It was a weekend of memorable farewells in the world of sports.
Rafael Nadal bid a shocking adieu to the French Open and his winning streak in Paris. (A bittersweet moment for Roger Federer). David Stern desolately waved goodbye to millions of dollars of potential revenue from a Kobe-LeBron Finals (Cleveland fans are praying that the Cavs sign another free agent because LeBron was just a little bit angry after the game).
But lost among those farewells was a less public one that signaled the end of an era in Chicago sports. Albeit short-lived, this was a truly memorable era.
If you haven't caught on to the subject, this is an ode to the Gatorade dispenser in the Chicago Cubs dugout that was sent home after being the victim of a series of attacks. This dispenser endured joy, despair, wrath, and pain; all in an eventful two months.
In a stadium known for its old-fashioned ways, you were a bright and sleek representation of modern times. You looked down upon plain-old water coolers with scorn, as not only could you dispense water, but two different flavors of that holy grail of liquids, Gatorade (I will never call it "G" no matter how much money Gatorade spends on those atrocious commercials).
After a 100 years of misery, you were brought in to represent a shifting culture that had always been known as the lovable losers. Surely, of all the reasons that the Cubs have failed to win a World Series in the last century, you were a solution to an issue that no one had ever previously thought of.
Maybe it was the water all along.
Alas, you will never get to prove your worth, as you have been unceremoniously sent back to where you came from. Keep your head held high, Gatorade dispenser, because it wasn't your fault that you were banished from the friendly confines. In fact, it was for the safety of your well-being.
You had performed your job diligently from day one. In the beginning, you observed a team burdened with a tag of "chokers" after being disgracefully swept from the playoffs two straight years. "There's always next year," had been a line synonymous with this team as a moniker of hope after many disastrous seasons.
However, last year was supposed to be the "year."
The Cubs had rolled to the best record in the National League in, fittingly, the centennial anniversary of their last World Series triumph. The Cubbie kingdom was buzzing. Wrigley was invigorated as if it were 1908 all over again. But before you could say the words "Holy Cow," the team exited the playoffs.
Thus this year, you knew the team has to prove that its not a bunch of over-paid stiffs. It has to succeed in order to validate all of GM Jim Hendry's moves. You didn't mention what everyone quietly believes; that his signature signing of Alfonso Soriano, the team's best power hitter who is masquerading as a lead-off hitter, has left this team inherently flawed.
It's Lou Piniella's last year (with an option for next year), and he has to prove that he can achieve more than any other average manager can with a team of highly-paid stars. Carlos Zambrano has to prove that he fittingly deserves the moniker of an ace—one who can carry a team in the playoffs, and not just dominate in the regular season.
Derrek Lee has to prove that he can be a true No. 3 hitter, not an aging player who fails to deliver when it matters most. Milton Bradley has to prove that he's more than Terrell Owens in a baseball uniform.
So you sat back and watched Kosuke Fukodome start the season brightly, just as he had last season. But this time, it looks like his form will last the whole year, justifying his huge contract.
One half of the LSU mighty mites, Ryan Theriot, found a power stroke that had a columnist questioning Theriot's integrity in an effort to show how no player can be considered "clean" in this era of baseball.
But you've seen the other half, Mike Fontenot, struggle with being an everyday player—one of the reasons many have chided Hendry for trading the versatile and beloved Mark Derosa.
You saw Mr. Clutch, Aramis Ramirez, go down with a dislocated shoulder leaving the team hobbled until after the all-star break. You have seen Big Z struggle with injuries and miss starts. Lee has been dropped from the No. 3 spot in the line-up. Rich Harden was in and out of the starting rotation. Milton Bradley was struggling to live up to a contract, while trying to prove he wasn't malcontent at the same time.
But the team had got off to a decent start, even with all these issues before it headed off for that fateful road trip.
You were resting when the Cubs went to St. Louis to face-off against the arch-nemesis Cardinals. Everyone knows the Cardinals are the true competition for the NL Central crown and while this series is always huge, this was even more important as the winner would establish pole position in the race for the division.
The Cubs were swept by St. Louis as the offense sputtered to a halt. Next, the team went to sunny San Diego and got swept again.
Little did you know that when the team came back home, it would take its frustration out on you. After playing part in the team's eighth straight loss, Ryan Dempster tried to knock you out with his hand. But you bounced back up, because let's face it, a human hand is no match and probably hurt him more than it did you.
But next, it was Big Z, who in his first start after coming off an injury, got into an argument with the umpire.
Now, you had heard stories from your cooler brethren about the dangers of Z's tantrums, so you had to expect it would occur sometime. But this was a tantrum for the ages—even for Z's standards.
He unleashed a furious attack with a maple bat, from which you would never recover.
This team, which was derided for its lack of fire in last year's playoff exit has shown plenty of it this season. From the usual suspects, Zambrano and Bradley, to the unforeseen ones, Dempster and Ted Lilly. Ironically, the person known for his infamous explosions, Sweet Lou, has yet to be ignited this season.
In previous years, his characteristic dirt-kicking, umpire-berating outbursts snapped the team into action and seemingly united the players. After two years of disappointing results, it might be part of Lou's plan to idly watch instead of joining in on the fracas.
After 50 games, the Cubs are hovering about .500, fourth in the division—a far cry from where they expected to be. Granted, injuries have taken a toll on the lineup, and the pitching has still performed decently.
But in a season where just making the playoffs is not good enough, it's not ideal to be embroiled in a season-long race for a playoff spot.
As a Cubs fan, one comes to expect the unexpected, and this current team is an enigma by itself, so who knows what will happen by the end of the year. But if it does end in glory, be sure, Gatorade dispenser, that no one will forget your vital contribution.
All good things must come to an end, and so your life in the big-leagues has come to a close. But take consolation my friend, in the fact that you will never ever have to face the end of a baseball bat again.
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