CHICAGO -- It's been nearly five months since ESPNChicago.com debuted and in that time, the Chicago sports landscape has changed. The Bears found a quarterback, the Bulls found a future and the Blackhawks found a fan base. The Cubs discovered a refreshingly new way to disappoint, while the White Sox continued to master consistent inconsistency.
While quarterback Jay Cutler, right-winger Marian Hossa and starting pitcher Jake Peavy now call Chicago home, Cubs closer Kevin Gregg can't leave soon enough. And so you can imagine my curiosity as I pack up my home and prepare for a move to Ann Arbor, Mich., where I will spend the next nine months as a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan. Beyond coming to grips with the fact I'm leaving my dream job for nine months and won't have a byline until next May, I can't help but wonder what this place will look like when I return.
Here are my predictions, prefaced with the reminder that back in April I picked the Cleveland Indians to win the American League:
The Bulls will finish the 2009-10 season a disappointing 30-52, fire Vinny Del Negro and then do everything they can to convince one of the prized free agents from 2010 to call Chicago home. The pitch will go far beyond the Wrigley Field extravaganza that failed to lure Tracy McGrady in 1997. This time around, the state of Illinois will help on the sales pitch, offering to add a "professional athlete only" driving lane to the Kennedy, Edens, Eisenhower and Stevenson expressways during rush hour. Willis Group Holdings will offer to change the name of the tallest building in North America to Wade Tower should Dwyane Wade decide to come home. And President Barack Obama will offer unlimited sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom for any free agent who chooses the Bulls. In the end, only Joe Johnson will take Obama up on the offer.
Also at the United Center, Rocky Wirtz will continue his ascent as the most popular owner in the city, but the Blackhawks will fail to meet lofty preseason expectations. Patrick Kane's father will move to Chicago and shuttle his son to and from all Blackhawks-related events. Otherwise, Kane will be grounded. He will spend most of his free time playing "Guitar Hero" and eating ramen noodles. On the ice, Hossa won't join the team until February, Cristobal Huet will struggle at times in goal and the team will finish 41-31-10, good for the seventh spot in the Western Conference. But they'll upset the second-seeded Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs.
By next May, the Cubs will have a new owner (hopefully), a new general manager (possibly), but the same Lou Piniella (probably). In the home opener, Piniella will accidentally mistake Ambien for No-Doze and nearly fall asleep in the dugout, only to be stirred by the sound of Milton Bradley snapping a bat over his head. Carlos Zambrano will take great pride in his physical condition and become the face of the revitalized "Abs of Steel" franchise. But his new six-pack will alter his pitching mechanics and send him to the DL with elbow pain. Carlos Marmol will start the season with a 3-to-1 walk-to-save ratio and Randy Wells will begin "the Soto," a process in which former minor leaguers begin to realize their rookie seasons were a fluke.
On the South Side, Kenny Williams will finally decide he's had enough of the Jermaine Dye/Paul Konerko/Jim Thome-led White Sox and send them all packing. Third baseman Gordon Beckham, outfielder Alex Rios and shortstop Alexei Ramirez will be the core of the new-look team with Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd anchoring the rotation. Rios will play like an All-Star, catcher A.J. Pierzynski will dye his hair purple, manager Ozzie Guillen will make fun of Cubs fans and still, few people will notice.
Which leads us to the Bears. Come next May, the recovery process for all the die-hards who were crushed that Cutler didn't throw 50 touchdowns and lead the team to a perfect season will be nearly complete. Cutler will not only fail to meet expectations, but downright struggle at times and often mumble at postgame press conferences that he doesn't understand why he's able to complete so many big plays in practice but rarely in a game. Eventually, ESPN1000's Jeff Dickerson and the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh will remind Cutler that he gets to face defensive back Nathan Vasher and the rest of the Bears' secondary in practice. And then life will make sense again.
And in other news, Illinois and Northwestern will be two of the seemingly 97 teams who will earn college football bowl bids, but Ohio State will win the Big Ten. Chris Chelios will play for the Chicago Wolves and cost the team more in medical treatment than salary. The Chicago Sky will shatter their single-season attendance mark after moving to Allstate Arena. And on October 2, the International Olympic Committee will award Chicago the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, prompting Michael Jordan to set his sights on another gold medal. In table tennis.
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com. He is currently a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan and will return to ESPN in May of 2010.