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Watching the play-offs

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Well, even though the Cubs and White Sox didn't come close this year, we still have a postseason worth watching, and some former Chicago players are making contributions.

It was nice to see Jose Contreras, key member of the 2005 World Champion White Sox, come out for the Phillies last night and hold down the fort to get the win. And it was just plain sad to see star-crossed Dusty Baker watching his own team become suddenly error-prone and give up a 4-0 lead with just a handful of outs left. It wasn't quite deja vu, but close enough.

In San Francisco, look who's overcome his penchant for late-inning implosions--the Farns. Kyle Farnsworth, now with Atlanta, got the win last night by pitching 1.2 not-perfect-but-good-enough innings. I was certain after the Giants blew the lead that the reliable Farns would provide them with a storybook comeback in the 11th inning, but he did the job for the Braves, who really had few options but to leave him in the game. Derrek Lee was 2-for-5 with two key runs scored.

And, of course, both Sox fans and Cubs fans are watching the Twins-Yankees series with interest. So far, Sox fans are getting exactly what they had hoped, with the Twins down to their last chance and unable to spook the Yankees the way the do the Sox. With every Yankees victory, however, Cubs fans may be forced to wait a little longer to find out who will be the next manager. Joe Girardi's postseason poise is something to make Cubs fans salivate, but I think the further the Yankess go, the less likely he'll figure in GM Jim Hendry's decision.

Finally, who isn't rooting for Kerry Wood? He has pitched a scoreless 1.2 innings this week as the Yankees set-up man. From heroic rookie pitcher to injured mess and 2003 NLCS Game 7 loser to even more injured mess to effective, but unwanted Cubs closer to Cleveland and finally to the Yankees, who seem to have figured him out. Here's hoping that one last Cubbie occurrence isn't lying in wait for the former Cub.

Former Sox Nick Swisher also plays for the Yankess, but let's not even go there...



Bronx bombed; Snow show?

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The Cubs are winless at the new Yankee Stadium. Of course, their record there is only 0-2, and the games don't actually count yet, but today's 10-1 loss came as close as you could get to actually counting, since it was the final pre-season tune-up for Monday night's opener in Houston.

Rich Harden looked pretty awful, pitching only 3.2 innings, giving up 7 earned runs, 3 HRs and 4 BBs while striking out 2. He'll have another 10 days or so to fix whatever went wrong before his next start, though when Harden doesn't pitch well, it's hard not to think the worst.

The Cubs looked pretty sluggish in both games at the new stadium, scoring early Friday night and then fading to a 7-4 loss in which it was Ted Lilly's turn to give away runs. In today's game, former Yankee Alfonso Soriano looked pretty swell, hitting a HR and going 3-4. He has generally looked better as spring has sprung, which can't be said for several of his mates. In both of these games, the Cubs seemed to be soaking in (and literally soaking) the new Yankee digs more than anything.

We're looking forward to Monday night anyway, and the hope that Carlos Zambrano remembers whatever he was doing so right when he no-hit Houston last September.

Meanwhile, we're also looking forward to Monday afternoon, when SBW will be heading down to the Cell for the White Sox opener. But, will there be baseball? Snow has been forecast for that morning, with driving winds and temps in the low 30s around mid-day. Ouch.

I love our teams, but they need to open on the road every year and stay away from home until mid-to-late April--it just means more home games later, right? My pal The Commish and I have been to many a Southside inaugural, and have had our share of good and bad weather. One year, we had a 70-degree day for the opener sandwiched between two much colder days. Then in 2006, we barely got to see the World Series Championship banners get hung before the game was delayed by drenching rains.

Maybe Mother Nature will cut us a little slack, but it doesn't look good. If they do start Monday, at least it might be quick: No. 56 will be on the mound setting his typically brisk pace.

Dry and well-fed

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8:24 a.m., Sunday--The NYC baseball odyssey culminated last night in our rain-forced Shea-Bronx double-header. We took an epic subway ride out to Queens for the afternoon Mets-Braves contest, allowing some time for photos of nearby Arthur Ashe Stadium, and also of Shea and the neighboring new Citi Field, from the boardwalk outside the parks.

We had cool pressbox level seats at Shea, but it took a while to find them, and it was the kind of club-level thing where one cranky, elderly waitress is serving about 100 people. While Johan Santana mostly mowed down the Braves in the early going, we noted Shea's lack of character--I guess except for the Big Apple that rises out of the hat for homeruns. It actually looks like part of the area beyond the center field wall already has been dismantled. Though the blue and orange color scheme is kinda cool if you're from Chicago (for different sports-related reasons), there's some other pretty bad '60s-'70s era aesthetic detailing outside and throughout the park. Yet, the much more open concourses tell you this hulk was built well after (1964) Yankee Stadium (1923).

We were able to watch some of the game from the Diamond Club behind our seats, where we filled up on a great buffet--roasted pork, about 8 different pastas, about 3 different seafood salads, marinated eggplant and a whole bunch of other stuff. Overall, the food definitely was better than Yankee Stadium, but it was also the premium stuff and not the regular concessions. Good thing the food was good, because the Mets collapsed and lost 3-2. The new Citi Field is extremely cool, by the way, modeled on old Ebbetts Field, we were told. Thanks to Dan and Monte for the Mets tickets.

Monte said we should skip the hour-long subway ride and take a car service up to the Bronx for the second game of our double-header. It was definitely the way to go, took only about 20 minutes in air conditioned, leather Cadillac comfort. The price was not for the faint of heart, but we did what we had to do to make the first inning in the Bronx.

The Yanks won a close one against the 1st place Rays, 6-5, though the Sandman came close to blowing 2-run lead. Jeter was as good as we wanted him to be, 3 0f 3 with some fine plays at short. A-Rod had a sac fly and some high deep drives, but nothing over the fence. Best of all, Yankee Stadium was a whole different place when dry and at least half full with a rowdy crowd--New Yawkers are absolutely merciless with one another about missing foul balls. We stayed after the game as long as we could, watching many people taking photos of their seats as they enjoyed them for the last time. When you walk through that park seeing constant references to championships, and you walk out and see the years of World Series victories scrawled at the very top of the stadium near the iconic blue "Yankee Stadium" neon sign, you realize what a special place this is. And, did I mention we saw Kareem Abdul-Jabar at the game?

The whole day and night was dry in New York, which I know was not the case back home.... Hope the delays and PPD games won't hurt our teams' chance to vie for this year's championship.

Long night, longer day to come

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10:14 a.m. Eastern time Saturday--It never stopped raining here in NYC Friday night, and the Yankees finally postponed their game with the Rays just before 9 p.m. Along with the rest of the half-capacity crowd, the Commish and I had been sitting in our seats--which were luckily, under an over-hang--for about two hours, taking in the atmosphere and listening to the locals ("Nicky, looka that tawp out theah-see how much it's rainin'?").

It was not a lost evening, and a pretty good time as rainy nights at the ballpark go. The best part is that we are headed back there tonight. Both the Mets and Yankees will play rain-forced double-headers today, and the 7:05 p.m. ET start of our postponed game at Yankee Stadium should doevtail nicely with our 3:55 p.m. ET date at Shea (Anyone know how to take the Subway from Shea to the Babe's House with minimum hassle?)

Yankee Stadium is a strange place, a definite old-time ballpark with cramped subterranean hallways and old-time loge-style box seats with no more than six seats to a row in many sections. The rows come with these odd-looking metal dividers separating two seats from the other four in a given row. And everything is blue, not necessarily Yankee blue, but more like the sickening blue of the old seats from The Cell. The fences, walls, and many nooks and crannies are laden with advertising, though much of it is local (Utz potato chips, anyone?), which I think helps the park retain a sort of early 20th century charm. In any case, we had a great view from just beyond the first section, third base side toward home plate.

The Commish and I missed our chance to see Monument Park, but apparently you have to line up well before gates-open time, and the close the line shortly thereafter. Instead, we visited the food court and other shops below deck. Beer-wise, its mostly Miller Lite and the occasional Bud. There was a Foster's stand serving 24 oz.-ers right where we entered the park, but the $12.50 asking price got under the Commish's skin. The beer gem in this park is the "Beers of the World Stand" in the cramped (everything's cramped) food court--Stella, Blue Moon, Yuengling and others for $8.50 (You're not in Kansas anymore... or even at Clark and Addison). Unfortunately, there is only one of these stands in the whole stadium as far as we could tell, so the lines were long.

The food choices at Yankee Stadium are predictably diverse and interesting, though quality-wise, left something to be desired. It must be NY law or something that food stands have to list calories--it was strange to see light beer with a calorie count in parentheses before the sale price, and the same goes for much of the food here, which I think is information a lot of people don't want to know. For instance, I tried to ignore the 700-something calorie count of my prosciutto and mozarella sandwich from the Little Italy stand, and didn't even look at the menu board later on when I got a hot Italian sausage sandwich with hot peppers (neither were actually hot). You can also get a lot of Chinese down at the food court, and sushi, for I think about $15. The most interesting food court stop was the Goya Cuban stand. I have seen sushi and other Asian delicacies at ballparks in California and elsewhere along the East Coast, but never in all my years going to ball games have I seen "alcapurrias," (242 calories) a Cuban specialty of plaintains and beef. I was full, but maybe I'll try it tonight. The Commish got a Cuban sandwich with plaintain chips, and while the sandwich looked pretty good, he said it was dry. We were surprised how much of the food was pre-packaged, rather than pulled off a grill.

That's a lot of food talk, but there wasn't much baseball last night, in NYC or anywhere else for that matter. Lots of doubleheaders today, which kind of makes it feel like another time... in a very good way.

After getting the boot from the ballpark, we headed over to Stan's sports bar ("college bar" or "livestock pen" might be a better description--the livestock reference intended to convey not the clientele, but how crowded it was.) But, Stan does well, apparently running a whole block of storefronts outside Yankee Stadium. Unlike Wrigley and more like The Cell, there don't seem to be many other palatable drinking options within view, but what do a couple of Midwest hicks know about it? Strangely, Stan's was showing the Red Sox-Jays game, but only until it was apparent the BoSox wouldn't blow it.

I wonder if Stan's business will suffer when the team moves to the new stadium a little further down the street. As we awaited our train back to Manhattan, we could see the new Yankee Stadium across the street. It is an impressive, classical-looking structure, though in the manner of many new things that try very hard to look like the classics. Recapturing a rich tradition may not come so easily.

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