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Outside Wrigley, April 29, 2010

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I walked up to Wrigley Field last Thursday to enter the Cub-Arizona Diamondbacks series opener, and was met with an immigration protest. About 50-60 people (my count, though it was hard to tell who was protesting and who was watching the protesters) were there to speak out against Arizona Senate Bill 1070. In the days since, the MLB Players Union and several player have spoken out against the bill. The protesters wanted MLB to move the scheduled 2011 All-Star Game out of the D-Backs park unless the new law is repealed.

One-run ups and down

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SBW hit the second game of the Cubs-Cardinals series Friday on a beautiful day for baseball--or just anything else. The Cubs rewarded us with an exciting, harrowing 8-7 win, made all the better because the Cubs had to fight back a couple of times, something we hadn't seen them do yet this season.

The ultimate heroics came from Alfonso Soriano, who had looked pretty awful at the plate until his botton-8th 2-run homer gave the Cubs a timely lead. Soriano had whiffed thrice against Cards rookie P.J. Walters, who did have good strikeout stuff yesterday. Still, Walters allowed the rest of the Cubs a 3-0 lead on a run-scoring double by Micah Hoffpauir (who is not making us mess Milton Bradley), a run-scoring single by Aramis Ramirez, and a sac fly by Kosuke Fukudome (who still is looking sharp).

It was mostly Soriano's at-bats against Walters were positively embarrassing, the first two taking no more than 7 pitches, and all three Ks were characterized by wild swings. The second one came with the bases loaded.

On the mound for the Cubs, Carlos Zambrano had started well, and with the bases juiced and Albert Pujols up in the 3rd inning, was able to limit Pujols to a sacrifice fly. But, the next batter, Ryan Ludwick, went deep with a 3-run homer.

Fortunately, the rook Walters was on a short leash and gone after 5 innings, with the Cards up 5-3. The Cubs came right back and tied it 5-5 in the 5th, as A-Ram doubled in D-Lee, and Geovany Soto singled in the tying run. Geo is still struggling, and ending up behind a lot of pitches, but looked better as this game progressed.

Zammy gave the lead back in the 6th on a homer by Brian Barden, his second in two days, and in the 7th gave up another homer to Ludwick. It was a surprise to many of us he was still in for the 7th, but Lou let him finish for a 7 IP, 7 ER effort. I guess you could argue he only had three disasterous pitches all game, but I wonder if the Cubs were just trying to push a starter longer in a close game and leave the shaky bullpen off the mound as long as possible.

The Cubs got a run in their half of the 7th as A-Ram knocked in Fukie, who had doubled, making the score 7-6 Cards. In the 8th, with Carlos Marmol warming up and looking to pitch the 9th, Soriano turned an 0-1 into a big 1-5 with his 2-run jack after Aaron Miles pinch-walked. Marmol, already-warmed, cam in for the save, but not before walking a batter and hitting another. He cleaned up nicely though, striking out the formidable Ludwick, then getting a tailor-made double play to end it.

It was good to a see some comeback in the Cubs, as they have not done much this year when falling behind. Even better that it was against the Cards. Many Cards fans in our 500-something section slithered out of Wrigley pretty quietly.

The White Sox also experienced a one-run game, but came out on the bad end, losing 6-5 to the Rays. Just when it started looking like they might cruise to a 2-0 series lead against those dastardly Rays in the dreaded Trop, the bottom fell out.

The Sox had gone up 5-2 on another pretty strong outing--or at least 5.2 IP--by Bartolo Colon, but Colon loaded the bases with 2 outs in the 6th. I liked him at the 92-pitch mark to wriggle out on his own with minimal damage, but Ozzie yanked him in favor of Matt Thornton to face a left-handed Gabe Gross. But, the Rays pinch-hit Ben Zobrist (who swings both ways, by the way), and Zobrist smacked a grand slam.

I was nervous the whole game up to that point, thinking Colon was going to blow up, but he's really throwing like a crafty veteran right now and I kind of liked him matching up against Gross. Still, it's hard to argue with Thornton as a replacement since he has been fairly unhittable this season--I guess that means he was due.

The Sox seemed shell-shocked after the slam, but did muster a couple of baserunners in the top of the 9th and had a man on 3rd with 2 outs before being shut down. Offensively, they weren't bad, just weren't good enough. Chris Getz and Jim Thome both had 2 hits, Paul Konerko continued his hot-hitting with 2 RBIs, and Carlos Quentin and Jermaine Dye kept up their homerun-hitting contest: C.Q. got his 5th, and JeDye pounded his 4th.

Both our teams are 1-1 in their current 4-game sets with 2 games to go.

It's still early, he says

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Rockies 5 Cubs 2
Cardinals 7 Cubs 4

Tigers 9 White Sox 0
White Sox 3 Rays 2

Again had a few problems with BlogSpot earlier today and so I'm catching up:

Rockies 5 Cubs 2--My first trip to Wrigley this year. Not much has changed, thankfully, except for the Captain Morgan's Club monstrosity along Addison which further clogs of the sidewalks. Why doesn't someone close Clark and Addison already on game day?

I'm just grumpy because the Cubs never got it going against an old mate. Jason Marquis had his ups and downs as a Cub, and as he pitched against his former teamates as a member of the Rockies, he looked a lot like his Cub self: A very hittable pitcher who gets into plenty of jams, but sometimes finds his way out via a timely ground-out, strikeout or--in one case--a strike-him out/thrown-him-out double play.

Colorado beat the Cubs 5-2 Wednesday as SBW watched from the cheap seats, in a game where you kept anticipating a Cubs comeback that never quite happened, right down to the fizzled bottom-9th attempt at a rally. That inning started with a Derrek Lee solo homer (The crowd was on D-Lee at the start of this one for his slow start this season, but he went 3-4 in this game.) The Cubs added 2 baserunner and had Geovany Soto (the tying run) at the plate with no outs.

But within a couple of minutes, the game was over: Mike Fontenot made an ill-advised attempt to advance from second to third on a pass ball. From my lofty perch, it looked like he left late and that the ball didn't get all that far away from Rockies catcher Chris Ianneta. Why he was in such a rush to advance is anyone's guess--if he get's to third and scores on a sac fly, the Cubs would still be down 5-3. Lou could not have been happy.

Next, Geo, who was in his first game back from a shoulder injury and looked pretty rusty the whole game, grounded into an easy double play. The Cubs blew some earlier chances with runners on, but tying run at the plate with no outs will be the hardest to forget. Micah Hoffpauir had an RBI double for the first run, by the way, and Fukie still has his mojo.

The other story of this one was that Rich Harden had a very strange outing, only 3.2 IP, but 8 Ks and 4 BBs. Lights out in the 1st inning, and then increasingly hittable and wild after that. Marquis drove in 2 runs. Soriano let a run score on an error. What else? Neal Cotts was brought in to face lefties, but could get them out--remember that one for later.

Cardinals 7 Cubs 4--Today was just as frustrating, if not more so, as the Cubs squandered some early BBs courtesy of Cards pitcher Adam Wainwright. Milton Bradley made a surprise appearance as a pinch hitter with the bases juiced and was called out on strikes and then thrown out of the game for arguing--get used to that. Bradley started off with the count 3-0 and then looked like he didn't want to swing. I'm sure he would have gotten a pinch-runner if he got on, but he looked extremely tentative, and while Bradley and the crowd got on the home plate ump, it looked to me like he let 3 straight strikes blow right by him.

Other than that, Fukie again showed up when few others did, stroking a 3-run homer. he was caught stealing for the second game in a row--needs to work on that. D-Lee had a sac fly for the other Cubs run.

On the mound, Sean Marshall was definitely at least adequate, with 5 IP, 3 ER and 4 Ks, but was pulled after 93 pitches. Piniella and his staff are keeping him on a short leash to start the season, but I sure would have liked to see him go another inning in this one. He was pulled after an inning-opening single, and handed a 4-3 lead to Aaron Heilman, who gave it up the same inning. Later, Neal Cotts was handed the game with a lefty up and a runner on third, and guess what happened? Single to right field. I loved Cotts as a very effective member of the 2005 World Champion Chicago White Sox, but the last few games he is not doing the one thing he is required to do: Get lefties out.

Anyway, it's a good thing its only April 16.

Tigers 9 Sox 0--Almost nothing worth mentioning from the Sox' blow-out loss on Wednesday. Jose Contreras started well, but got knocked around his second trip through the Tigers' batting order, almost the same thing that happened in his first start. Also, Contreras is just about one of the easiest pitchers around to steal on, and he proved it in this game by letting big, slow Miguel Cabrera steal second base off of him. Cabrera is an amazing player, but if he steals another base all year it will have to be because Contreras is on the mound.

Still, while Contreras was most definitely not dealing in this one, it was Mike MacDougal who really put the game out of reach, giving up 4 ER on 4 hits and 3 BBs in 2 IP. Ozzie seemed determined at the opening of the season to give Mac yet another chance, but we'll see how long that lasts. I'd mention the Sox hitting highlights, but there were none.

White Sox 3 Rays 2--Speaking of stealing bases, the Rays are absolutely relentless in that department. But, they could not do much with lefty John Danks pitching tonight. Danks was pretty tough with 6 IPs, 1 ER and 8 Ks, and left with a 2-1 lead. The runs came on a 2-run homer by Jermaine Dye.

The Rays found it much easier to steal on the Sox bullpen, getting a stolen base off Octavio Dotel and stealing 3 bases off Bobby Jenks as he tried to close out the 9th. Jenks gave up a run, but the Sox fortunately had purchased insurance in the top of the 9th on an RBI infield hit by Josh Fields.

The Sox actually left the bases loaded in the 9th, and didn't make the most of their chances tonight. That usually spells misfortune against the Rays, but this time they escaped.

Cold comfort

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If it hadn't been Opening Day, they wouldn't have played, and if the Cubs had lost, there would have been much to complain about, starting with the cold, windy, wet conditions. However, the Cubs shut down the Rockies 4-0 in their 2009 home opener, so we'll take what we got.

Ted Lilly carried a no-hitter into the 7th inning. A nasty curve, which at one point almost made Todd Helton duck before it landed right over the center of the plate, deserves much of the credit. However, Lilly also seemed to get a handful of borderline strike calls to help him out, and the Rockies seemed less than sure-handed and sure-footed at the plate, making a number of bail-out swings.

For the second game in a row, the Cubs showed extraordinary patience at the plate, drawing 6 BBs from Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who seemed like he was having trouble getting a good grip on the ball. Koyie Hill walked with the bases loaded to score the first run in the 2nd inning. Hill has been doing a suitable Geovany Soto impression while Geo is out with a shoulder ache. Hill was 2-3 yesterday.

Kosuke Fukudome has been doing a suitable impression of himself circa April 2008, and he drew 3 BBs yesterday to go with a run-scoring single in the 8th inning. So, is Fukie reall back for good, or is he just a really strong starter? We still need to watch for a possible late earlu summer fade before we get too excited. Derrek Lee, who has started uncharacteristically slowly this season, also had an RBI double and drew 2 BBs. the remaining run scored on a botched double play by the Rockies.

The Cubs remain without Geo, and Aramis Ramirez sat yesterday. The Cubs tend to do that in especially rainy conditions, though Len Kasper also mentioned something about a sore back. Also, Milton Bradley didn't play after his groin injury Sunday. He may be out until the weekend, the Trib reported, in anticipation that it might be better to bring him back when the weather is warmer. But, at this rate, that could be May.

The White Sox, after back-to-back No. 300 jacks by Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko yesterday, kept on scoring runs against Detroit, but the Tigers kept scoring runs, too. Gavin Floyd had an awful outing, allowing 6 runs and 7 BBs (!) in 5 IP, but stayed long enough to get the win in a 10-6 Sox victory.

The Sox bats stayed hot through the cold for the third game in a row. Paulie was 4-5 with 4 RBIs, and looks like a new man so far this season, one that many people, myself included, expected would be the beginning of his career fade. Carlos Quentin tried to steal the spotlight from Paulie and JeDye, blasting 2 HRs and collecting 4 RBIs.

The bad news in this one, other than Floyd's outing, was an separated shoulder suffered by Dewayne Wise as he made a nifty diving/rolling catch in center field. That means we'll see more of Brain Anderson in the days ahead--though not today, because rain has already postponed the second game of the Sox-Tigers series.

I make my first trip of the season out to Wrigley Field tomorrow. Sounds like it will be another cold one, which of course will call for a few cold ones in order to warm up.

Rainy day Monday

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Running a bit behind of this rainy Monday, the would-be Cubs home opener. The latest from the Trib is that it's pushed back to start at 2 p.m., though that's hard to believe right now as a cold, windy rain continues to come down.

The bigger news so far today is that in Detroit, where the White Sox are leading 3-1 at 12:55 p.m. Central Time, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko have hit back-to-back homers. The biggest news though is that each solo shot was career No. 300 for each player. What are the odds?

Good omen, let's hope...

Your 2009 Chicago Cubs

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Consider this the first of many off-season posts on the subject of how our teams could shape up for next season...

It was ironic that Alfonso Soriano said after the Cubs' NLDS disaster that part of the problem was the team's "make-up," since it is Al-So who is one of the albatrosses in the line-up. I would like to trade him, as Sox fan Paul Reis suggests, even for just a couple of young supporting players, but who wants him without the Cubs paying most of his contract off? Could he be part of a Brian Roberts deal? Could he be sent to Atlanta, a team that, aside from Chipper Jones, is full of utility men and could use a power-hitting left-fielder enough that they would let him hit lead-off? Toronto, which desparately wants access to the A.L. East race?

I would like to see it happening, but I don't see it happening. So, what about other possible trades? Everyone's upset with the second albatross, Fukudome, but he's almost as untradeable as Soriano. I think teams like the Sox, Yankees, Oakland and others with a keen interest in plate patience, strong defense and good base-running skills, could be interested, but probably wouldn't part with much, would demand more than just Fukudome and would need contract help from the Cubs. The thing is, Fukudome could prove to have a much better second year if he makes a few adjustments, or the Cubs can get him to spend some time at AAA or in an off-season hitting program. I wouldn't give up on him just yet.

Then, there's Jason Marquis. I could see Marquis having value in big parks like Detroit or Seattle, or maybe Baltimore, but it might be good to keep him if Samarzdija isn't ready for a starting role.

More radical trade ideas: Derrek Lee, Marquis and Ronny Cedeno to the Orioles for Brian Roberts, Kevin Millar and whoever else they are willing to give; Soriano and Samarzdija to the Rockies for Matt Holliday; Soriano OR Lee to Toronto for OF Adam Lind, RHP Brandon League and LHP Brian Tallet (all up-and-comers).

Why the pre-occupation with trading D-Lee? Despite brief glimpses at greater potential, he's a low .290s hitter with his best power and speed years behind him at age 33. Yet, he could prove very valuable for a team that needs a 1B with a reliable bat, plate patience and a good glove. He does have a no-trade clause, and probably would rather go home to California than East or North, but maybe he would wave it for a welcoming situation where there wasn't a 100-year burden on everyone's back.

I also don't see the Cubs spending much money of the free agent market after the spending of the last couple years, the realization that free agent spending hasn't brought postseason success and the questions surrounding the timing of the team's sale in a crappy economic climate. I wouldn't be surprised is Jim Hendry is hand-cuffed by the Tribune company from spending much beyond what's needed to extend Harden (done) and re-sign Dempster, Woody and maybe Tatts Blanco. That would mean good-bye to Jim Edmonds, Daryle Ward and Bob Howry, among others. The departure of the first two is seen as likely by many people, but Howry, I think, needs to re-start--again--somewhere else.

Could the Cubs use a free agent like Mark Texeira if they move D-Lee? Definitely. Could they use a free agent like Raul Ibanez if they somehow ship Soriano or Fukudome? Absolutely. Interesting scenarios, but unlikely.

A couple lower-cost free agent signings could include a Howry replacement like Jorge Julio (3.60 ERA, 34 Ks in 30 IP for the Braves this year), and a southpaw specialist--maybe Brian Shouse (2.81 ERA for the Brewers this year). These guys are not total studs, but that is sort of the point.

What other positions are in question? Well, there's manager. I know, Lou's deal was extended to 2010--before the NLDS fiasco that made him look like the rickety old man he appears to be every time he drags his butt out to the mound. Lou's package of confidence-building, occasional risk-taking and subtle line-up tinkering is a big part of what drove the Cubs to two straight division titles. Yet, as the pressure builds again next year, I wouldn't be surprised if we start to see more of crotchity Lou, the one who showed up in Tampa more often than not. I'll say right now I do not think that extension will be fulfilled for one of three possible reasons: 1) The Cubs finish out of division contention next year 2) The Cubs win the division and lose again in the NLDS 3) The Cubs win the World Series. The first two scenarios I think could result in a situation where Lou gets fed up and wants to leave as much as the Cubs (be then under a new owner) want to him to leave. Under the third, Lou decides he can't do any better and it was just to darn stressful, so the Cubs agree to let him retire--oh, and with teh Cubs having won it all, the planet explodes, and there is no 2010 season anyway...

Your 2009 Chicago Cubs starting line-up

Likely version:
LF Soriano
SS Theriot
1B Lee
3B Ramirez
C Soto
RF DeRosa
2B Fontenot
CF Fukudome/Johnson

Radical version:
2B Fontenot (.395 OBP this year)
SS Theriot (the Cajun Connection!)
LF Soriano (Ks dip, HRs and BBs up)
3B Ramirez (More solo HRs, but same overall RBIs)
1B Lee (fading, but still potent N0. 5)
C Soto (they'll pay for walking D-Lee)
RF DeRosa (still streaky good, great value at No. 7)
CF Johnson (Fukie backs up, occasionally starts vs. righties or gets demoted)

Radically unrealistic overhauled-by-trade version:
2B Brian Roberts (Mighty Might again a Sub-Cub)
SS Theriot (some things never change)
3B Ramirez (sees great pitches)
LF Holliday (.388, 74 HRs, 192 RBIs--and has no problem not hitting lead-off)
C Soto (lots of solo HRs)
1B Hoffpauir/Millar (Hoff's power + Millar's fun = D-Lee forgotten)
RF DeRosa (finally settles into one position)
CF Johnson (With Fukie traded, Reed says, "Hey guys, what about me?")

Fight back against despair

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The Cubs blew Game 1 of the NLDS, losing to the Dodgers 7-2 at Wrigley, which by the accounts of some who were there, was as somber as a tomb from the moment the gates opened. Not that the Cubs and their fans look to the Southside for lessons on anything, but the fan-unifying "black out" at The Cell earlier in the week showed how a team and their fans can forget the past and throw themselves into the moment at hand. The Sox stumbled their way to Game 163, but the entire park was nothing but focused energy and excitement.

It's the players, of course, who carry the responsibility to win, energy or not, and Ryan Dempster looked completely uncomfortable in a park where he won 14 games this year. His supposed cold-weather throwing regimen during the 0ff-season seemed to prepare him well for the chilly October night at Wrigley, but he was wild from the start. Seven walks in five innings will doom any pitcher in any game, but issuing two of those walks to the opposing pitcher is an urgent cry for help, a cry that was not heard urgently enough in the dugout. Lou and Larry seemed to want to give Demp the benefit of the doubt, but as some columnists have pointed out this morning, why wait for your starter to find himself in a play-off game when you have other would-be starters sitting in the bullpen? On a cold night, it would not have been a bad idea anyway to get a couple guys up a bit earlier than usual to warm up. True, it's only Game 1, but is is the freakin' play-offs.

Dempster has proven adept all year at getting himself out of jams and avoiding the big inning. his two moments of collapse this year occurred at The Cell, and more recently when he fed Albert Pujols a three-run HR down in St. Louis. But this time, with the bases loaded, Demp hung one right in front of James Loney, an extremely good, but fairly unheralded contact hitter. I would say Demp committed the sin of going of the middle of the plate with a 1-2 count, but it looked like he meant to drop something in front of Loney to either get him fishing or ground into a force play. But, he didn't have the command last night to make it happen--something which was obvious to a lot of us at least a few batters earlier.

The Cubs had their chances on offense to right the ship, of course. They got a wind-blown homer from De-Ro and actually out-hit the Dodgers. Here's perhaps the most amazing fact from last night's game: The Cubs had players reach base in every inning of the game. This one was really a missed opportunity in every respect.

But, getting back to the fan behavior, erasing the collective memory of Cub fandom is not an option. When one thing goes wrong, most Cubs fans are bound to fear the worst. I know my stomach was churning even before the fateful 5th inning, when Demp loaded the bases in the 3rd with Cub-killer Andre Ethier at the plate. But, for lack of a better phrase, we need to find out nuts. We need to bring as much energy and excitement to the task as we expect our teams to bring, even when they let us down a little. I'm not saying cheer mistakes, but at least boo them vigorously for a limited moment and get onto to the next thing. And even when the Cubs are behind, make your voice heard during every Cub at-bat and every big pitch. I'm not an advocate of standing early in games our in favorable pitching counts when there are less than two outs, but there's nothing wrong with using your outside voice a little more. That's what seemed to be happening at Wrigley late in the regular season even when the Cubs were behind, but it seemed absent last night. Lord knows, it may add to the pressure for some and there's more pressure on the Cubs than most, but the pressure is there and the only thing to do is focus and play through it.

Game 2 starts tonight at the chilly hour of 8:37 p.m. The Cubs send Zammy against young strikeout-artist Chad Billingsley, but where last night's L.A. pitcher Derek Lowe is postseason-seasoned and tough to hit, young Chad can be had when he doesn't over-power. If he strikes out a few guys early, the Cubs should be able to learn something for later in the game. So, don't panic. And, someone remind Zammy that even though the situation calls for heroes, actually actually trying to be a hero usually doesn't get him very far. Don't you knda wish Lilly was starting tonight?

Meanwhile, the Sox go early down in Florida, and I like their chance in Game 1, coming off of the energy in Game 163 against a young team that has been sitting around waiting for them. Game on.

What I like/don't like about Wrigley

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At long last, here's what I enjoy about seeing games at Wrigley Field, followed by a list of things I would give a thumbs-down. To folks who love the Friendly Confines--or to those who find it unfriendly--it may not my totally originally, but consider it just a start...

What I like:

1) The neighborhood: Ok, no fun and pretty expensive to find decent parking, but it's still the best 'hood in all of baseball, the only thing that would make it better is a game-day closing of Clark and Addison around the ballpark, It would create an even better festival environment.

2) The smell: Not to get too goofy, but Wrigley still smells the same way it did when I was a kid, with the exception of cigarette smoke (which to be honest, as a kid, I found kind of intoxicating). I don't know if it's the over-used grills, the peanuts, the cotton candy, the beer or all of the above, but it's a great smell that can't quite be matched on the Southside (Maybe The Cell has better ventilation.)

3) Old Style: I made fun of my brother, the King of Consumption (Have I mentioned his nickname before?) a few years back for waiting to buy from the occasional Old Style vendor rather than the numerous Bud boys. But, it's won me over and now I consider an important part of the whole Wrigley experience, far better than Bud or anything else from Miller.

4) Beef-sausage combo and frosty chocolate malt: These are the two best concession foods sold at Wrigley--you can have the rest of it, none of which I think is as good or as interesting as some of what can be found on the Southside. The combo is for real men (ok-and real hungry women) only, and you won't need anything else. It's out on the veranda (?) on the upper deck directly under the press box, though maybe they have them elsewhere, too. As for the malts, I shared one with my nephew (the Prince of Consumption?) last month at the minor league game after no having one in years. It was fantastic--smooth, rich, and with the little wooden spoon, a quaint old ballpark treat. I think it's called "chocolate malt cup" on the menu, but Steve Goodman would have said it was a "frosty malt."

5) Lack of overwhemling sound effects: When listening to games on the radio, I like when WGN comes back froma commercial break sometimes and Pat Hughes (I presume intentionally) doesn't speak for about 30 seconds. All you can hear are ballpark sounds--real ballpark sounds, like vendors hawking, people chattering, even occasionally a ball popping in a glove. No big audio dynamite experience necessary at Wrigley. Having very little musical interlude and sound effects (and when there are, the volume is far lower than the stereophonic blast you get at The Cell) allows you to really feel where you are, enjoy conversations between batters and innings and just generally hear yourself think.

There's more, but we'll leave the list open for now and revisit it later. And now, five things about Wrigley I don't like so much:

1) The Holy Cow Mafia: I don't hate Harry Caray, and enjoyed him on both sides of town. His antics on the Southside were among the things that sparked my interest in the Sox back in the 1970s, when I'd occasionally catch a game. But, the Wrigley Field experience has become in some ways a daily immersion in the Cult of Harry. The glasses and numerous other symbols are ubiquitous, and I'm sorry, but Harry Caray doesn't encompass the whole of Cubs fandom or Cubs/Wrigley Field history. To believe so is to ignore a rich and wonderful tradition that isn't shoved in our faces everyday via a bunch of marketing and branding tactics that take advantage of a famous old man's death.

2) 7th Inning Stretch Guest Singers: OK, this is maybe an extension of the first one, but let's give it a rest with the celebrity singers. Doing so may end Jeff Garlin's post-"Curb Your Enthusiasm" career output, but it would also spare us the embarrassment of out-of-tune athletes and clueless other celebs leading us in song. If you take it away, people will still sing, and will still think of Harry when they do it. If there has to be a lead singer, make it a random fan picked out of the seats every game.

3) The remodeling, or lack thereof: It's obvious a number of things at Wrigley need updating, and the overall experience would be enhanced if you kid somehow dig a lower level concourse under the main concourse, or perhaps add some kind of outer concourse wrapping around the park. But, so far, the changes made at Wrigley have all been about more money--more seats where you don't need them, a revamped bleacher entrance to honor the Budweiser brand and a covered group box in the bleachers (don't count on getting much sun with that pricey ticket). Meanwhile, you got a lot of seat in "reserved" section with bad sightlines that would at least by helped by deployment of a few more TVs of higher quality. And, what if they destroyed that bleacher luxury suite and turned the centerfield green into a kids area of some kind?

4) The scoreboard: I know, it's a great old school symbol and part of what makes Wrigley a baseball cathedral, but it is woefully uninformative for this day and age. The King of Consumption recently suggested to me that maybe they could add some kind of retractable smaller version of a jumbotron (though that wouldn't even help some of the people in the cheap seats who can't see the scoreboad anyway). It's nice, but it needs more.

5) Fan behavior: Again, a qualification: The average Wrigley fan must pay so much more attention to the game than just five years ago, but I swear, so many people stand up or move down rows in the middle of pitches. A lot of people still yell on the cellphones or text while Woody is trying to close out a tight game in the 9th, trying to figure out which bar is first on the list. People leave after the 7th Inning Stretch, even during close games. A lot of fans sit in others' seats and act put-out when someone shows up with the right ticket. I know, this happens at other parks, though it seems to me, not as much. I will admit to being an old man about this particular thing.

That's all for now. Look for my list on The Cell soon...

In the Red

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The Sox were off and preparing for battle with the young, studly Rays, but the Cubs played Thursday afternoon, and were under pressure to win a series against the Reds. Dusty's Crusties pulled out a 2-1 squeaker Wednesday night that started as Lilly's best game of the season, but turned into an offensive lapse reminiscent of last weekend's 2-1 loss in Miami. You kept expecting the Cubs bats to show, but they just didn't.

Thursday was time for redemption and the hope Zammy (sorry, I can't bring myself to use Dusty's "Big Z") would find the correct arm slot and would not get too steamed about the numerous things that seem to set him off. The Venezuelan Babe Ruth homored, of course, and the Cubs needed it, as they edged out a 3-2 win. Zammy was solid--good enough, as they say, though it still seems like something's missing when he ends up with 4 Ks and 4 BBs in 7 IP. Today's problem, according to the post game reports, was a bad molar (Would anyone be surprised if he was grinding his teeth out there?)

Marmol came in with the score 3-1 and gave up a HR, but still registered the all-important "hold" to keep his league-lead for that ridiculous stat. That made Zammy's HR, the last run the Cubs scored, the difference. I'm telling you, No. 38's is the first lefty bat I'm turning to in a pinch during the play-offs--well, unless he's the starter that game...

I lied about elaborating on my Wrigley/Cell likes/dislikes in the particular post--I had some actual work to do today, so I'm saving that one for the weekend. Stay tuned...

Harden, harder, hardest

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You know how some people are social smokers? Well, I'm something of a social Catholic, which meant I wasn't about to miss the Boys' Night Out event at Wrigley Field Tuesday night for the lcoal mens' church group I've latched onto through my brother. The evening started as I noted in a previous post, with a visit to Tai's on Ashland, where we stretched out livers and stomachs in preparation for the big game. We chatted about the Farns' reputed 2003 visits to Tai's, and recent neighborhood sitings of Ryan Theriot's Escalade (Do you think he ever lets Fontenot drive it?). In any case, once we got to the game, our boys were on their best behavior, and so were the boys in royal blue pinstripes.

Rich Harden was Harden-like (7 IP, 10 Ks, 1 ER, 0 BBs). There was some talk after the game that maybe he's better than that fella CC up north, but without discounting Harden's massive talent, CC--or is it CG?--is a much stronger finisher. This one was still just a one-run game when Harden left, and that single run came on an unlikely sac-bunt down the 3rd base line by Harden himself. Geo, on 3rd at the time, crept toward home, but didn't seem to build a full head of steam until the ball was in the glove of Joey Votto at 1st base. Harden got credit for the RBI, but Votto's wild throw may have been the difference. The Cubs had two baserunning blunders earlier and for a moment, this play looked dicey. Of course, none of that mattered after the Cubs went up 5-0 in the 8th.

Meanwhile, 9.92 miles south (according to MapQuest) the White Sox did their part to bring us closer to an all-Windy City World Series, beating Lowly Seattle 5-0. The Sub-Mariners can now say they are so bad they got beat by Clayton Richard... We're kidding--Richard looked great in lowering his ERA out of the double-digit territory and getting his 1st MLB win during the same week he was supposed to be pitching in the Olympics. (Oh, well, maybe that Phelps kid can hold down the open bullpen spot in Beijing.)

What's harder than facing Rich Harden? Overcoming a 15-run attack, which is what the Sox bought down on the Sub-Mariners in the Wednesday matinee today (Final 15-3). The Missile again fired one into the seats as the Sox hit 4 HRs in a game for the 4th time in a week. Even that Griffey kid is starting to hit. Junior hit his 609th career HR to tie him with Sammy (You remember Sammy, don't ya?)

Both our teams are cruising right now, but remember who they are playing. The hardest tests still remain: The Sox have road trips to Tampa and Boston coming up, and a whole bunch of division games next month, including three the final week against the Piranhas. The Cubs have 12 next month against the Cards and Beermakers, 6 against Houston and 4 against the Mets. Yikes...
Consecutive visits to the Friendly Confines and The Cell this week got me thinking about what I like and dislike about both stadiums. In my next post, I'll elaborate...

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