"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do, I stare out the window and wait for spring." - Rogers Hornsby

al yellon rants about the Cubs, the universe, and everything
:: welcome to 'and another thing!' - voted by readers as Best Cubs Blog 2004

:: Cubs' final 2004 record: 89-73, 3rd NL Central, -16. Last game: 10-8 win over Braves
:: Al's final 2004 record: 51-41, .554 (44-37 home, 7-4 road)
:: Cubs' 2004 record in all other games: 38-32, .543 (1-0 home, 37-32 road)
:: Next spring training game: Thursday, March 3, 2005, vs. A's at Phoenix, 2:05 pm CT
:: Next game: Monday, April 4, 2005, vs. Diamondbacks at Phoenix, 4:40 pm CT
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:: Saturday, October 18, 2003 ::

2500 Miles From Where I Should Be

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- Yes, tonight I should be in New York City, trying to scrounge a ticket to Game 1 of the Cubs/Yankees World Series on the street outside Yankee Stadium, and braving the hostile Yankee home crowd for a memorable night.

[sigh]

Instead, I decided, since I had a week off work booked anyway (and no, this wasn't in anticipation of a Cub World Series -- I almost always take a week off in mid-October, after the baseball season ends, just to recoup and rest up from a long summer), to go spend a few days at the condo I own here in Scottsdale.

Yeah, I know, rough life, sitting by the pool in bright sunshine and near-record temperatures (it's supposed to be over 100 degrees for the next few days, way above normal for this time of year here).

But I'd rather be freezing in New York. I may watch some of the WS, but with little enthusiasm, and if I'm doing something else at the time, I won't interrupt it to run to the TV, especially since out here, it starts at 5 pm.

I may go to a ballgame while I'm here -- on Monday, Team USA, as part of an exhibition series it's playing here in preparation for the Olympic qualifying tournament next month, is playing the Mesa Desert Dogs at Scottsdale Stadium. If I go, I'll post a bit about it here on Monday night. I went to an AFL game last year, and it's really nice -- free parking, $5 admission, sit wherever you want, and a hardcore baseball fan crowd of maybe a few hundred people is there.


:: posted by Al at 4:04 PM [+] ::
...
:: Friday, October 17, 2003 ::
Today At Wrigley Field...





It's rainin' but there ain't a cloud in the sky
Musta been a tear from your eye
Everything'll be okay
Funny thought I felt a sweet summer breeze
Musta been you sighin' so deep
Don't worry we're gonna find a way

I'm waitin', waitin' on a sunny day
Gonna chase the clouds away
Waitin' on a sunny day


-- Bruce Springsteen


:: posted by Al at 11:28 AM [+] ::
...
:: Thursday, October 16, 2003 ::
Journey's End

Seriously.

If you could right now be magically transported back to where you were on March 1, 2003, and meet someone who would tell you with absolute certainty that seven and a half months hence, the Cubs would be playing in game seven of the National League Championship Series, with Kerry Wood on the mound, you no doubt would have been thrown into paroxysms of wonder and joy.

And you know what? Criticize his in-game management all you want, but we have Dusty Baker to thank for that.

The way the Cubs lost this playoff series, both Tuesday and yesterday's heartwrenching 9-6 loss to the Marlins, which sent them, not us, to the World Series, is almost precisely the way that Dusty's Giants lost the World Series last year.

Oh, you'll say: at least the Giants got there. And yes, they did, but the important thing to remember is that between 1997 and 2002, the Giants made the playoffs three times, and contended nearly every year that Baker managed them.

Yes, he's infuriating in his in-game strategy. He managed yesterday's game like it was May 15, not October 15, and had the shaky Dave Veres in the game in what was basically the game situation, when the smug Jack McKeon was going back to his starters (where was Clement? Where even was Alfonseca?), and succeeding. I hate to say this, but Baker got clearly outmanaged in this series, and that might have made the difference in what was an exceptionally close series. Incidentally, Troy O'Leary's pinch-hit homer (which I expect will be his last at-bat as a Cub) broke the record for homers in any LCS, 23 total home runs, including Wood's HR, the first by any pitcher in a LCS game since Rick Sutcliffe homered in that 13-0 blowout of the Padres in game 1 at Wrigley Field in 1984.

Ah, 1984. Ah, 1969, ah, goats, ah... hey, whatever. Dusty's right. There is only now to think about, and unfortunately, now this group of Cubs has its own "now" to live down next year.

I'd like to think that Dusty Baker has the intestinal fortitude and the motivational techniques that Leo Durocher and Jim Frey did not. He's certainly proved that over the ten years he managed the Giants. There is absolutely no way this group of Cubs would have made it even this far without Baker, and as I said before, yes, his strategies and handling of pitching staffs will drive us nuts.

But he wins. He knows how to motivate highly paid professional athletes to give more than they knew they had to give, and to win. For that, I am grateful, and I believe he will lead us to the Promised Land. Someday.

Actually, the people who are probably the unhappiest this morning are the executives of the Fox network, who were greedily looking at perhaps the highest-rated World Series in fifteen years, had the Cubs won. Instead, it's likely that whoever wins tonight's Red Sox/Yankees seventh game (the first seventh game in an ALCS since 1986) will blow out the inexperienced Marlins, just as the Tigers blew out the Padres in 1984 after their emotional win over the Cubs.

We are sad today. But we are also proud, proud that we saw red, brown and gold ivy on the walls in October, something only groundskeepers saw before this year, proud that we saw the blossoming of Mark Prior, proud that we saw a regular guy like Joe Borowski make it big, proud that we saw a guy like Eric Karros think enough of being here that he'd say, "Every major league ballplayer should be a Cub for at least one year", and make a personal video record of the last six weeks of his season, proud that Jim Hendry could pull off a trade to get us Aramis Ramirez, who could become the next great third base power hitter in the National League, proud to show off that although we lost, we are not losers.

I received quite a few e-mails from all of you today and I can't possibly get to reply to all of them. Just know that I read everything, that I appreciate all of your sentiments, that I feel what you are feeling, that every time I enter the brick and ivy walls, even though I do it dozens of times every season, that I know how special a place it is, and so do all of those who share my bench with me, including all of our regulars who were there yesterday: Mike, Jeff, Jake, Brian, Dave, Phil, Carole, Howard, Jon and me (and we tried every superstition yesterday, including putting the Beanie Baby goat on Jake's shoulder, alternating shoulders depending on who was batting, and having a majority vote decide which scoring pencil I should use) -- we all appreciate this ride too, and I know that I carry not only my feelings but the hopes and dreams of literally millions of others, that one day, the players we so passionately root for will be the ones jumping up and down on the field with a trophy, the last ones standing.

Okay, now I'm crying.

We had a heck of a ride this year. It hurt a lot yesterday, it hurts less today, and by spring, we will hope yet again, and we will know and remember the joy we held in our hands and our hearts in 2003.

I will continue to write about the Cubs and baseball in the off-season, with updates on things that are happening (here's your first one, incidentally: I heard during the NLCS that the Cubs are going to make a big offer to the Brewers for Richie Sexson, who would be a fabulous addition to the lineup), though of course it won't be every day. For those of you who've enjoyed my writing, I hope you'll stick around over the winter; I'll write about movies and news events and politics and, well, whatever hits me at the moment.

For now, I leave this baseball season with what is perhaps my favorite baseball quotation, and something that couldn't be more appropriate, from the late commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, you rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then, just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.

To 2004, my friends. Wait till NEXT year!



:: posted by Al at 1:28 PM [+] ::
...
:: Wednesday, October 15, 2003 ::
No Words Right Now

I couldn't even cry.

It's that feeling you get when you are emptied out and you can't cry at all.

It's eerie, because I remember feeling this way in 1984, too. You know, Dusty Baker said all along that the goats, the curses, the history, didn't mean anything.

Well, now this group has its own history, and as we know all too well, it will take some time and effort to overcome it.

I'll write lots more tomorrow, probably in the afternoon.


:: posted by Al at 11:42 PM [+] ::
...
This Is Stupid, But...

Barry, who runs our studio cameras at ABC-7, called me aside and handed me a paper bag this morning.

In it was a Beanie Baby -- a goat.

I'm taking it into the ballpark and putting it on the bench. See, what all these attempts to remove the goat curse have failed to do is actually getting the goat into the stands to watch the game, which is what Sam Sianis was prevented from doing in 1945, even though he had a ticket. Parading a goat around the field or worse, just around the ballpark, isn't enough.

Barry also gave me a large Cubs cookie, which we'll all eat. Yes, I'll eat this sugared-up thing tonight. Anything for the team.

And suddenly around noon today, this old song from the 60's started flying through my head:

And I think it's gonna be all right
Yeah, the worst is over now
The mornin' sun is shinin' like a red rubber ball


(recorded by The Cyrkle, originally written by Paul Simon)



:: posted by Al at 12:57 PM [+] ::
...
Your Turn

I don't have a lot more to say, and I'm trying to get back to feeling positive about tonight, though it's not easy.

So, I am going to turn over this space to some e-mail I have received since last night's disaster.

First, from my dad:

You may be right about the devastating psychological effect on the Cubs of the Marlins' essentially unearned victory. But maybe an outstanding pitching performance by Wood tonight will result in a miracle.

On the subject of the moron's interference with the ball: Perhaps each stadium should put up a short fence to prevent interference of the type that occurred tonight. In any event, regardless of where the ball was, whether barely inside the wall or not, the ground rules should be amended to provide that any interference with a POSSIBLE catch by the fielder will be ruled interference.


From my friend David Geiser, as a reply to some things I wrote to him:

I think we need to keep in perspective how good this team really is. Fact is, they are NOT that good. They are in the post-season because of a weak division and they got hot at the right time. They're different in that it's October, and they have been hot for a month and a half, which is something that a Cubs team never does.

The thing is, even in the midst of the hot streak, this team has experienced losses like last night's. The second game in San Juan was very similar. The Cubs won 6 of 8 after that one. The third game in the last Cincinnati series was similar. The Cubs came out of that with a double-header sweep and a Division title two days later.

Of course these games lacked the gravity of what happened last night, but there is a history here - a RECENT history - of remarkable resiliency. And that resiliency is a necessity, because this team has weaknesses and those weaknesses are going to show up in ugly ways at times. Slightly above average teams that win NLDS's and go 3-3 in NLCS's don't get that far by folding when the chips are down.

I feel good about Kerry Wood showing up tonight with loins girded and ready for battle. As you said, I expect Alou to show up pissed. I feel good about the hometown crowd.

Don't do anything different tonight, Al. Go through all of the rituals because tonight is just like any other.


Well, except for what the result means for the winner and the loser of this game.

And finally, from Tom Kamnikar, who's been reading here for several months now, and who e-mailed me some good suggestions back in June when I went to Washington:

You have to believe. I know this loss was horrible, crushing, absolutely insurmountable. But we've run into these games before. And EVERY game you had a positive spin on it. You looked forward to tomorrow and brought my spirits up. Every time the bullpen blew it you had some reason for me not to worry about the next day. You've been a true Cub fan hanging in there until the end. Ever the optomist. You can't give up now with one game to go. We have to be die-hards here. We have to"cowboy up" as they say. This is where the true Cubs fan and the others seperate themselves. We have to be able to walk into work tomorrow and when all our co-workers say "what happened?" we have to respond 'we got beat, but we will get them tomorrow.'

You say being a Cub fan has prepared you for dealing with failure in life. I say being a Cub fan has taught me to look on the bright side of any situation and put a positive spin on it. Being a Cub fan has taught me that no matter how bad it is, there's always tomorrow.

I've been a Cubs fan all my life. My Dad was born in Joliet in 1939 and grew up loving the Cubs. We moved around a lot due to his job and lived in DC, Denver, Sacramento, and finally South Dakota. And everywhere we went we watched the Cubs. Dad and I didn't have a ton of things in common but the Cubs was our one constant. When we lived in Sacramento we managed to get playoff tickets to go see the Cubs and Giants. The outcome wasn't the best but the experience will stay with me forever. I remember my dad looking down at his crushed 14 yr old son and smiling say "we'll get em next year."

In 1998 we got tickets to go see the Cubs and Braves at Wrigley in the NLDS. We only had 2 tickets each night (Saturday and Sunday) so the plan was Dad and I would go to the first game and then him and my mom (also a die hard) would go to the second game. Of course you know they didn't make that second game. But the memories i have from that magical night will last me forever. I got to throw my "O Henry" candy bar on the field when O'Henry hit that double off of Maddux. I remember they had to stop the game for 5 minutes to clean it all up... I remember after we lost.. the stadium playing "Time of your life" over the loud speakers and the Cubs coming out to greet the crowd. My poor mom was stuck over in the Cubbie Bear but she just said "Next time I get to go." That's my folks for you.

The point of all this is to try and cheer you up. We're down, but we're not out. We have Kerry Wood going tomorrow. We have Dusty Baker in the locker room probably as we speak talking to the team and letting them know the same thing I'm trying to convey- "Hope Lives"

And let's not blame that fan. By the pictures he looks barely into his 20's if that. I keep picturing myself in his situation. You're a die-hard Cubs fan and your team is 5 outs away from going to the World Series and a ball heads towards your seat. He wasn't even looking at Moises. He just wanted a souvenir. He didn't know any beter. Can you imagine what he must have to live with right now. You're a bigger fan than me. Imagine how you would feel if you accidentally caused them to lose the game. But he didn't. Prior ran out of gas, Gonzo bobbled a ball, and Farnsworth served up a meat ball. We got beat. But we're not beaten.

So cheer up. You of all people have to snap out of the funk. You are the one who gives hope to the rest of us. You are the one who always has a 'Wait till Next year' attitude. Well next year is here. It's 12:03am here in Sioux Falls South Dakota, and the losing ends tonight.

Hope is hurt, but lives on, if only in the hearts of Cubs fans everywhere.


Thanks, you guys. I feel better already.

Let's win it tonight, in a game for the ages.




:: posted by Al at 9:32 AM [+] ::
...
:: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 ::
Devastation

I thought that coming home and writing something might help the way I feel, but it's not. I'm just kind of mindlessly hitting the keys, trying to think of some way I can make some good come out of what happened at Wrigley Field tonight.

Okay, here's all I can come up with: we got one out closer to the World Series than we did in 1984.

And right now, even with one game remaining, I think that's as close as we're going to get.

I hate to sound so defeatist, but that was absolutely the most devastating loss I have ever seen in a playoff game, though it wasn't even the worst inning in Cub postseason history -- they blew an 8-0 lead in game four of the 1929 World Series to the Philadelphia A's, allowing ten runs in the seventh inning, partly on an error by Hack Wilson that allowed three runs to score.

Sound familiar?

Click here for the game story of the 8-3 loss to the Marlins, in case you can stand reading about the awfulness that you no doubt witnessed.

Up to then we were starting to tap each other and try to remember how we felt, where we were, who was there; I had arranged for Dave and Brian to drive my son Mark home so I could remain at the ballpark and celebrate the victory.

Well, that's what I get for over-anticipating, and I suppose the rest of the people who've sat out there all year, and for many years, have similar stories of how they were planning to celebrate, five outs away. Mark even got Todd Wellemeyer to throw him a ball (hit by Sammy Sosa) during batting practice, and it was about as pristine white as any BP ball would be, and I thought that was a good omen.

Nope.

It started raining in the second inning, just lightly and only for a few minutes. So maybe that was the good omen.

Nope.

We ate the rally cookies, and Jeff turned on his light-up cap at the appropriate times, and I thought maybe that would work.

Nope.

I told Dave after the horrid inning was over, that this game was a microcosm of our lives as Cub fans. I hate to say this, but even with Kerry Wood on the mound, I simply cannot see any ballclub come back from a loss that crushing. Now, Alex Gonzalez will take his place in Cub history along with Leon Durham, because his error on an easy double-play ball with the score 3-1 Cubs, opened the way for...

Well, you don't need to hear this again, and I'm surely not interested in writing a game recap. I won't even mention the idiot who interfered with Moises Alou's catch of a foul fly by Luis Castillo, because not only did the guy get kicked out, but he got stuff thrown at him by everyone in the stands before he did. Whoever he is, he ought to never again be allowed in Wrigley Field. Okay, so I did mention him, but that's all I can say in polite company.

People in the streets kept milling around after the game, not really knowing what to do or where to go, or maybe thinking that it was all a cruel hoax and that the real score was going to be posted soon, and the Cubs would win. I even heard a couple of people walking down the street offering tickets for tomorrow's game, though I don't know how serious they were.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I thought writing might help be somewhat of a catharsis for what happened tonight at the ballpark, but it's not helping. I am trying to set myself up for disappointment, because I figure that's what we are going to get tomorrow, and I'm already crushed enough, and don't want any more of that. In fact, why doesn't MLB, at the next owners' meeting, just pass a rule: the Chicago Cubs can play as many baseball games as they want, but they will never be allowed to go to the World Series. At least then we'd know.

I would love nothing better than to be wrong about all of this, and to come here tomorrow to write a celebratory post about the huge game seven victory that at last, put the Cubs in the World Series.

It's not going to happen, though. Just as we have been for years, we are doomed to failure. One thing I can tell you is this:

Being a Cub fan is something you are born to, and learn for so many years that failure is a way of life. In some ways, I think it helps you deal with life itself, since so much of life is dealing well with failures. I guess so far, I haven't dealt with this one very well. One day, I think I will, and win or lose, lose, lose, I will remain with my baseball team forever.

Go Cubs.


:: posted by Al at 11:02 PM [+] ::
...
Untitled

Within the next hour, the rain that's been pouring down here in Chicago all day is supposed to end, and the rest of the day will just be windy and cold.

So many words have been written, so many things have been said, and apart from the fact that I'm about to jump out of my skin, I can't say anything more, other than...

We have all waited for this day for a very long time. Enough talk. Let's win.


:: posted by Al at 2:58 PM [+] ::
...
:: Monday, October 13, 2003 ::
Waiting To Exhale, Part Deux

I simply could not believe how many people were in the Miami airport this morning at six am -- so many that I was afraid I was going to miss my flight, though I had allowed more than an hour. In fact, I got off the rental car bus a couple stops early because it was stuck in traffic.

United somehow assigned me and another passenger the same seat number, which you'd think couldn't happen, but we compared boarding passes and that's exactly what happened. The guy who had the same seat number as I did had already sat down next to me, and the third person was nice enough to take another seat, so we didn't have to move.

Turns out Mr. Duplicate Seat Guy was a Cub fan (well, it was easy to guess, since he was wearing a Cubs cap) who had driven from New Buffalo, Michigan, to South Bend, flew to Chicago, and then to Miami only on SUNDAY, to see one game only and then fly back this morning. Cost: about $350.

He thought it was worth it. Even with the loss, so do I.

Then I got back to my construction site -- er, I mean, house, which is being torn up for a kitchen remodeling project. Today's hammering was workers installing some new windows. Honestly, sitting in the basement working on my computer, it sounded pretty much like the kids running around upstairs, so I guess I'll get used to this fairly quickly.

My son Mark is 8, and when I was 8, the Cubs were just beginning to work on the "lovable losers" tag that they've now had for decades. I don't think he really understands that this simply doesn't happen all the time. Nevertheless, thanks to Jeff, he will be coming to Game Six. Now, you might say, what am I going to do with an 8-year-old if (I nearly wrote "when", but no, I can't!) it comes time to celebrate tomorrow night?

Let's just say I hope I have to deal with that problem. I am making contingency plans, just in case.

Tomorrow will be the latest calendar date that baseball has ever been played in Wrigley Field (Oct. 10, 1945 was the previous latest), and the ivy ought to be gorgeous.

So will the baseball. When we went to dinner tonight with the kids (since there's now nowhere to cook in my house), Mark took his GameBoy and played Cubs vs. Marlins.

The Cubs won 5-4, and he's sure that's a good omen for tomorrow.

Me too. Most of us have waited our entire lives for this day. Let's win it.


:: posted by Al at 6:38 PM [+] ::
...
:: Sunday, October 12, 2003 ::
Uh-Oh

MIAMI -- Well, this wasn't the way it was supposed to go.

The Cubs were supposed to finish their three-game sweep of the Marlins here tonight and come back home the National League champions.

Josh Beckett, who some Marlins fans seated near me compared to Kerry Wood, had other ideas, and threw a two-hit shutout, and the Marlins won NLCS game five 4-0 to take the series back to Chicago for game six on Tuesday night.

Beckett threw the first postseason shutout against the Cubs since Babe Ruth in the 1918 World Series, and tied the NLCS record for fewest hits allowed in a complete game.

Seriously, there was nothing Carlos Zambrano could have done; he threw gamely for five innings, and my dad called me in the fourth to say that Dusty had gone too long with him again; turned out he was right, but there's no way you could pull a starter in that situation that early, in a scoreless tie, even though he was clearly struggling. And anyway, no one was going to beat Beckett tonight -- he was a man obviously on a mission, and look -- the Marlins are a good team, they wouldn't have gotten here otherwise, and the Cubs have Mark Prior going against a guy who is normally the Marlins'fifth starter, Carl Pavano. I don't want to sound overconfident, but I am confident.

We didn't have tickets today -- or shall I say, I didn't have one, so Jessica and Mike gave up their upper deck rotten seats (in fact, there were so many sellers and so few buyers that we found a couple of Cub fans and literally gave them away, making a couple who had driven down for the day very happy), and we all got single seats. I wound up in the club level seats, and though they do have a very nice carpeted concourse with TV monitors, it's the same mediocre food as the rest of the ballpark. I did have a Diet Coke, but that was it for ballpark food today.

Jessica wound up getting her seat from a guy who was some sort of corporate honcho at Hooter's, of all places, and he gave her his business card which gave $20 off food and drink there. Not really Hooter's fans, we decided the $20 was worth it and drove to one to eat afterwards. Hey, the food was decent, and surely worth the price. We took Scott Lange of The Northside Lounge with us to have dinner and then drop him at the airport, where he was figuring on staying the night before his flight back to Atlanta tomorrow.

Pro Player Stadium, among all its other faults, is also very strict about security; one of the oddest things they prohibit is "hard fruit" such as apples. Maybe they're concerned about razor blades or something, I dunno. Not knowing the history of the stadium, I suppose they could be justified, but it does seem overkill, as did the fact that they prevented me from coming from the club level into the lower level in the seventh inning, when I was trying to meet up with Jessica and Mike. Eventually we wound up meeting at gate F, near all the TV trucks, after a few shouted cellphone calls (it was really loud today, obviously, due to the Marlins winning).

Sign seen: "65,000 say: Build us a Ballpark". They really need one, and with a retractable roof. 65,000 is way too many at a baseball game, so many of the seats are way too far from the action, and though they have very few rainouts here, they have many rain delays, which can really hurt your pitching staff.

Right now I'm not concerned about the Florida staff, nor am I concerned about the Cubs'. If there is anyone who is nearly automatic, it's Mark Prior, especially throwing in what is supposed to be a cool but clear night. Mike said he was worried, somehow, that it didn't feel right, but there are a lot of teams who have games like this, even in championship series, and come back strong the next night.

It was a credit to every single Cub fan who either lives in Florida or the South, or who came down like we did from Chicago, to make probably the largest visiting team presence at any postseason games -- ever. But on Tuesday, Wrigley Field will be filled with 99.9% Cub fans, and that can make a difference too.

We remain once again, one game from the World Series. Hope remains alive.


:: posted by Al at 9:50 PM [+] ::
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E-Mail

From David Geiser of the Cubs newsgroup, yesterday morning:

I experienced a Good Omen yesterday morning.

I got out early and headed to a local natural area to collect jelly fungi for my class. As I was driving back, something ambled across the road in front of me.

It was a bear cub.


Explanation: David is a professor of plant pathology. So this morning, I got this e-mail from him:

Heck, even I'm convinced we're going to win it. Even after the loss on Tuesday, which was far more of a must-win for the Marlins than for the Cubs, I felt that way. The way they battled back made that even more true.

And after the bear cub omen, I think they're going to win the World Series.


My friend, I hope you're right. Let's win it today.

:: posted by Al at 10:43 AM [+] ::
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