ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The Major League Baseball playoffs begin next week. And here's something that I have rarely if ever had the chance to say on the air - the Chicago Cubs have the best record in the major leagues.
The Cubs haven't been to the World Series since 1945. They haven't won the championship since 1908. So after almost 11 decades of saying wait till next year, fans are both excited and wary.
From Chicago, here's NPR's David Schaper.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: I'm standing outside of Wrigley Field, where a big white flag with a big blue W flaps in the wind over the scoreboard, signaling for fans riding the nearby L trains another Cubs win. Being a Cubs fan used to be considered a kind of a sickness. But now it's playoff fever that is infecting people all across Chicago's North Side.
DION NEWBERRY: This the year, it's a big year, you know?
SCHAPER: Thirty-four-year-old Dion Newberry is a lifelong Cub fan.
NEWBERRY: They going to win the whole thing. They the best team in baseball, hands down.
SCHAPER: What makes Newberry so sure?
NEWBERRY: You can see it all in they swagger. It's all in they swagger.
SCHAPER: The Cubs have had decent teams in the past, making the playoffs four times in the last dozen seasons, including last year. But they always collapsed. The Cubs do have outstanding pitching, stellar defense and solid hitting. Two players are legitimate MVP contenders. Three pitchers are in the running for the Cy Young Award. Fan Fred Selby (ph) says this team is so good, that not even a supposed curse put on the team in 1945 by the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern will get in the way.
FRED SELBY: I think the curse of the goat's over.
SCHAPER: The Cubs are at or near the top of the league in most statistical categories. They've won more than 100 games, their most since 1935.
CHERYL RAYE-STOUT, BYLINE: They have so many good things, positive things going for them.
SCHAPER: That's Cheryl Raye-Stout, a longtime baseball reporter and sports contributor from member station WBEZ. She says beyond talented stats, the key to this team is Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon.
RAYE-STOUT: He's a different cat, there's no doubt about it.
SCHAPER: Maddon is quirky and unconventional. He'll sometimes cancel batting practice, or use a pitcher in the outfield so he can come back in later to pitch. He'll have players dress up in costume, zany suits or pajamas on a road trip. And he has T-shirts highlighting his managerial philosophy, like try not to suck.
Stout says Maddon talks about music and books as easily as he does baseball, and he creates a hippie-like vibe in the clubhouse.
RAYE-STOUT: You know, I'm expecting to have the incense burning sometime when we go in there. Or, you know, maybe, you know, wearing your shades and things like that.
SCHAPER: Maddon's positive nature keeps players loose. At the top of every lineup card he writes don't ever permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure. But even he cannot yet convince some skeptical fans, like 77-year-old Ray Hefertepe, who says younger fans who are quick to say this is the year haven't been through all of his pain.
RAY HEFERTEPE: Well, I, you know, being a fan for 70 years, I'm waiting for the roof to fall.
SCHAPER: Hafertepe hopes the Cubs win it all. It is on his bucket list, after all.
HEFERTEPE: What happens if they win? It's all over, 108 years. What do we got to look forward to? (Laughter).
SCHAPER: Season-ticket holder Ned Colleran is cautiously optimistic, too, but then convinces himself that just maybe the Cubs will go all the way. As for the curse?
NED COLLERAN: You know what, like, the Red Sox had a curse, too. They broke that curse. And I think we have the tools this year to get it done. And I seriously think this team is poised to do it.
SCHAPER: You're not setting yourself up for disappointment?
COLLERAN: I mean, we've set ourself up for disappointment 108 years. So, I mean, why not us right now? Like, why not now?
SCHAPER: And after a century of futility, that's hard to argue with. Or is it?
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GO CUBS GO")
STEVE GOODMAN: They're singing go Cubs, go. Go Cubs, go. Hey, Chicago, what do you say? The Cubs are going to win today. Go Cubs, go. Go Cubs, go. Hey, Chicago, what do you say? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.