coach Mike Napoli.

“I was in really good shape coming into the spring,” Rizzo said, “and just me and coach Napoli were basically quarantine buddies the entire time. And we just held each other accountable every day, six days a week, we were going to get after it, we had our good routine, and I think it’s paid off. I feel really good for this year and for this sprint.”

Ian Happ, whose locker is next to Rizzo’s, said he watched his teammate try on smaller clothes Friday because everything from before his weight loss was too baggy.

“Nice to see him downsizing, and he looks absolutely wonderful,” Happ said. “His pop right now -- I don’t want to oversell it, but his pop right now -- he’s strong. He’s very strong.”

Rizzo began batting practice hitting everything to the left side of the field. A ground ball here. A fly ball there. But once he got his timing down, he started launching home runs over the ivy.

“Once we got on the field and we’re out there, it’s amazing how fast you can tune everything out,” Rizzo said, “and just be Anthony Rizzo the baseball player, when I’m between the lines.”

Remember when 'Hamilton' cast sang 'Go Cubs Go' after World Series win

Remember when 'Hamilton' cast sang 'Go Cubs Go' after World Series win

Broadway hit musical "Hamilton" became available to stream on Disney Plus on Friday, which serves as a fun reminder.

Remember when the Hamilton cast sang "Go Cubs Go" after the North Siders won the 2016 World Series? Like the Cubs finally snapping their 108-year championship drought, it actually happened.

The Cubs won the Fall Classic on Nov. 2, 2016, a dramatic 8-7 affair that went 10 innings and finished after midnight, Nov. 3, in Cleveland. The Hamilton Chicago cast performed the night of Nov. 3, and the Cubs' clincher presented a perfect way to round out the musical's curtain call.

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Hamilton star Miguel Cervantes put on a special rendition of the song, fitting for the moment:

"Baseball season's done today/We better get ready for a brand new day/Hey Chicago, what do you say?/We won the World Series yesterday." 

The cast didn't know some of the later lyrics but we'll give them a pass. Check out the awesome performance here: