This is not your ordinary baseball clubhouse.
Then again, these are not your ordinary Chicago Cubs.
Look no further than the disco ball and smoke machine that spark a clubhouse party with each win, fueled by a sound system playing the musical picks of the day’s winning pitcher.
The postgame celebrations were the idea of D.J. Riz, aka first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and they’ve taken on a life of their own.
The point of the postgame party is to appreciate the good times, which have been few and far between during the first three seasons of Rizzo’s Cubs career.
“We make sure we really celebrate the win,” he told The Chicago Tribune. “Because it’s not easy to win in the big leagues.”
No it is not. And the real proof that these are not your ordinary Cubs goes beyond clubhouse smoke and mirrors. Instead, it translates into wins.
In the midst of a four-game series with NL Central leader St. Louis, the Cubs (13-10) lead the wild-card race after Sunday’s games.
It’s their best record at this point in the season since 2008, a year that also saw a playoff appearance.
“I can’t remember ever having this much fun playing baseball,” rookie Kris Bryant said last week after yet another disco ball celebration.
What’s most intriguing about Chicago is that there is so much potential for this nucleus to build upon.
Last week the Cubs fielded a starting infield in which each member — Rizzo, second baseman Addison Russell, shortstop Starlin Castro and Bryant — was 25 years old or younger, only the third time that’s happened since 1976, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Through in a capable young pitching staff and 23-year-old right fielder Jorge Soler, and the quick start may be a glimpse of a special time building on Chicago’s northside.
“But remember,” wrote a Sports Illustrated columnist. “This was always going to be the worst Cubs team of the foreseeable future. And that, for the rest of the baseball world, is a very scary thought.”
Chicago is playoff-worthy, even though it is capable of playing better baseball. Veteran ace Jon Lester is winless. Soler is off to a tepid start, and the bullpen already has four blown saves. In other words, this team is far from its peak.
Yes, potential is there, much like it has been for NL Central foe Pittsburgh during the past few years. As the Pirates’ unrealized title aspirations attest, reaching the top is not easy.
That is why this week’s series with the Cardinals is especially intriguing. Sure, these teams hook up 19 times over the course of the season, but this is Chicago’s chance to prove to the rest of the league that it can stand with a frontrunner.
Don’t expect veteran manager Joe Maddon — who came to Chicago with a $25 million contract — to let his team get too far ahead of itself.
“I think every game is a big game,” Maddon told MLB.com. “I never apply more weight to a game than another game. We talked about it in Spring Training that you play the game the same way in March that you do in October. So when you go out and play it doesn’t feel any different, and that’s a good thing. From a fan’s perspective, I get (the rivalry).”
Sure, it is just another series in a long trek. Don’t believe it.
This one is a little more special, a chance for the young Cubs to turn the corner from perennial punching bags to a team with a puncher’s chance of making some postseason noise.
The locker room celebrations may be filled with smoke and mirrors. On the field, though, Chicago is the real deal.