Why we care…

Alot of conversations in my life, and in the past few years in particular, have centered on the Chicago Cubs. People call this selfish, ignorant, or just a waste of time. People who aren’t one of us wonder how anyone can invest so much hope, so much effort, and so much faith in a team that hasn’t won a World Series in 100 years. Then you start to think to yourself, how can I do this? And then you stare ’69, ’84, and ’03 in the face…and you know exactly how you can do it. You don’t spend your summers wishing, and hoping, and praying because you want bragging rights or because you want the next edition of the baseball media guide to list the Cubs as World Series champions. The reason Cubs fans watch religiously is because the Chicago Cubs are bigger than all of us. 120 years of history is bigger than us. Heartbreak felt by an entire city is bigger than us. We are connected. The Chicago Cubs are not a baseball team. The Chicago Cubs represent a community. A community of people who have seen ground balls go between Leon Durham’s legs, watched as ’03 slipped away from us, and remember Santo and the black cat.

All too often, the Cubs have been the victims of shifting momentum, curses, and just plain bad luck. Unfortunately, these are the events that get remembered more often than the happier moments. Ernie’s 500th, K-Wood’s 20 K game, the Ryne Sandberg game, and the Gary Gaetti home run in ’98 are left behind as we center ourselves on billy goats and Bartman. I implore you Cubs fans, don’t let history repeat itself yet again. Keep the faith, don’t let anyone who’s not from Chicago tell you anything about the Cubs (or baseball for that matter), and most importantly…enjoy the ride. No matter what happens, in November, whether we’re World Champs or just one of the other 29 teams who didn’t win it all…let yourself sit back and say “It was one hell of a ride”, because I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it till the day I die: The best thing about baseball is…there’s always another one tomorrow.

Ups and Downs…

I’ve always tried to be a very level headed Cubs fan. I’ve always tried to avoid letting my head get too big during win streaks and I’ve gotten pretty good at trying to stay positive. This season has been a bit of a whirlwind. The best Cubs team of my lifetime has gone as high as the best team in baseball and has now hit the skids. Whether it’s a mental problem, a coaching problem, fatigue, or just plain bad luck…the best thing about baseball is that anything can happen. Cubs fans know this and have experienced it a number times. From a playoff sweep at the hands of the D-backs last year to a 9 run comeback this year, the Cubs faithful have seen their share of baseball drama. Every team has bad stretches. It’s going to happen, you can’t stop it. The most important thing is simply how a team bounces back from it. How the Cubs will bounce back has yet to be seen…but I can tell you this faithful readers, there’s a game tomorrow night, of that you can be sure. And it’s a fresh start. A season is simply made up of 162 clean slates. And if that pep talk doesn’t put the Cubbie Swagger back in your step…it’s still a game right? It’s not supposed to go according to plan…especially in Chicago.

Gameday in the ‘Ville…

So I’ve lived in Wrigleyville for over a year now. And I think the phrase “Living the Dream” is an understatement. Alot of people who don’t live in Chicago, or live in the neighborhood, don’t really understand that people actually live there. For most people, its a day at the park and a day to let loose…So i thought I’d give everyone a glimpse into what its like to be a resident of the best neighborhood in the world.

During a typical homestand, day games are the norm. That means a 1:20 start at the ball park and a 9:00 a.m. start for the neighborhood. People start arriving about then if they’ve never been to the park before. They look around at the statues and the bricks and take a walk around. They stop off at the Cubby Bear, Sports Corner, or the brand new Harry Caray’s . You can spot a first timer, whether its his or her first Cubs game or first visit to our magnificent city. Here’s a few tips that help in spotting these rookies (and also a little bit of advice on how to not look like them).

1: Fannypacks, visors, old gym bags full of food and drinks.

2: This one’s pretty obvious, maps. Just a tip, buy a small map or at least be discreet with your map. Everything in Chicago runs in straight lines, so if you get lost, you can always turn around. Numbers get bigger as you go west and north. Keep that in mind too.

3: Arriving 4 hours before game time and not planning to drink. If you get here that early, and don’t plan on drinking…alot. You really stand out. There’s no need to be that early. Wrigley Field has been here a long time and the people that work there are really good at getting you into the ballpark close to game time. You can’t tailgate or sit on a grassy spot anywhere. So unless your goal is to play “I bet my tab will be bigger than yours” at Houndstooth, don’t get here that early.

4: Paying kids like me $30 so that you can park in our spaces. I mean, I love you all…you’ve paid our bills and provided us with beer and pizza money, but I mean really? $30? Drive around a bit…all the spot sellers compete with each other so you can probably haggle us down if you really try. But come playoff time, don’t act all surprised when we say $75. You paid $800 for the ticket, what’s another $75 for a bunch of college kids who just bought $500 worth of books they aren’t going to use.

5: And finally, my personal favorite, walking like your out on a sunday stroll. We have places to go and so do you. So walk faster, walk with a purpose. And please please…listen to the traffic management people…don’t argue with them…just let them do their job.

All these observations aside, I live in the greatest neighborhood in the world. Even though my neighborhood gets flooded everyday with 60,000 people, I love it. I love hearing the roar of the crowd before I see what happens on TV. And I still get chills every time I hear “Go Cubs Go” out my window.

Rich Harden

You’ve gotta hand it to Rich Harden, he has
made an excellent adjustment to the N.L. It is really a
thrill to watch him pitch. His consistency is really a
difference maker. The Cubs have had strong starting pitching
for a while now, but i dont think consistent was the word to
describe it. Big Z is always pretty consistent numbers wise,
but he has such an unpredictable attitude and demeanor on the
mound that it never feels very consistent. Demp also has put
up very consistent numbers, but he does it one of two
ways…either he misses bats the whole game or he battles
back from leadoff hits and walks and does it all with runners
on. Rich Harden really brings a sense of professionalism to
the team. I don’t know much about what he’s like off the
field…you hear alot about Carlos, and Demp, and Lilly
keeping everyone loose on their off days. I really haven’t
heard what Rich’s clubhouse demeanor is. In any case, his
attitude on the mound is perfect. We have an emotionally
driven pitching staff. Carlos wears his heart on his sleeve,
Lilly likes to throw the glove, and Dempster is not shy about
showing his frustration either. That’s why I like Harden’s
attitude. He’s steady. Kosuke brought alot of patience to the
lineup and it’s rubbed off on the rest of the hitters, I
think the same is going to be true about Harden and the
pitching staff. Needless to say, I think he was a brilliant
pick up and provides the perfect balance for the Cubs
staff.

Battleground Baseball…

Sorry for the long delay. I wanted to update on the big series with the cards, but I was up at the Dave Matthews Band concert in East Troy for the weekend. It is a well known fact that both Cubs and Sox fans are very big Dave fans. I couldn’t count on one hand the number of times I got “Go Cubs” or “Big Win Today” while I was up there, and my friend who was sporting Sox colors got the same treatment from her fellow fans. On Sunday night I must have seen 5 or 6 cubs or sox jersey with something along the lines of “DMB” “#41” or “Matthews” on the back. The whole experience just reminded me that Chicago is a baseball town. And aside from the 6 days a year we play each other, the North and South siders pretty peacefully co-exist on a day to day basis. People who aren’t from Chicago or don’t really watch much baseball always ask me “How much do you hate the White Sox?” and every time I tell them I don’t hate the Sox, I hate the Cardinals (and now the Brewers). But even so, bad mouthing a team all season doesn’t add any more wins to the Cubs win total at the end of the year.

I’ve always been an advocate for good baseball. I make plenty of jokes from time to time about other teams and other players in particular, but in all honesty I really only care what the Cubs are doing. A Cubs win is the only thing I want to see, I don’t want to see anyone actually get hurt or any team go on a terrible slide. I want the Brewers to play the best ball they possibly can and I want to beat them that way. That’s baseball and thats the way it should be played.

Sorry, I just needed to rant about sportsmanship a little bit. Brewers fans are new at this whole winning thing so they tend to get on your nerves a bit.

Front Office Kudos…

In the recent past, and this year in particular, Jim Hendry has been on top of his game. I don’t know what that man looks at to decide the caliber of a ballplayer, but it works. Reed Johnson, Jim Edmonds, and Rich Harden are just the names from this year. These are contributing role players essential to any team that wants to make a run at a title. When I read on the ESPN crawler that the Cubs had aquired Reed Johnson, the very first word out of my mouth was “Who?”. But Hendry knew exactly what he was doing. Reed fills the gaps. He can hit, run, and field with the best of them. And as he showed yesterday, he does not shy away from pressure situations. Another perfect example of the Hendry touch is Jimmy Edmonds. He had been written off as washed up. Stuck in San Diego, where baseball players go to die, Jim seemed content to bat his .202 and finish out his season. Then Hendry picks him up and he is a re-born player. How could Hendry tell he had anything left in the tank? How did he know that 12 HR’s later the long hated Jim Edmonds would be the kind of ballplayer Cubs fans could rely on? This is the sort of stuff that amazes me. Not to mention he’s nailed down a myriad of All-Star caliber players including Alfonso, DLee, Kosuke, and Aramis. He can make the big deal, grab the headline, and then that same day go out and get a back up centerfielder that will have a game winning catch and 2 HR game in the same week. 

The best thing about it is, when people mention Hendry’s talent for finding talent, he’s quick to thank his advanced scouts and the other people that help him.   

Best Wins of the Season…

The past two nights at Miller Park have not disappointed. The hype for this series has been tremendous. Monday night was probably the most important win of the season for the Northsiders. So many things went right for the Cubbies. It was great to see plays like the one Reed Johnson made. His all out slide to break up the double play and extend that big inning was a perfect display of just how badly the Cubs want to win this season. There were a number of other things the Cubs did that made me very proud. The patience they were displaying in the beginning of the season has returned. This patience made C.C. throw more pitches, it made him leave the game earlier, and it made the Brewer’s bullpen throw strikes. All this combined with the resurgance of Fonsi as well as the middle of the line up made it the most thrilling Cubs game to watch since ’03 (no wonder it was one of the highest rated games in Cubs history).

Tuesday night certainly did not fall short of the expectations either. The Cubs came out and played like division leaders. They scored runs and pitched well. Ramirez’s game was simply unbelievable, whats more amazing than his 3 doubles was his 2 runs scored. What this tells me is that the middle of the order is not the end of the offensive production. Ramirez got knocked in when he was on base. This is what I like most about this year’s Cubs. Like in year’s past, you’re never really sure where the production is going to come from, but this year, the line up is seeming to heat up in chunks. As the top of the order may cool down for a few games, the bottom 3 may end up all having multi hit games. It’s just great to see that kind of trend in a ballclub.

I’m looking forward to the next two games but I’m certainly aware of the power the Brewer’s have. My advice for Demp and Rich…just keep the ball down. Hopefully 2 more wins are on their way.