“Do you think this is the Cubs’ year?”
All it takes is a basic knowledge of sports to turn this question into a conversation. At a time when Americans are split on almost every societal issue, sports conversation can bring people together. For those who couldn’t care less about which baseball team wins more games than the other 29 teams, it helps to be somewhat versed in general sports to foster meaningful discussion.
“What do you think of the Cubs?” is a much less provocative conversation starter than “What do you think of Donald Trump?” or “What do you think of Loretta Sanchez’s chances this election?” And it even goes beyond just a conversation starter. You can’t start talking about the Cubs and the Indians without discussing their roads to the World Series. The Cubbies will be playing in their first Fall Classic since 1945, while the Tribe are headed back to the Series for the first time in 19 years.
You don’t have to know that this Cubs team has drawn comparisons to the 1927 New York Yankees as the greatest team in the history of Major League Baseball. You don’t need to know that the Cubs have outscored opposition by 252 runs this season. But you do need to know that the team hasn’t won a World Series in 108 years — something you certainly don’t need to remind Cubs fans. (Seriously, don’t remind them.)
Sports talk is the universal icebreaker that requires only a little bit of context. Those who follow sports in any capacity know that sports talk is an often overlooked common denominator. You could talk about the Cubs with a stranger at a wedding but not recognize probable league MVP Kris Bryant if he sat next to you at the table.
Sports don’t require you to know every minuscule detail to have a compelling discussion. You could easily take a soundbite or a quote from an athlete and turn it into a 10-minute conversation — with the right amount of context, that is. During the American League Championship Series (ALCS) between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians, Jays’ right fielder Jose Bautista labeled his team’s offensive struggles — the team did not hit a home run until Game Five of the series — as “circumstances.” Bautista was implying that the Indians were getting help from umpires in the form of called strikes that, in his mind, were out of the strike zone.
The Blue Jays boasted one of the best lineups in baseball this season, yet they were almost swept by the Cleveland Indians. This season, they hit the fourth most home runs and scored the ninth most runs, but scored just seven runs in five games against the Indians. What does this kind of dominance say about the Indians?
Non-sports fans don’t care about how the Indians used their vaunted bullpen to dominate the Blue Jays at an unbelievable pace. Nor should they care that Andrew Miller almost singlehandedly pitched the Indians to the World Series by facing 12 hitters and striking out 10 in a single span. Casual conversations about sports don’t usually get into these kinds of details. But they can expand beyond the individual sport and talk about the landscape of the other sports themselves.
This summer, LeBron James fulfilled his promise of bringing a championship back to Cleveland for the first time in 52 years. Should the Indians win the World Series, it would be the second major championship for the city this year. But more than that, it would spark conversations around the country on Cleveland’s excellence in two of the “big three” major sports in the U.S.
The beautiful thing about the World Series is that you don’t need to get into the specifics to carry out an intelligent conversation. All that needs to be understood is the context of the situation. Statistics, analysis and commentary on sports is primarily targeted at sports fans, not for those who couldn’t care less about overpaid athletes competing against one another to see who can run around more than the other team.
Understanding the dynamics of professional sports playoffs is like trying to a remember what you liked about a good movie. You probably don’t need to know every line to talk about your favorite character. Like with sports, the minuscule details are only relevant for those well versed in the subject.
So, do I think it’s the Cubs’ year? Well, after watching the team win 103 games during the regular season, defeat the “even-year” Giants and subsequently the Dodgers, I think this is the Cubs’ year. But don’t be surprised if the ‘Land has another victory parade this fall.