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by Phil Bencomo
Their Japanese is rudimentary at best and, at its worst, implicitly insulting. Heck, half of them can't even pronounce his name correctly, much to the chagrin of parents forced, I can imagine, to either steer their children through minefield-like crowds of fans -- some inebriated, some not -- who stumble over vowels in unfortunate ways, or else bring pairs of earplugs to protect the sanctity of their children's virgin ears. But Cub fans do love Kosuke Fukudome, in a way unfelt by any Cub right fielder since Sammy Sosa.
If fans' bows and flamboyant, overtly stereotypical costumes come off as irreverent, that is far from the intention, as Fukudome must by now realize. Wearing traditional Japanese headbands (hachimaki) emblazoned with Fukudome's name and number, the fans in the right field bleachers love not a verb but a proper noun. Formerly where vitriolic cries made clear that the only love in those bleachers was a love to hate the Cubs' latest attempt at a productive successor to Sosa, right field could not be more different today.
I spent Thursday in those bleachers, basking in the warmth of the endearment (which, by the way, is a poor replacement for thermometer-registering warmth). A 20-something man, garbed in an uwagi, hakama and Fukudome hachimaki, wandered from aisle to aisle, bowing incessantly to Fukudome, fans, security personnel -- sometimes to no one in particular. A brave (foolish?) group of young men stood shirtless with FUKUDOME spelled across their chests; these painted fans lasted two-thirds of the game out in the harsh wind before retreating to the relative warmth below the stands.
It's a strange feeling, after so much Jacque Jones bashing, to be surrounded by endless cheering and adoration -- pure positivity. But it's even stranger when the object of it all surpasses even the grandest of expectations. Last spring, for example, fans greeted Alfonso Soriano with the loudest of ovations, but his April was one to forget: Two weeks of mediocrity, an injury, and another middling week left fans thirsting for more. Fukudome will slow down after a torrid week, but his first will remain memorable.
Cub fans are a fickle bunch, though, and I have to wonder: How much patience will they have for Fukudome when he inevitably returns to the ground from his cloud walking?
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A compelling reason, I'd say, why the name "Wrigley Field," sans any sort of presented-by label, is not long for this world:
Tribune Co is at risk of defaulting on its debt in as little as 18 months if the newspaper business deteriorates further, and it fails to unload more properties. ... Tribune has nearly $4 billion in debt and interest payments due by the end of 2009, according to Gimme Credit analyst Dave Novosel, making it all but certain that the company will be forced to sell more marquee properties and make deeper cost cuts to avoid violating debt covenants.
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Reader joejoejoe passes along this article previewing the Daytona Cubs. Enjoy.