The party’s over. A year ago the Cubs were still revved up with their historic World Series win, partied into 2017 and couldn’t shift gears and stop dancing until mid-season. Despite their improved, “looking like last season” play, they still came up short in the post-season. But, hopefully, this year the champion Cubbies will be back.

It is still too early to tell, but it feels like the team has reclaimed its focus.  Joe Maddon has just about everything he needs to go all the way again. Off-season activity has been more a matter of fine-tuning rather than reshaping. Most of the pieces are in their familiar places, and the team seems solid in most areas. The bullpen, a vital organ for any team these days, remains a concern. But time will tell.

Thus far, the team seems remarkably healthy. If the gods be kind, it will remain that way.  It’s a long, grueling season and anything can happen, but the roster is young and deep enough to be able to deal with most problems. Also, Manager Maddon likes to get everyone into the game, which helps in the long run. He also likes a loose team having fun playing serious baseball.

Being a team has become a hallmark of the Cubs success. Their manager is a maestro at creating the bonding needed for that, both in the clubhouse and on the field. The “standout guys” don’t dominate. They are parts of the whole while everyone does their job. From this distance, leadership right now seems to be more a shared phenomenon, emerging when needed, though David Ross was much missed last season in that capacity.  A good team is the sum of its parts; a great team is that plus attitude. All the makings for the really big “W” seem to be there at the moment.

And then there’s the fun – what our world needs more of these days.   Baseball is, after all, a game. Those who play it are meant to have fun, as are the fans. But any game requires focus if played to win. The fun factor adds a lightness that keeps the players loose and connected, like laughter does in life itself, but the kind of laughter that does not diminish the seriousness of playing to win.

The Cubs have experienced “the thrill of victory” after suffering through a century’s worth of “the agony of defeat.” They should have no problem getting serious about winning it all again this year.