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by alex ciepley
Before I went to Friday night's game to kickoff my weekend-long lovefest with the Cubs at Shea stadium, I chatted briefly with Alex Belth about baseball and anxiety. Are you more nervous when you're at the game or when you're watching it on TV? I figured that watching this year's Cubs in person was going to be even worse for my ticker than the stresses of watching them at home, but Belth commented that he felt the opposite -- you're more Zen at a game because it's all out of your control.
Belth was right. I think my poor TV, already demolished once this season, would have been tossed halfway to Ohio if I'd have watched Saturday's game on TV. As it was, I was up in the nose-bleeders, and when Diaz hit the homer I calmly put my head down between my legs with the other thousands of Cubs fans in attendance. Sunday's game was less shocking, so it was only with a dull ache that I boarded the subway home.
The Cubs are obviously worn out from playing 235 straight road games, but they aren't the only ones in need of a break. I, as a fan, need a break: I need a day where I know I don't have to worry about the Cubs driving in the runner from third or getting out of a jam. I need a day where I can let my mind wander to the simpler things in life, like paying rent and taking out the garbage. I need a day with no baseball, but like the Cubs, I'll soldier on 'till the season's over.
Some game notes:
Jessica and Peter, two of New York's many displaced Cubs fans, were my companions for the night. I'd never met either of them, though Jessica—manic, charismatic, and a staple of the Cubs news group— and I had chatted some via email.
If you didn't understand what baseball can do to its fans, you might think Jessica was insane. Older than Maddux but younger than the Francos, as she put it, Jessica has lived in New York for years but still holds season tickets at Wrigley Field. Yeah, that's right, she spends her vacation days travelling to Chicago to catch home games.
I can be a weirdo while watching a game, but Jessica had me beat here. She can't stand watching while the Cubs are pitching, burying her head in reading material until the team is batting. She alternately read email printouts, a book I had stashed in my backpack, and Peter's morning paper while Rusch and the 'pen dazzled, only occasionally stealing nervous glances at the field between pitches, refusing comment until after the inning. I thought she was going to eat the newspaper when Farnsworth was on the mound, she was trying to avoid the action so diligently.
I say all of this in fun, of course; it was pure joy to watch the game with such devoted fans as Peter and Jessica. There were a ton of Cubs fans at the game that night, and Shea was rocking in the 10th to the chants of "Let's Go Cubs!"
One of the great advantages to sitting in the upper deck at Shea this late in the season is that the seats are hardly filled, and you can move around a lot. This was especially good news for me and my Saturday companion (my best friend since grade school who doesn't know squat about baseball but is a good sport nonetheless), who had seats right next to an incredibly annoying gaggle of 14 year-olds. Kids, ya don't need to stand up and scream, at the top of your lungs, "Cubs SUUUUUUCK!" after every pitch, then turn around looking for someone to challenge you on the notion.
We moved, and then moved again when we realized the 5-year old girl behind our new spot seemed to want to outdo the teenage screamers with her own shrill cheerings. Was I that annoying as a kid?
Finally, we settled down, near a group of 6 couples in Richie Rich gear who parked down in the third inning (and left before the ninth -- I thought only Dodger fans did that?). The guy right in front of us wore a pink checked shirt with a gray polo sweater draped around his shoulders. Sunglasses around the neck, floppy hair, and a striped belt tucked in completed the look. Maybe the group got lost on their way to the Hamptons, or maybe -- who knows? -- members of the Yacht club are Mets fans.
As you can see, I'm desperately avoiding discussing what happened on the field. You could replay that ninth inning 10 times, and nine times out of ten the Cubs would've gotten the victory. Heck, you could have Hawkins throw a 2-2 pitch 50 times, and 49 times out of 50 it wouldn't result in a homerun. It was a bummer of a game.
I missed the first inning. Well, kinda sorta. A work friend I was meeting for the game ran into all sorts of trouble getting to the stadium, so like the good man I am (gimme a break), I waited 45 minutes for him to show up. This meant missing the Cubs stretching, the pregame rituals, and the first inning. Standing by the subway turnstiles outside Shea, I could hear the action, though. I wasn't sure if it was good news for the Cubs or Mets until I got inside, since the previous two games had crowds that were pretty evenly split. Sunday, however, had brought out the Mets fans, and I was crushed that they already had a 3-0 lead when I got to my seats.
At least no Mets scored while I was inside the stadium. Wood looked good, so it must have been a crazy first inning indeed. It was also great to see a more patient Cubs team in the last couple games, getting good counts and drawing walks when they weren't seeing pitches to hit. It's just unfortunate that every time someone got in scoring position, there was a sudden stream of strikeouts and weak grounders. Sosa seemed to go 0-16 in the series with 16 strikeouts, every one 'em coming with the bases loaded. I'm not piling on on Sosa—I feel bad for him, not angry at him—but it sure would have been nice if he had come through with a couple hits this past weekend.
In the end, the two runs weren't enough, and the Cubs somehow lost two of three to the suckwad Mets. I at least could chuckle at how excited some of the Mets fans seemed to be -- c'mon guys, your team is horrible -- but it was pretty sad that the Cubs lost to such a squad of mediocrities.
A couple other observations from the games:
Sammy and Neifi seem to get along well. They hang on the field before the games, doing sprints and stretches together. As long as this is just some Dominican comaraderie, I think it's great. Unfortunately, though, Sosa's been hitting like Neifi, and I fear a friendship between the two might add another reason for Hendry to sign Black Hole Perez next year.
Alou apparently has a lot of friends in New York. He spent half his time in the outfield Friday night chatting with some guys in the stands. "I'll call you", he mouthed at one point, putting his hand to his ear in the univeral phone gesture. Alou was also a heavy fan favorite at the park, with the cries of "Alooouuu" drowning out most every other cheer for a player, Met or Cub.
Derrek Lee and Todd Walker are one funny couple. The two of them playing catch is like a father playing with his 8 year-old son. I've thought it often before, but it still holds true: you really can't get a good feel for player's physiques on TV. Derrek is just ginormous, and never is this more apparent than when he's standing next to munchkin Walker. Todd looked like Derrek's between-inning snack.
Somehow the Cubs are still in the Wild Card lead after a thoroughly disappointing weekend. It's still in the Cubs' hands. Can they stir their aching bones to have one last good week?