Friday, April 30, 2010

Arizona Legislature Treating Cubs Like an Immigrant They Don't Want

The Cactus League seems to have taken on a characteristic of their most popular team, as they seem hellbent and determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the battle for the Cubs' Spring Training future.

The East Valley Tribune is reporting that the Arizona State Legislature has been unable to come up with legislation that would be able to pay for the improvements to the Cubs' facilities in Mesa.  And they are quickly running out of time. (h/t @CubsWinInAZ)

"Arizona’s lawmakers have failed to craft legislation needed to keep the Chicago Cubs in Mesa, opening the door for Florida to lure baseball’s most-attended spring training program.

Mesa still has time to work out a deal for a new spring training facility. But with the Legislature ending its session for this year this week, lawmakers will instead scatter across the state to campaign for re-election."

Mesa technically has until July 12 to have a plan for funding in place for the Cubs to approve.  That is more than two months away.  Surely, something of this importance to the Arizona economy would warrant a special session?  Probably not.

"A special session is possible. But the sponsor of a bill to fund the training complex said he’s not counting on that.

“The headlines don’t sound too good, ‘Legislature called back to special session for baseball,’ ” said House Majority Leader John McComish, R-Ahwatukee Foothills."

It's interesting that the Arizona State Legislature is concerned about negative headlines about legislation that is supposed to bolster the economy, but didn't seem concerned about headlines stemming from legislation that encourages racial profiling.

After the "Cubs Tax" failed spectacularly, and no other real viable option has been floated, Mesa's mayor, Scott Smith sounds like he is about ready to hit the panic button and is dialing up the rhetoric.

"Smith urged lawmakers and other baseball teams to help keep the Cubs, saying other teams could follow them to Florida.

'We think it’s sheer lunacy to sit here and allow something as important as the Cactus League to be damaged simply through inaction,' Smith said."

The people involved in the Naples proposal should probably make sure their powerpoint presentation is ready to go.  I don't think the Ricketts ever actually wanted to stay in Mesa, but underestimated the fan reaction to a move.  Now they can say they tried to stay in Mesa, but the Arizona lawmakers couldn't make the financials work.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wind Not the Only Thing Blowing at Wrigley Today

Ted Lilly is a flyball pitcher anyway and he was making only his second start since returning from shoulder surgery, so when he was averaging about 84-85 MPH on his fastball, you knew it probably wasn't going to end well as the wind whipped out at 20+ MPH.

Sure, you HOPED it would be a good day.  You remembered that this was Ted Lilly out there and you hoped he was still carrying around that giant bag of awesome.  There was a tiny part of your brain that hoped Ted could get by on cunning, guile, and maybe a machete to hack up anyone who dared oppose him.  You thought his cold, lifeless eyes would roll over white just as he bit and suddenly the seas would turn red and the poor Diamondbacks would be deafened by the screaming.

But alas, reality junk-punched the Cubs as Adam LaRoche treated Ted Lilly to a spot-on Mark DeRosa impression by crushing two homeruns and one almost homerun that went for a double.  The bullpen had trouble getting anyone out (again) and an Amber Alert has been issued for the Cubs' offense.  It was last seen just off I-94 in Milwaukee.

There really wasn't much good to be said.  Aramis Ramirez made an error in the field and a TOOTBLAN as a runner.  Derrek Lee continues to hit like Derrek Lee tends to hit in April (two more days until the calendar solves what Rudy Jaramillo can't).  Sean Marshall had to get used in a blow out game because the game never would have ended otherwise and the Diamondbacks would be making outs on purpose just so they could go home.

Kosuke Fukudome hit a grand slam that pulled the Cubs within only two grand slams in the 8th, so there was that.  It was good enough for him to get awarded the Chevrolet Player of the Game by Ron Santo, who sounds too depressed to even moan audibly anymore.

Tomorrow, the Cubs send Randy Wells out against a guy named Rodrigo Lopez, who probably is going to have some trouble walking around uninterrupted in Phoenix when the Diamondbacks return home, and he won't be getting asked for his autograph.  Maybe the Cubs bats can treat him equally rudely.  I doubt it though.  They're such nice boys.   You know what the clubhouse needs is someone who can bring in an edge.  Someone fiery.  Someone left-handed. 

Or not.

When You Think of the Cubs, Think WTF!

Bloggers in general, and Cubs bloggers in particular have been known to have some slightly crazy tendencies.  For instance, only Cubs bloggers would spend the better part of a week arguing amongst themselves whether Paul Sullivan should be calling Milton Bradley an idiot.  Normally, I would say that these people must have a lot of spare time in their lives, but my limited knowledge of some of these folks includes the fact that none that I know of are unemployed and living in their mothers' basements.  In fact, it seems like quite a few have pretty decent and time-consuming jobs and/or families.

So what possesses people with limited time and energy to write and debate about the Cubs of all things?  Craziness.  Not the bat-shit crazy psychosis like Milton Bradley, but more eccentric crazy, like Johnny Depp.

As evidence to prove the point, A League of Her Own's Cubbie Julie and And Counting...'s (and ACB and LOHO and probably more I can't think of right now) Adam Kellogg were part of a MST3K-style podcast with me during the Cubs first Spring Training game against the Sox, and after having the exposure to my inability to know the difference between Paul Konerko and Jordan Danks, they still want me to join them in a regular podcast during the season.  See?  Crazy.

Starting tomorrow at 1:30 PM (Central Time), we will bring you the first of (hopefully) many installations of Wrigley Talk Friday.  Just think of it as the WTF! podcast. So get ready for Cubs-themed hilarity of both the intentional and unintentional variety.

As soon as I have a link, I'll post it here, on Facebook, and via Twitter.


Here is the link.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Screw It, Here's Byrd's Amazing Catch

I didn't want to find video of the Cubs leaving men on base all day resulting in them dropping two of three to the supposedly terrible Washington Nationals, so here is something you don't see every day.

(Courtesy of @chrislittmann)

Unfortunately, that was the Cubs only luck all day. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


He's back, baby, he's back.  Not with the Cubs though.  The Cubs may be stupid enough to completely destroy any hopes that Carlos Zambrano may have a happy end to his career in Chicago, but not even they would bring Aaron Miles back.

Only a certain organization that believes they can make any person who can successfully walk upright into a star baseball player would try such a thing.

Yep, Aaron Miles is back with the Cardinals.  At least, he's going to their extended spring training.  I bet Felipe Lopez and Brandan Ryan are really feeling the pressure now.

It will be good to have Aaron Miles jokes back again.


I'm apparently not the only one who is happy with the Miles signing:

Monday, April 26, 2010

I'm Not Stupid Stupid, But I'm Pretty Stupid

My willingness to support the move of Carlos Zambrano to the set-up role was based on the assumption that all parties were on board with the decision.  Obviously, pissing off one of the franchise's best pitchers of all-time should not be a viable option to fix a problem in the 8th inning of baseball games.

Last night, in a discussion in the comments section at Another Cubs Blog, there were allusions made by (forgive me if I am not attributing this correctly, but I'm rushing this post) Mercurial Outfielder and MB21 that they had heard rumors that Zambrano was, in fact, none to happy with the move.

MB goes on to post today about exactly why Zambrano has every right to be pissed off, and he is correct.  Zambrano has every right to be pissed off if this is a move that was made without his endorsement and buy-in.  My assumption was that Zambrano was putting the needs of the team ahead of his own personal needs on a temporary basis.  While that reaction would not necessarily have been logical, as MB points out, it was a possibility.  After all, Zambrano has 2 more years after this one to re-establish himself as a premiere starter.

Baseball executives have a short memory.  As long as Zambrano is a good starting pitcher in the last year of his contract with the Cubs, he will get paid, and probably get a bump because he will suddenly be renowned (and his agents will remind everyone in case they forget) for his sacrifices in the name of team and winning in 2010.

Unfortunately, the Cubs appear to have made this move without Zambrano's consent, which does essentially make it a demotion and a slap in the face.

Dave Kaplan tweeted earlier in the day that Zambrano is not happy with the move:

Shockingly, Paul Sullivan tweeted and linked to his story about Carlos not being happy happy with the move, but he is happy.  That wasn't a typo.  Carlos is not happy times two, happy squared, or happy about being happy, but he is happy (now).

The story goes on to say that Carlos was not happy initially.

"Zambrano said the reason he didn't talk Saturday was he knew he would "say something wrong" and decided to wait until he calmed down.

He didn't say what was bothering him.

"I'm a guy that whatever happened in the past is in the past," he said. "I live my days like that. The next day when I wake up, I don't remember what happened the night before. Today is a new day. I get to pitch today and I'm going to have to do my job. The Cubs are paying me to pitch -- starting, relieving, closing, whatever they want me to do here. I'm better for it."

Zambrano insisted he's fine with the move and conceded he was the starter with the 'worst numbers.'"

So now we have two members of the media backing up the rumors MB and MO had heard before.  It also makes clear that the Cubs actually are stupid is as stupid does.  They stumbled ahead with an incredibly risky and unconventional move that had a huge impact on the livelihood of their longest tenured player (and career long Cub) without his agreeing to the move.

Whether the stupidity is stemming from arrogance from being really good at character assassination now when a large contract player doesn't do exactly as they want, or from horrible understanding of common human decency when dealing with their employees, or just plain incompetence, they have managed to position themselves on the precipice of disaster over a lack of a set-up man.

I probably shouldn't even be calling the Cubs stupid since I was the one who originally thought they had gotten all their ducks in a row before moving a top starter into the 8th inning.  That kind of assumption is probably the definition of stupid.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Taking a Look Around Wrigley

In the 30+ years that I've been a fan of the Cubs, until today I had never taken the guided tour of Wrigley Field.  Kris purchased the tickets as a Valentine's present, which beats the hell out of candy hearts and crap like that.

The tour was interesting and the guide provided a quite a bit of information, some of which I already knew, but some that I hadn't known before.  For instance, when Northwestern and Illinois play football at Wrigley, the football field will be laid out down the first base line instead of down the third base line as they used to have it when the Bears played there.

We saw the bleachers, the visitors' clubhouse, the pressbox, the skybox suites, the Cubs' clubhouse, and the Cubs' dugout.  Some things of note that were not included in the tour were the PNC Suite, the Batter's Eye suite in centerfield, the batting cages beneath the bleachers, and the scoreboard (though this is not surprising at all since there are probably some serious liability and hygiene issues with going into that scoreboard).

They also had the new players lounge closed off, but we could press our noses up against the door window.  It looked nice from what I could see.

Our tour guide pointed out the visitors' locker that is usually given to coaches, but has been used for players with a paricularly large contingent of press following them around, like Manny Ramirez when he joined the Dodgers and Barry Bonds when he was chasing the homerun record.  I took a look for a secret compartment where they would stash the steroids, but if there is one there, it is clevery hidden.

Up in the pressbox, I took a seat in the front row and found myself having increasingly malevolent thoughts about an outfielder that plays for the Seattle Mariners.  I also had an increasing desire to nitpick Carlos Zambrano to death.  I couldn't figure out why, but then I looked down and saw this:

So that explained it.

Later, while down in the Cubs clubhouse, they had all the jerseys hung up in the lockers to be all ready for the Cubs' return home tomorrow after the pillaging of the Brewers.

Notice anything strange?  Esmailin Caridad has a jersey hanging and Justin Berg does not.  I didn't notice this until I was looking at Kris' photos, so I can't say for sure that Berg's jersey isn't in there somewhere, but it isn't in any of the photos she took, and this area is the area where the guys with the least "clout" on the team reside.

Caridad went on the disabled list on April 14, retroactive to April 12, which means he is eligible to come off on Tuesday, April 27th.  So it seems that even if a move is coming, Berg should at least be a part of the team through tomorrow, and his jersey should probably be somewhere.  Nevertheless, I found Caridad's jersey's presence interesting and am anxious to see if it means anything or not.

The rain prevented us from too much on-field experience, but we did have the opportunity to get our pictures taken in the batting circle.

Overall, I'd endorse the tour as a valuable way to spend a few bucks and an hour out of your life.  Personally, I wish we could have gone into one of the new luxury areas to see how the other half watch baseball games, but I'm sure they aren't a hell of a lot different than the rooftop suite areas across the street, so it wasn't a huge deal that we weren't allowed in there.

I also wish we could have at least walked the warning track or gotten out on the field in some way, but if they allowed that, everyone would be walking off with handfuls of ivy leaves or clumps of sod and it would start to look shabby.  So I get it, but I wish we could have done that.  I guess sitting in Paul Sullivan's chair and getting to view the world from a scorecard vendor's kiosk will have to do.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why I Don't Hate Zambrano in the Bullpen

And I thought Cubdom couldn't go more apeshit than when Mark DeRosa was traded.  Holy uproar, Batman.

Lou Piniella announced that the Cubs were moving Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen to make room for Ted Lilly, and the resulting firestorm across Twitter and the Cubs blogosphere hasn't burned more intensely since Gaius Marius left BCB in a blaze of glory.

The consensus of what I have read so far indicates that the Cubs have made the dumbest, most unspeakable move since they let Greg Maddux walk away for nothing. Let's have a peek:
I don't hate the move... yet.

So why does everyone else hate it so much?

Zambrano won't buy into the move because he's got such a big ego.

So far, Zambrano is at least saying all the right things.  He doesn't want to be in the bullpen, but he realizes that they need help there and he is willing to do whatever Lou thinks is best to help the team win. 

The thing is, the bullpen is such a huge disaster that the task of single-handedly making it not just respectable, but actually good and effective is of Herculean proportions.  That does not sound like a job for Carlos Silva or Tom Gorzelanny.

I am a big believer in the psychological side of baseball. Zambrano's presence in the bullpen, in theory, could boost the other pitchers' confidence so that they stop trying to be absolutely perfect and just pitch like they were in Spring Training when they were actually getting people out.

This is not how the bullpen should be constructed and it is an absolute joke that it has come to a situation where a move of this magnitude is necessary, but for that, we need to be pissed at Jim Hendry.  This is simply Lou taking a big asset from his source of most depth and reallocating it to where it can potentially have the biggest impact.

Paying Zambrano ace money in a set-up role is ridiculous.

Again, this is an indictment of Jim Hendry and his reliance on human faberge eggs when it comes to his pitching staff.  He singlehandedly doomed the 2004, 2005, and 2006 seasons by never learning to not rely on Wood and Prior, and this year he put all his money on Angel Guzman in the 8th inning role.

The money being paid to Zambrano is irrelevant in deciding who gets moved, especially since Dempster and Silva would have also been dramatically overpaid as set-up men.  Let's face it, moving Wells would have been greeted with an almost equal level of derision and moving Gorzellany would make the Cubs' bullpen more left-leaning than Greenpeace.

Zambrano's worst innings are early on, so every time he appears will be an early inning.

This was a concern of mine when I first summarized the pros and cons of each of the potential choices to move to the bullpen in a post earlier this week, but I've thought about it more and I'm not quite as concerned as I was.

When Zambrano pitches as a starter, he is pitching on four or five days rest.  As a bullpen guy, he will very rarely have that many days off to get his arm back to that fresh level where he overthrows everything. 

Now, this could be a flawed assumption because he is going to be called on to get out of jams and hold teams down with one or two run leads and his adrenalin is going to be pumping because, you know, he's Carlos.  It's what he does.  We'll have to see how this pans out.

Gorzelanny and Silva will not keep up being as useful as they have been so far.

This is almost certainly going to come true, but the fact is that most teams only have three decent starters at best and then a careful plan of hoping and praying on the fourth and fifth days anyway.  The Cubs aren't handicapping themselves below most teams by making this move, plus, there is the possibility that Silva and Gorzelanny can maintain being useful.  They both have before int he past.  This isn't like when the Cubs thought Mike Bielecki was an actual #2 starter.

The bar for fourth and fifth starters is pretty low and it is not unreasonable to hope that Silva and Gorzelanny can continue to casually step over that bar as they have been.

So is this a move made out of desperation?  Absolutely.  Is it ridiculous that they find themselves in this position before May?  You bet your ass.  Will this move preclude this team from winning the World Series this year?  Probably, but they weren't even going to get into the playoffs without doing something drastic.  Am I depressed that I actually find myself on the same side of this argument as Dave Kaplan and Al Yellon?  Yeah......... (but you folks against the move are with Phil Rogers, so none of us are clean here).

This is not a team that is built for the long haul.  It is built to win this year or be blown up, so you might as well put it all on the table and make the game as short as possible by having two huge power arms blowing people away in the 8th and 9th innings so the starters can have confidence that a quality start can occasionally result in a win for the team.

Jim Hendry has to be fired for putting the team in this position, but I applaud Lou for not being afraid to be unconventional, and I am in love with Carlos Zambrano for complying with what they think is best for the team.

Cubs Looking For Arms In All the Wrong Places

As the Cubs were managing to get completely shut down again by a team that isn't very good and just before Jeff Grabow gave up a homerun that gave the Mets a lead of something like a million runs (at least, that is how it felt), Ken Rosenthal tweeted out news that the Cubs were looking to add a veteran arm to their staff:

Sources: Free-agent RHP Braden Looper threw today for #Cubs in Chicago. Willing to be flexible on role if Cubs want him. #MLB.

For those who may not be familiar, Looper was with Milwaukee last year busily surrendering 39 homeruns and 113 earned runs, both leading the league.  His WHIP was 1.49, so those weren't all solo shots.

His career WHIP of 1.37 isn't exactly great either, so even if he returned to his normal average self, he's not that good.

The problem is a 1.49 WHIP looks absolutely fantastic next to Jeff Samardzija's numbers so far.  That is how bad the Cubs' bullpen is.  If they acquire one of last year's shittiest pitchers, it would be an improvement over what they currently have.

Still, I think that they should investigate other options.  I have taken the liberty of putting together some other possibilities that would also be an improvement over Jeff Samardzija and Friends:

Mark Prior

Matt Karchner

Dave Dravecky

Aaron Miles

Justin Bieber

Steven Hawking

Paul Sullivan


Here's a few more...

Adam Carolla

Mariah Carey


The Kardashians

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ted Lilly Likes to Steal Things

The imminent return of Ted Lilly should make the Cubs pitching staff stronger, but his return also means he will be stealing away a rotation spot from a staff that has a combined 3.53 ERA so far.  Of course, this assumes many things.  First it assumes that Ted doesn't re-injure his shoulder during one of these rehab starts while pitching or DIVING HEADFIRST INTO SECOND ON A FREAKING STEAL ATTEMPT (and getting thrown out while doing so).

Second, it assumes that Ted actually comes back to pitch as well as he has pitched in the recent past, which isn't the smallest of assumptions to make when a guy is coming off of shoulder surgery and then DIVING HEADFIRST INTO SECOND ON A FREAKING STEAL ATTEMPT (and getting thrown out while doing so).

Third, it assumes that whoever gets displaced from the rotation can have as much success pitching out of the bullpen.  Not every pitcher is Sean Marshall or Terry Mulholland.  These guys tend to have pretty regimented routines and may not perform as well when being asked to pitch two out of every three days instead of once every five.  So the Cubs will have to find the guy that can actually help the bullpen as much as Lilly will help the rotation, provided that he stops DIVING HEADFIRST INTO SECOND ON A FREAKING STEAL ATTEMPT (and getting thrown out while doing so).

The candidates to move are:

Carlos Zambrano

Pros:  Carlos is an intimidating presence and his power pitching would be well suited for a bullpen role.  Carlos has been the least effective member of the starting rotation so far which would send a message to the team that one must perform to keep their jobs.

Cons: Zambrano tends to get hit a bit more when he is overthrowing his sinker, which I would guess he would be prone to doing when only asked to pitch one inning or so per appearance.  He also has a ridiculous salary for a middle reliever, but that didn't stop the Cubs from converting Wood to a set-up man to Dempster.  Of course, Wood was moved because he kept getting hurt as a starter despite (to the best of my knowledge) not DIVING HEADFIRST INTO SECOND ON A FREAKING STEAL ATTEMPT (and getting thrown out while doing so). Also, every candidate on this list except for Randy Wells makes more money than some teams' entire bullpens put together. Carlos, despite what you may read in the Sun-Times or Tribune, is still statistically one of the best starting pitchers in baseball over the last few years, so dumping him in the bullpen pretty much seals this team's fate as mediocre at best.

Ryan Dempster

Pros: Dempster has pitched out of the bullpen before and been at least better than what is currently being used in the Cubs' bullpren.  Also, Dempster is frequently heralded as one of the best "team" guys, so unless the mainstream press isn't blowing smoke up our asses, he may also be receptive to such a move.

Cons: Dempster wasn't really all that great in the bullpen.  He was fine, and had his moments, but his peripheral numbers have all vastly improved since he returned to the rotation.  If the Cubs are looking for a lock-down guy to set-up Marmol (or replace Marmol), Dempster probably isn't it.

Randy Wells

Pros:  Wells is the youngest, making him the easiest candidate to "demote" despite doing nothing wrong.  He also should realize that it happens because his emergence ended up booting Sean Marshall into the bullpen last year despite Sean doing nothing wrong.  Wells is also supposed to have a bulldog-like demeanor that is well suited for bullpen work,

Cons: Wells has been fantastic in the rotation, to the point where people have started to wonder if he is actually the best pitcher in the rotation.  I'm not ready to go that far, but Lilly would have to be awfully good right out of the gate to replace Wells adequately in the rotation if he gets booted to the bullpen.

Tom Gorzelanny

Pros: Everyone assumed that Gorzelanny or Silva would be the ones to get booted when Lilly returned, so he has to at least be somewhat mentally prepared for that change to be made.  He also performed decently last year in his stints out of the bullpen in Chicago and Pittsbugh, though his ERA of 5.87 as a reliever doesn't reflect that.  Opposing batters managed only a .553 OPS off him as a reliever, and his WHIP was 1.10.  I think we would gladly take that over most of what we have seen from the current bullpen.

Cons: Hopefully, the return of Lilly will mean the end of the Jeff Samardzija Experiment, so moving Gorzelanny means having Marshall, Russell, Grabow and Gorzelanny from the left side in the bullpen, with only Berg and Gray from the right side in non-closer roles.

Carlos Silva

Pros:  Who knew that when we spoke of the good Carlos, we would be referring to Silva?  My expectations of him could not have been smaller if I had been told he was, in actuality, Aaron Miles.  The way Silva is pitching, he would fit in very well as a right-hander to replace Samardzija.

Cons: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  Carlos is almost pitching too well to mess around with.  He's comfortable.  he's happy.  He is getting people out.  Why mess with that when his history has shown he can be easily discombobulated.

So I don't envy Piniella making this choice.  You know that this team still isn't good, so no matter what, he is going to get ripped for making the wrong choice.  But there is still a few days left before a decision has to be made and its still possible that none of this will matter because someone can't help from DIVING HEADFIRST INTO SECOND ON A FREAKING STEAL ATTEMPT (and getting thrown out while doing so).

Sadly, It Really is a Way of Life

It's been tough to be a Cubs fan over the first couple weeks of this season.  My friends over at Another Cubs Blog got a little silly last night and started having some fun with Photoshop and the new Cubs slogan, "It's a Way of Life."  You should go here to see more, but I've sampled a few of my favorites:

Of course, most of this is all Alfonso Soriano's fault.

Monday, April 19, 2010

In Search of the Cubbleupagus and Other Musings on Year One

I spent a bit more time in the ballpark this weekend and took more careful note of my surroundings as I tried to sense how my game experience would be enhanced as the offense didn't score and the bullpen continued to blow leads the Cubs were lucky enough to have.

On Saturday, I stopped in while the Astros took batting practice.  I wandered about the park and noticed that the previously curmudgeony ushers seemed to be universally more friendly.  I didn't interact with all of them, but as I wandered through the aisle separating the field box and terrace box sections, I was greeted more than once by ushers in a friendly manner.  Some asked if I needed assistance finding my seat.  Some asked if I wanted to go down closer to the field while batting practice was in session.  Some just said, "Hope you enjoy the game."  It was a very welcoming atmosphere and closer to what I have experienced from ballpark employees at other ballparks when I have visited, like PNC, Busch and Fenway.

I still hadn't seen a "Game Ambassador" yet, so I thought I may have been mistaken about these Game Ambassadors as additions to the ballpark staff.  I thought maybe the Ricketts had re-named the usher position the way Wal-Mart calls their employees "associates."  I asked one of the ushers and she assured me that the Game Ambassadors were separate positions from ushers and that they are all around the ballpark, inside and out, helping fans and giving away prizes and such.  She thought it was a marvelous idea in action.  I would agree, but after three games, I only have one usher's assurances that they exist as evidence of such mythical creatures.  I feel like the adults on Sesame Street whenever Mr. Snuffleupagus had just ambled away and the only proof was Big Bird mentioning how he had just been right there.  (Wasn't Sesame Street better when adults couldn't see Mr. Snuffleupagus? I think so.)

After a bit, I wandered the park a bit more and took notice of how clean the seating area was.  Normally, unless it is the first game of a series, there is some left over residue left in the seating area from the prior game.  Some stubborn peanut-shells, a conglomeration of sticky substances that have now bonded to the concrete, and even a stray fragment of a napkin or wrapper.  As I wandered through the lower box seats, there was nothing.  It was as clean as a public sidewalk can possibly be.  There were occasional stains that had become part of the concrete, but there was practically nothing that could be swept away or even hosed off.  It was nothing short of a miracle.

As I climbed the stairs through the terrace reserved section, I noticed that a few peanut shells started to appear.  More stains.  More peanut shells.  The state of the rows got more dirty as I climbed.

When I got to the upper deck, I noticed a similar hierarchy of cleanliness.  The first few rows of the upper deck box were pretty darn clean (though nothing compared to the field and club box areas), the upper sections got a little dirtier, and the upper deck reserved was the same level of old residue Cubs fans have come to accept in the ballpark.

I want to stress, that none of the areas can be considered dirty in relation to how they get after a game.  The fact that rats aren't actively running along in the seating area as people file in is a testament to how hard the cleaning crews work to get Wrigley into usable condition again after a game.  However, it appears that particular care has been paid to the most expensive seating areas as far as improving upon previous years' cleanliness standards.

It was getting nearer to game time, so I figured I might as well check out the bathrooms we all heard so much about in the offseason.  I didn't notice much different.  The urinal troughs might have been new, but once a few thousand people have used a bathroom fixture, you have to figure the bloom is off the rose as far as that goes.  The sinks appeared to be the same, which I've always said is problematic because it is really just a different kind of trough and easily mistaken by the drunken asses as a urinal trough.  In fact, there used to be signs designating that it was a sink and not a urinal which are now gone.

There were plenty of fresh urinal cakes, so there's that.  Also they added some hand sanitizers that don't resemble anything you should ever pee on, so at least there is a method to wash your hands that doesn't come with a risk of coming into contact with urine.

I have to say I am extremely underwhelmed by the bathroom renovations.  Maybe they are more pronounced on the lower levels.  I'll have to investigate later.

This is turning out to be a pretty long post, so I'll get into the concessions at a later date.  Mmmm... bison dogs.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

One Streak of Futility Ended Today

A momentous thing happened at Wrigley today.  No, it wasn't Geoff Blum's tying double off of Marmol. Geoff Blum is one of those guys who pretty much sucks until it is a big moment.  Then he's Ted Williams.  It's unreal.  So that wasn't it.

It wasn't Marmol blowing the save, it wasn't Marshall getting the loss, it wasn't Byrd's three hits including the only hit with runners in scoring position for the Cubs.  It wasn't Soto throwing out Michael Bourn, nor the fact that a pitchout actually worked.

It wasn't even Tom Ricketts visiting very near by in Aisle 423, nor the fact that hardly anyone recognized him (or if they did, they didn't care).

I got a foul ball.  You may remember that in the thirty years that I have been attending baseball games and the roughly 650 games in that time, I had caught a grand total of zero foul balls before today.

Today, Houston catcher, Humberto Quintero fouled off a fastball on the 7th pitch of the at-bat.  It came straight back, but it was coming in a little low.  There was a woman with a couple of kids below me and I resisted sticking my hand in there and possibly either deflecting the ball into one of the kids, or shield the view of the mother protecting the kids.  However, the woman ducked and it sailed over her and struck below the empty seat next to me and miraculously bounced towards me.  I managed to corral the rebound and I now have my first souvenir baseball of my life.

It would have been nice if the Cubs had won the game, and I'm pretty pissed they lost two of three at home to a pretty bad team, but I got a ball.

Now I need to work on catching one on a fly.  I figure I should manage that feat in about 2040.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jury is Out on Year One's Enhanced Fan Experience

The Cubs opened up Wrigley Field for the 2010 season with a bang as they pounded out three homeruns, two of which came off of the Cubs' inexplicable nemesis, Doug Davis.

They made some nifty defensive plays.  Soto threw out Rickie Weeks trying to steal.  Every position player in the starting lineup had at least one hit.

Ryan Dempster had a decent start that looks worse in the box score because of a three-run homer allowed to Ed Hardy Braun.  James Russell, Jeff Samardzija, and Carlos Marmol managed to not let the game get any more interesting by preventing the Brewers from scoring after Dempster left.

Things went pretty well on the baseball field. The sun was out, the weather reports never included the words "wind chill," and we were pretty happy.

Off the field, it didn't appear that much had changed in the ballpark.  We heard a lot about how the Cubs were going to make every effort to make sure fans enjoyed their game experience at Wrigley.  There were going to be Wrigley Ambassadors that were going to be both inside and outside the park that would be there to assist fans in finding their way and ensuring that the various operations of the ballpark were performing up to the high standards of the best fans in the world (best measured as a function of amount of money spent on a ticket).

This was one day, so I can't say that the operation is a failure.  Nor can I say that my experience was similar to anyone else's.  I am simply relaying the experiences I had on Opening Day.

First, as we entered the stadium, my female friends held their purses open for someone to inspect them (translation: poke around in them with a stick), but no inspection happened.  They just walked right in and were handed their magnetic schedule. This was certainly convenient, but also a tad disturbing given the world we now live in.

We headed up to our seats and were stopped by the usher checking our tickets.  This is nothing new and to be fully expected.  Kris showed her ticket, the woman looked down and said "OK," and Kris went to head up the ramp.  The usher then said, "hold on" and grabbed Kris by one of her female parts that should probably not be grabbed by stadium personnel.  I'm sure it was an accident, but I'm not sure why she had grabbed Kris by any part of her body after having already checked her ticket and given her permission to proceed.  So that was weird, and definitely not an improvement from years past.

There were no obvious seating disputes in Aisle 424, unlike last year, but I don't know if that was because of increased help in the park or merely a coincidence, because I have yet to see what a Wrigley Ambassador looks like, and the ushers that normally checked tickets at the top of the ramp were also not there on Monday.  But I can't argue with the results so far.

I was also struck by the lack of vendors of any sort.  Normally, you can't take in a game without having vendors yelling out whatever it is they are selling.  I was actually hungry for a hot dog, but I never happened to see one.  Kris and my other friends also mentioned noticing a lack in vendors.  There were some, but few and far between.

None of these incidents wold have even raised an eyebrow if they had occured last year because instances like these have been common (maybe not so much the boob-grabbing) under the Tribune ownership.  However, the Ricketts and the marketing machine of the Cubs had promised sweeping changes in the relationship between the team and the fans.  When you raise the bar of expectations, the same old schtick suddenly becomes disappointing.

Again, I can not stress enough that I was not actively looking to point out flaws in the system, nor was I actively hunting down changes.  I wanted to watch the game and get re-acquainted with my Aisle 424 Summer Family. 

The product on the field looked good, so my game experience was pretty high and I also enjoyed having Julie (@aleagueofherown) and Angelene (@ataccini) as special guests in Aisle 424 for the game.  (Julie reported that she was a bit disappointed in the renovations of the womens bathroom, but she can delve into that further if she chooses.)

I'm curious what other people may have experienced on their first day in the park of Year One.  If you attended the game, feel free to share any stories, positive or negative, about your fan experience at Opening Day in the comments.  I'm just hoping none of the stories involve bathroom sex.

Photos from Sun-Times

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Fonzie Rates the Cubs

One week of Cubs games are in the books and since I have a lot of howework to do before Opening Day at Wrigley tomorrow, I'm bringing in a special correspondent to handle the analysis of the past week.  Ladies and gentleman, I am very pleased to have the one and only Arthur Fonzerelli provide his analysis of the Cubs so far.  (Sorry if anyone clicked on this expecting something about Alfonso Soriano.)

Fonzie, what do you make of the Cubs offense?

 Yeah, that sounds about right.  What do you think of their defense?

We're with you on that too.  How about the starting pitching?

They were pretty good after that first game.  How about the bullpen?

Surely, you're not down on all those guys.  What about Marshall and Marmol?

After watching them this week, what do you expect from the rest of the Cubs' season?

We don't know either, but you should probably be careful while you're skiing, there are lots of dangerous... look out!  Shark!!!

That was an awfully long way to go for a pretty lame joke.  Was it worth it?

Thanks, Fonz!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Rangers Fans Must Miss Byrd; Milton Tries to Help

Apparently, Milton Bradley still has a soft spot in his heart for Texas Rangers fans.  It appears they have a Marlon Byrd shaped hole in their hearts this year, so Milton graciously has attempted to fill it... flipping them the bird. (photo from Lookout Landing)

This is widley believed to be the most gracious and humanitarian action of Milton Bradley's life.

Friday, April 9, 2010

If You Build It, People Will Have Sex In It

A tweet from friend of Aisle 424, Alex Quigley, this morning, alerted me to a column by John Kass in the Tribune about a little romantic interlude between a couple at the White Sox Opening Day that they shared with a bathroom full of urinating men.

Apparently a Sox fan brought his six year old son to the White Sox Opening Day on Monday, and I'll let Mr. Kass take it from there:

One thing about taking little boys to the game is that little boys have to go to the restroom at the wrong time. When my sons were that age, every time they had to go, Frank Thomas or Paulie Konerko would hit a home run.

On Monday, Nemeth's son had to go, and his father took him to the nearest restroom. They stood in line for the first urinal next to a row of stalls.

As they waited, Nemeth said, he noticed noises coming from the last stall. A man's legs — clad in blue jeans and sneakers — were sticking out from under the stall door.

"The toes were pointing up," said Nemeth. "The legs were shaking and quivering. From a visual standpoint, all you had to see was the legs quivering to know something was going on."

As a trained physician, he had an idea what was happening in there, but he worried it might have been something else.

"It was bizarre. It caught the attention of a lot of people. I tried to turn my boy's attention away from it, then I thought, ‘Is someone having a seizure?'

"So I kicked the door, just to get a reaction. I just wanted to make sure nobody was dying in there. That's when I heard a woman's voice yell, ‘HEY, STOP!' Something was going on and I had interrupted."

Moments later, the stall door opened, and a tall, thin, blond man exited. The tall man held his arms up in triumph.

So, Mr. Ricketts, you may want to think twice about making the bathrooms at Wrigley too nice and cozy.   Sox fans invade Wrigley for three games every year and we wouldn't want them to think that the Wrigley bathrooms would be a perfect place to bring some romance back into a stale relationship.
I don't even want to think about what Cardinals fans would do in there.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Finally, the Cubs Are Best at Something

The Cubs have stated before that they believe their tickets are recession-proof and they are doing their best to prove it to the world by pricing them higher than any other team in baseball.

Paul Sullivan reported yesterday:

Despite the sluggish economy and a disappointing 2009 season, the Cubs now have the highest average annual ticket price in major-league baseball at $52.56, according to an analysis by Team Marketing Report.

The Cubs barely edged the Red Sox ($52.32) and the Yankees ($51.83), while the White Sox rank fourth at $38.65.

I'm not sure how the averages were done, but what may have pushed them over the top was their reverse sale where they added 20% to ticket prices if you wanted to buy them the week before they went on sale for the printed face value.  But however it happened, they have elbowed past the Red Sox, who have traditionally led the league in recent years, and the Yankees, who sold some individual seats for $2,700 each last year. So that's almost like winning the World Series, right?

I'm sure the Cubs have to be pleased with the timing of this news as they have managed to stumble out of the gate with two very horrible losses that have done nothing to give people much optimism for the rest of the year (unless Twitter had ruined our optimism already).  People have to be asking themselves what they get for these most expensive seats in all of baseball.
Well, I got a "thank you" for the first time in twelve years.  That was nice.  Though maybe I would rather have a rude guy and cheaper tickets.  But there is no going back now.  These tickets are super-expensive and at least we are getting thanked for handing over these large piles of money.  So there is that.
Also, Sullivan mentioned later that Wrigley will be featuring giant photos of players and Lou Piniella hanging on the exterior of Wrigley.
The 19-foot-by-14-foot photos of Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, Derrek Lee, Carlos Marmol, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and manager Lou Piniella will flank the historic marquis at Clark and Addison streets for the opening week as part of the Cubs' new marketing slogan: "It's a Way of Life."
"It is a way of life, and everyone has unique memories of coming to Wrigley Field, and we wanted to capture that," said Wally Hayward, the Cubs' executive vice-president for sales and marketing.
That is true.  I have several unique memories of my games at Wrigley Field.  There was my first game when I was seven when I learned from the drunk guy in front of me that Dave Kingman was "worthless."  The Cubs lost that one 7-0.
There was the one where a foul ball changed the life of a dude who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The Cubs lost that one 8-3.  They lost the next night too while I was there.
Now that I think about it, most of the memories seem to involve losing.
But the game on the field is not important in this new era of increased revenue streams.  Wrigley is a place of wonder.  It is a place where people can forget about their everyday cares and worries by experiencing baseball as it was intended (with a few well-placed advertisements thrown in).  You have to expect to pay pretty good money for that.
And you will.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rick Telander Hates Carlos Zambrano Almost As Much As I Hate Rick

The worst part about watching the Cubs get obliterated on Opening Day was the anticipation of the professional media jumping up and down on their new favorite target now that Milton is gone, Carlos Zambrano. 

While I am increasingly worried that Zambrano is just not right, the media seems to take a certain glee in pointing out Zambrano's failures.  They seem to believe that the difference between the talented pitcher that earned the gigantic pay raise with his performance for this team is purely mental.  Yesterday, Rick Telander did his best to organize the villagers with torches and pitchforks:

Being the Opening Day pitcher is supposed to mean something.

Yes.  Generally, it means being the best starting pitcher on the team and as much as you don't want it to be a fact, there is no rational argument that can be made that a healthy Carlos Zambrano isn't one of the top pitchers in baseball, much less the Cubs.

You're the tone setter, the bell cow, the big swinging medallion chosen by the manager as the symbol of the team.

After the "tone setter," I'm not sure what the hell he is talking about.  The bell cow leads because it has a damn bell around its neck, not because it is the best cow in the herd.  The swinging medallion reference just makes me picture Telander in a leisure suit talking about the massive bulge in his tight pants as he looks for hot American foxes.  Aside from the ill feeling in my stomach that resulted, I'm not sure what that has in common with Opening Day.

You mow 'em down, your buds rack 'em up.

[Joke removed as it has been validly pointed out that it is unfair]

But Carlos Zambrano -- who now has started more consecutive Opening Days (six) than any other Cub -- is not a bell cow. He's a rambling, tin-can eating goat who has lost his way.

How exactly is one smelly animal somehow worse than a different smelly animal?  Oh, you're working in a reference to goats.  Cubs.  Goats.  Very original.

And with him, in a symbolic way, has gone the franchise.

So, the team that hasn't won a World Series in 101 years has lost its way as a winning ballclub because of Carlos Zambrano.  Seeing how you support this statement should be almost as much fun as watching the game yesterday.

''Mind-set?'' repeated manager Lou Piniella when asked what Big Z's mind-set might have been before the 16-5 horror-show loss to the Braves at sold-out Turner Field. ''I don't know.''

What the hell did you want him to say?  If someone asked me about your mindset before you wrote this bullshit column, I probably would have said "focused on being an arrogant toolbag," but the truth is I don't know because I'm not a fucking mindreader.

How could he?

By being a mindreader, which apparently, you think is plausible.

Lou's pretty old-school. Probably thinks two plus two equals four.

What does that even mean?

Zambrano is unknowable.

I guess Rick can decipher exactly what went on in the head of Ted Lilly when he got in a fight with his manager or when he got ejected from a game in which he wasn't even pitching, but that Zambrano is one Latino loco!

The 28-year-old from Venezuela speaks to the media in a voice so quiet and even-toned that it is nearly a whisper. 

That is INSANE!  He should be beating up Gatorade coolers and Michael Barrett!

''I will think about Cincinnati now,'' he said at his locker after he finished with a 54.00 ERA. Big Z said it the way one would if one were preparing to think about, oh, doilies.

Seriously, what do you want him to do?  If he froths at the mouth, he's an insane lunatic who doesn't deserve the money he earned.  If he brushes it off like it was ONE FREAKING START out of about thirty to come this year, he's a lackadaisical prima donna who doesn't deserve the money he earned.  If he reacts like a disappointed professional who is ready to not dwell on the past and work on improving in the future, you bitch about doilies.

He had been handed a three-run lead on new center fielder Marlon Byrd's home run, and then he took the mound and blew up.

He actually walked a man and induced a bunch of weakly hit balls that probably should have been fielded by major league players, but instead the balls went unfielded by the Lil' Louisiana Lads and our pudgy right-fielder that is being played in center.  The first really hard hit ball of the inning is the one that is tattooed on everyone's memory, but by my count, Zambrano had already induced what should have been four outs before Heyward launched it into orbit.

We should not judge a person's character by how he performs as an athlete, but if you're paid $17.8million a year to be the star and you've got a 95 mph Jedi sword in your holster and you've thrown a no-hitter and you always tell us how good you feel and you aren't even fat this year, then, Lord-a-mighty, how can you walk the first man you face and then give up four hits, a home run and another walk in the first inning on Opening Day?

It would be like if a professional columnist who has been writing for a living for over thirty years and who will gladly point out that he has written a book and for Sports Illustrated and that Sports Illustrated rated that book as one of the top 25 of all-time and had his smug face on television in the company of actual good journalists would write a horrible, self-righteous, run-on sentence.

No one knows.

As much as no one knows why anyone pays you a salary for this crap.

Yet the Cubs have latched themselves to this yo-yo -- meant in the sense that the classic spinning toy goes up and down and all around and even walks across the floor like a baby -- and the team itself cannot be counted on because of that.

More "crazy" metaphors combined with an immaturity simile.  It is amazing how these same attributes are considered to be good for a clubhouse when the crazy man is also white.  Ryan Dempster has been the picture of consistency for the Cubs over the years?  He didn't also just sign a gigantic contract that carries a ton of expectations with it that have largely been unmet?  People say that Cubs fans are racist.  If they are, it is because they are taking words like these from hacks like Telander to heart. (Photo from The Heckler)

It was a huge decision to sign Zambrano to a long-term contract in 2007. General manager Jim Hendry did it, and he was looking at the fact that Big Z had been an All-Star at 23, the youngest in Cubs history, and Hendry had prayed Zambrano would become the ace who could dial the code and lead the Cubs out of their century-old panic room.

Yes, it was a huge decision.  Not sure what you are getting at here.  Are you saying you would have let the then 26-year old walk away with his 82-55 record, 3.41 ERA and 1.28 WHIP?  Because that is insane.  Carlos wasn't making outrageous contract demands for his production and he always has said the right things about wanting to stay a Cub.  Any other choice in that decision process could only be justified through the glasses of hindsight and revisionist history.
But Zambrano, who has been an All-Star three times and in the Cubs organization 13 years, teases, then yanks it away.

If anything has been yanked, it has been Zambrano's arm.  The man threw over 200 innings for five consecutive years from 2003 to 2007.  Even the last two years when the almost inevitable decline in his durability has taken a hit, he has put up a total of almost 350 innings.  But, yeah, the problem is probably his head.

He has won only 23 games the last two years, and the Cy Young talk has vanished.

Since you value wins so much, I'll just point out that in Carlos' win percentage until 2007 was .599.  Including the Opening Day loss, his win percentage is .622 since.  It was .639 before Opening Day.  Wow.  Talk about a precipitous drop in production.

And how do you deal with the other things he does? The punch thrown, the water dispenser battered, the glove hurled into the dugout, the emotional and physical control lost -- they all pop from nowhere.

Earlier in this same column, you criticized him for being "quiet and even-toned!"  What the fuck do you want from him?

Zambrano had an astounding second inning against the Braves, even by his standards. After hitting leadoff batter Martin Prado, he covered first base on Chipper Jones' grounder and then launched a rainbow to third that soared over Aramis Ramirez's head and nearly into the stands. To tie it up with a bow, Zambrano offered a homer to Brian McCann before Piniella mercifully yanked him.

There is no getting around that Zambrano had a bad day.  I still contend that a large part of his bad day would have been extremely manageable if the Lollipop Guild weren't his middle infield defense, but exaggerating these two innings out of the 1,552 innings he has pitched in his career as a microcosm of his entire career?  Aren't you supposed to be the veteran writer who can add some perspective to a situation while the emotional fans are all jumping off cliffs?

Opening Day pitcher?

I guess you would have preferred Ryan Dempster who has never walked everyone in the ballpark in a tone-setting situation before.
''It happened,'' Zambrano said. ''I gave up eight runs. Like I said, I will concentrate for the next start.''
Concentrating for this one would have been nice.

Nice cheap shot. You know what?  I can do that too.  Fuck you.

No, it's not like one game means much.

But you are about to explain why it should mean so much to your half-witted argument.

But the 16 runs are the most the Cubs have given up to anybody on Opening Day, going back to 1884.

I guess it is also Carlos' fault that the Cubs would be better off with Devin Hester in the bullpen over Jeff Samardzija?

''Somewhat of an embarrassing loss,'' Piniella said.

Not as embarassing as this column.

Oh, Zambrano had help. Reliever Jeff Samardzija's 108.00 ERA is in the mix, as is gazillion-dollar left fielder Alfonso Soriano's .000 batting average.

I guess Theriot's .000 in the leadoff spot doesn't warrant a mention, or his leprechaun brother booting routine groundballs.

But this was Big Z's day -- in front of new owner and stunned fan Tom Ricketts.

How stunned could he possibly be?  He has watched this team before, right?  I mean, we were all told what a big fan he was.

Seemed a little like Closing Day, it did.

I'm hoping this means you have given up on the 2010 season and won't be writing anything more about them.  By the way Jay Marriotti called, he wants his assholic vitriol back.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cubs Somehow Worse Than My Internet Connection

About an hour before the game started yesterday, I finally arrived home from a visit to the land of mullets and drunk driving located across the Mississippi River.  It was a long journey home that involved a massive headache, a choice between country music on FM or a ridiculous French accent on WGN during the ride, and an interminably long wait in a parking lot formerly known as the Stevenson Expressway.

I just wanted to sit down on my couch, check the progress of my various fantasy teams, and settle in for a few hours of the first Cubs baseball game to mean anything since about the end of last August.

My wonderful internet provider (whom I won't name here except to say it rhymes with Shmay Tee & Tee), decided that they did not want to grant me internet access.  All I wanted to do was maybe change the banner on my blog and publish a post before the game got started.  It really is a shame you all had to miss it, I had some really good sections on civic duty and volunteerism.

I wanted to be able to have Tweetdeck all queued up so that I could have some actual interaction with the three or four non-spambot Cubs fans across the country who look forward to my snarky comments during a game.

I wanted to be able to read through some of the the other Cubs blogs I enjoy and catch up on what was being written and if I may have managed to insult Sarah Palin fans while honoring another excellent blog.

But I couldn't even do that, thanks to Shmay Tee & Tee.  So I was pissed and I was sure that they were the worst thing that had ever happened to the world since Hitler.

Then I watched the Cubs game itself. 

You know how when you sometimes watch the news and you see a story about some seemingly normal person snapping and going off and killing a bunch of people in a fit of rage and you wonder, "How can somebody get so angry that they would do such a thing?"  I get it now.

I am not going to rehash the whole thing, but I can tell you that a couple of midget infielders and a very rich shampoo-model-posing-as-a-pitcher should be very glad that I don't have access to weaponry of any sort.  I'd be pissed at Zambrano, but by my count, he had registered what should have been four outs in the inning before Hank Aaron's heir apparent blasted one into the ozone as the 7th batter in the inning.

Meanwhile, the Braves took advanatage of the little known three-hop rule that says that a ball can bounce up to three times and still be recorded as an out, provided that the umpires are all blind and stupid.

Somehow, the Cubs managed to make my loss of internet connection a distant second in things that went wrong yesterday. 

But today is a new day.  There are obviously some very real concerns about the Cubs' defense, their bullpen, and whether there might actually be something wrong with Carlos Zambrano, but if the Cubs can win tomorrow, the worries can be pushed back down again for a bit.

Shmay Tee & Tee still sucks.