View From The Bleachers

May 29, 2015

In Praise of Inanimate Objects

Filed under: Featured,General — Jeremiah Johnson @ 11:09 am

A strange thing recently happened at Wrigley Field. Something that, quite possibly, had never happened before.

On Saturday, May 16, the Cubs were playing the Pirates. Dexter Fowler led off the bottom of the third inning with a single, and promptly tried to steal second base. He was called out on a close play, and Joe Maddon challenged the call. None of this was out of the ordinary.

What made it different was that, rather than waiting in relative silence for the umpiring crew’s decision, the nearly 39,000 in attendance—including my wife and I—could see the replay for themselves. In fact, we saw it repeatedly, from all the available angles, over and over, in vivid and larger-than-life detail on Wrigley Field’s new video boards.

I’ll admit I was one of the skeptics who immediately turned up my nose at the idea of adding a giant video screens to Wrigley. For years, I have proudly defended the Cubs’ lack of a Jumbotron. Even when it was clear that it would greatly increase advertising revenue for the team, I was a staunch opponent. I didn’t need to be bombarded with ads after every half inning. I didn’t care about expanded stats for pitchers and batters, or having a better look at opposing players’ headshots. I didn’t want whatever meager insights we’re meant to glean from those awkward team Q&As. I had no interest whatsoever in an animated shell game. And while I’m always down for a good blooper reel, I didn’t need any of that, either.

To me, the only mildly persuasive argument for a Jumbotron was always the ability to show replays. And even then, I didn’t believe that one improvement was worth breaking up the picturesque outfield skyline.

I was wrong.

The Cubs have done a remarkable job integrating the new video boards into the look and feel of Wrigley Field, and showed a great deal of restraint as they stretch the legs of this new park feature.

For starters, I’d like to thank whomever it was that decided to stick with Wrigley’s established color palate for all the new graphics. It’s not necessarily something you often think about, but virtually all the signage at Wrigley falls in line with the colors on the scoreboard. Almost every printed surface you see in the park is a muted green background (just like the scoreboard façade) with white lettering (just like all the letters and numbers on the scoreboard), with occasional flashes of yellow (the color used to track hits for each team and indicate scoring in the current inning). I’m not sure the scoreboard first established that color palate, but it seems clear that it sets the tone for everything else in the stadium—including the new video boards. It’s a subtle touch, but a welcome one for those of us who obsess over pay attention to such things.

The same goes for highlighting the blue W in the Wintrust sign above the larger of the two boards after Cubs wins. Subtle, clever touches like that let you know that someone in the Cubs organization is paying attention.

But even in the less subtle uses, the Cubs have kept it classy. Check out this video that runs before each game, welcoming fans to the Friendly Confines. (Upon further review, it seems this is a slightly different edit of the welcome video, but it gives you the gist.) Pretty impressive, huh? It makes me wish I was there right now. Whether it’s your first time at Wrigley or you’re a season ticket holder, that video is a welcome reminder that you’re in a very special place.

And I haven’t even mentioned the quality of the replays they’re now able to show. My wife and I were in town for a couple games. Both times we sat in the left field bleachers, under the big Jumbotron—usually the worst vantage point for replays and other media on the video boards (by comparison, it’s virtually impossible to see anything on the Dodgervision screen from LA’s left field pavilion). But in Wrigley, I had no problem seeing the screen. In fact, the visual detail was fairly stunning.

Every eye in the stadium that day was glued to Jumbotrons. It was a little surreal to be able to watch it the replay over and over—watch the highlight from the game, and you can hear the crowd cheer as Fowler sneaks his hand in underneath the tag. Even the Pirates announcing crew spotted the difference in the fans’ engagement in the action thanks to the advent of the video boards.

But the video evidence we all enjoyed wasn’t enough to convince the MLB staff in New York. The umpires upheld the original, incorrect call, and the fans booed vigorously in response. Some things never change.

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April 3, 2015

Catching the Faint Whiff of Optimism in the Air

Filed under: Featured,General — Jeremiah Johnson @ 6:07 am

I blame my wife. Because of her, I have largely missed—or been spared, depending on how you look at it—the majority of the Cubs’ last two seasons. I haven’t had to watch them find new and exciting ways to throw away winnable games. I haven’t suffered the emotional and mental anguish of repeated late-inning collapses. I haven’t wallowed in loss after frustrating loss, desperate for October’s arrival and the end of the pain. Marriage is the best.

That’s not to say I’ve been totally disconnected from the Cubs—I’ve looked in from time to time to see how Castro and Rizzo were doing, or to remind myself who the starting outfielders were. And I’m still a season ticket holder, so it’s not like I could ignore them altogether. But for the most part, the Cubs have been less like an immediate part of the family. For the last several months they’ve been more like a distant relative—the only time I hear from them is when they need money.

But this season is different, and you already know why. This Cubs team, unlike the last few squads, has more than just a faint whiff of hope and optimism about them. Like a high school freshman trying to mask the stench of mid-morning gym class, these Cubs are drenched in the sweet perfume of high-ceiling potential and—here’s the kicker for me—competitive relevance.

Like most of you, I don’t have spectacularly high hopes for 2015. What I want to see more than anything else from this year’s team (and beyond) is simply that they’d be playing meaningful games late into September (and, perhaps, beyond). The Wild Card play-in game, the NL Central crown, and the World Series are all fine goals, and I’m thrilled that the players and the media are mentioning them without sarcastic smirks. But I’ll happily settle for consistent competitiveness that keeps us relevant throughout the season. And I’ll wait to start making my postseason plans until that’s the new norm.

Here’s a few other things I’m looking forward to this season, in no particular order:

  • Several writers have referred to the hiring of Joe Maddon as the best free agent signing of the offseason. I didn’t closely follow his work in Tampa Bay, but I know his reputation, and I’m eager to see what he does with the hand he’s been dealt. He won’t have to do much to be the best Cubs manager since, well . . . in a really long time.
  • I’m also interested to see how the Rick Renteria situation backfires on us. I’m thrilled we’ve got Maddon, but I concerned the way things went down with Reteria may come back to haunt us. Doubt me if you must, but just remember we had this conversation when a few months from now he inevitably takes a job with St. Louis.
  • I know the baseball world is foaming at the mouth for Kris Bryant, and that once his stay in service time purgatory is over, his every at-bat will be must-see TV. I got a chance to see him in person this spring, and the hype not unmerited. But I’m equally excited for a full year of Jorge Soler. Both guys possess Asgardian power, and Soler’s plate discipline has many people thinking he’s actually the better candidate for Rookie of the Year. Either way, I’m ecstatic at the prospect of watching the two of them treat us to a season-long home run derby.
  • Is Jon Lester an ace? And what’s it like to have one anchoring your pitching staff? I can’t wait to find out.
  • Anthony Rizzo is 25 years old. So is Starlin Castro. In spite of that, they’re now the veteran leaders, and two of the longest-tenured Cubs this season. While the youngsters (relative term) are getting the headlines, much of the burden still falls on those two. After bouncing back to form last season, what next step is there for either of them to take?
  • Is there an adjustment that can fix the gaping holes in Javier Baez’s swing, and is he capable of making it? Or is he just the next Corey Patterson?
  • It sounds crazy, but I like he idea of breaking camp with three catchers on the roster. I understand what Miguel Montero brings to the table, and that his familiarity with David Ross might make a huge difference in Lester’s performance. But I’m glad the Cubs didn’t simply dump Welington Castillo—that he was able to show he still has some value to the team. It’ll be interesting to see how they juggle all three guys in the early going, and how they feature Castillo if they still think of him as trade bait. And yes, if nothing else changes, I fully expect his value to plummet right around the time the Cubs are ready to promote Bryant.
  • I’m on record as being a big fan of the super-utility player, and it seems that the Cubs believe they have one in Arismendy Alcantara. I haven’t seen enough to know if he possesses DeRosian talent, but Maddon clearly likes the flexibility he affords, and I look forward to how the Cubs will exploit it.
  • While I can’t fully articulate why, I like Chris Coghlan. I thought he was a pleasant surprise last season, and in spite of the supposed benefits of a platoon, I’m rooting for him to win the left field job outright.
  • I’ll confess I have only a passing familiarity with our bullpen. I honestly might struggle to name more than two or three of our relievers without peeking at the roster. But I hear good things. And while it will be strange adjusting to an effective bullpen, I’m going to make every effort.
  • Finally, I’m looking forward to Opening Day. The sense of anticipation that surrounds this Cubs team had been noticeably absent for the last few years. The last couple seasons have been little more than sad inevitabilities. But now, finally, we’re looking ahead to legitimately exciting possibilities. Whatever the season holds, I’m happy to be happy for the start of baseball again. That’s not much, but it’s something. And it’ll have me paying attention to these Cubs in a way I haven’t for a while now. I can’t wait for Sunday to get here. Let’s play two.
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September 11, 2013

Love and Other Stuff

Filed under: Featured,General — Jeremiah Johnson @ 2:50 am

For the first time in, well… ever, I have a serious girlfriend. We’ve been dating for a while now, and I’m happy to blame her for a considerable amount of my recent silence here on VFTB.

Being in a serious relationship has forced me to ask all kinds of questions I’ve never had to consider before; it’s also revealed just how few good answers I really have. One of those questions–and perhaps the only one pertinent to this blog–is “How do I talk this woman into caring about the Cubs?” And frankly, I didn’t have a clue where to start.

Some of us were born Cubs fans, while the rest chose to jump aboard one of the many doomed bandwagons along the way. But when it comes time to sell someone else–especially someone you care deeply for–on a team as historically snake-bitten as the Cubs, where do you begin? How do you look your significant other in the eye and knowingly invite her into our world of dashed hopes, frustrated plans, and annual depression? Wouldn’t it actually be more loving to encourage them to cheer for another team?

Obviously we don’t have a rich championship history to draw on. But even the history we do have is a fairly mixed bag–really, who’s attracted to endless stories about near-misses and late-season collapses? We’re also a little short on colorful characters these days. Apart from Ernie Banks, are any former Cubs legends all that endearing or engaging? We love them because they’re our guys, but would a stranger to the team really want to hear Billy Williams or Fergie Jenkins wax eloquent about the good old days? And the current roster isn’t much better when it comes to catching and holding the interest of the casual fan.

In the end, Wrigley Field might be the team’s only selling point. However, it is an extraordinarily strong one. How many Cubs fans point back to their first visit to Wrigley–that first plunge into the intimate sea of green ivy and grass–as the moment they fell in love with the Cubs? How many die-hard fans started out as casual bleacher bums during their college days? How many lifelong fans fell in love with the team on endless summer afternoons spent in the stands? I’m convinced if you could take someone to Wrigley Field, you could get them to love the Cubs. Or at the very least, tolerate them.

As it turns out, my girl is a pretty good sport, so she didn’t take that much convincing. So far I’ve dragged her to three Cubs games during their recent West Coast trip, and they managed to win two of them. I told her she’s good for the team, and that I need to take her to as many more games as possible. We’ll see if she buys it.

Elsewhere, the Cubs broke out the bats Tuesday night behind Edwin Jackson, pounding the Reds for nine runs on four home runs, including two from Welington Castillo and one from Jackson himself. You can see all the highlights of the drubbing here.

Jesse Rogers thinks we might be on the other side of Starlin Castro’s extended slump. Hooray!

Pete Ricketts is running for Governor of Nebraska. The article also serves as a good primer for any fans not up on all the Ricketts’ political leanings.

And finally, the Cubs have released their schedule for the 2014 season. Am I the only one who, despite this dumpster fire of a season, looks at this and starts making plans for next summer?

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July 4, 2013

Joey Chestnut and the Pride of a Nation

Filed under: Featured,General — Jeremiah Johnson @ 4:04 am

About Last Night

Warm center of the trade-talk universe Matt Garza out-dueled a hippo Bartolo Colon in the Cubs’ 3-1 victory over the A’s. Colon threw his first wild pitch in more than four years, which is particularly remarkable when you factor in all the sloshing around involved in his windup. Luis Valbuena hit his 7th home run of the season, Alfonso Soriano drove in his 37th RBI in the last 50 games, and Kevin Gregg recorded his 14th save in 15 attempts. Click through for the box score and highlights from the game. Earlier in the day, the Cubs made room for some of their new acquisitions by demoting Chris Rusin and DFA’ing Shawn Camp. Camp has played for Cubs’ manager Dale a couple times in his career, and Dale was not pleased to give him the news.


Detroit’s Matt Max Scherzer is the first pitcher to start the season 13-0 in 27 years.

The Rangers took a gamble and signed Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal.

Rapper, media mogul, and burgeoning sports agent Jay-Z takes a swipe at Scott Boras in a new song. Mr. Z recently stole Robinson Cano away from Boras.

More evidence has come to light in the Aaron Hernandez case. Whether it’s the smashed phone and security system, trying to get a quickie, post-incarceration marriage to his girlfriend, or keeping a secret “flop house” apartment, it’s like he was working his way through a checklist of incredibly suspicious behavior. Even with only the limited information that’s come out so far, it’s virtually impossible to imagine a scenario in which he’s totally innocent.

Competitive eating living legend Joey Chestnut is going for his 7th consecutive win in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. With no Kobayashi again this year, it would appear Chestnut should have an easy time of it. As stomach-churningly gross as it is, I’ll be watching.


It’s the Fourth of July today, so it seems like a good time to revisit the finest snag of Rick Monday’s career. Happy Independence Day, everyone.

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July 2, 2013

The Unfamiliar Taste of Victory

Filed under: Featured,General — Jeremiah Johnson @ 1:59 pm

Last week my favorite hockey team hoisted the Stanley Cup. It was their second championship in four years, but the elation of their success was still slightly foreign to me. I’m not yet used to the taste of victory.

It’s not that I’ve gone out of my way to cheer for losers. I don’t have a fixation on underdogs, and I’m not particularly fond of suffering, even when it comes to something as relatively inconsequential as sports.

But at the same time, I’ve never been one to leap aboard bandwagons. At least in the sports I care about, I’ve got my teams and I’m content to win and (usually) lose with them. In most cases, I’m not adopting one of the remaining championship contenders as much as rooting vigorously against teams I already can’t stand. Often it comes down to a simple process of elimination—“Which team can I most tolerate winning?”

But even in sports I’m relatively new to, I can’t bring myself to latch onto the front-runner. That’s how it was with the NHL. My friend Mike—the biggest Detroit sports fan I’ve ever known—first introduced me to hockey about six or seven years ago. Of course I was aware of hockey before that, but I’d never really paid attention to it. The poor quality of standard definition television made the sport more of a chore to watch than a pleasure. It took someone with the boundless enthusiasm of Mike to teach me the nuances of the game and to appreciate its uniqueness, both subtle and overt.

As I said, Mike was a massive Detroit fan, which meant the first several games I attended in person were Red Wings games. And with their unbelievable streak of consecutive playoff appearances (twenty-two and counting) and their frequent trips to the Stanley Cup finals, the Wings would have been an easy team to cheer for*.

*And in Mike’s memory, I often do.

But my inherent aversion to bandwagoning wouldn’t let me hop on board with Detroit. Not that I’m particularly overflowing with any of them, but shouldn’t class, dignity, and good taste keep someone from deciding they like a sport and that sport’s best team at the same time? Perhaps there’s something broken in me that makes me think fandom ought to include struggle, but I’m not sure you can ever truly appreciate winning with a team until you’ve lost with them.

Instead I decided to root for the Blackhawks. It was an easy choice really. I already had ties to other Chicago sports teams, they were young squad with lots of raw talent (Toews and Kane were drafted right around the time I started following hockey), and they were an Original Six team with lots of history—that last one was particularly important to Mike. And most important of all, they had no bandwagon to speak of.

As it turns out, I was catching the team at just the right time. Within a couple seasons, they were facing off against the Red Wings in the conference finals. That next year they won their first Stanley Cup since the early 60’s.

That was the first time one of my teams had ever been the champions, and even amidst the celebration it felt a little uncomfortable, like perhaps I hadn’t yet earned the right to celebrate. I hadn’t passed through the crucible of repeated disappointment on my way to the promised land of victory**.

**Yeah, something in me is definitely broken.

This most recent celebration felt a little more earned. I’d watched as that first championship team was gutted, and as the Hawks were bounced early from the playoffs two years in a row—not exactly lean years, mind you, but the kind of performances that make you wonder which direction the team is headed.

The reality is I didn’t earn anything. My suffering or not suffering along with my teams has no bearing on their performance or the outcomes of their seasons. I am inconsequential to their victories as well as their defeats. It’s mostly a one-way investment, but the amount time you suffer with them in defeat is directly proportional to your ecstasy in victory.

Which is why I can’t wait for the day when the Cubs win it all.

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June 27, 2013

Game 76 – Gregg Almost Blows It

Filed under: General — Jeremiah Johnson @ 3:09 pm

Cubs 5, Brewers 4

Box Score / Highlights

You ever get so busy you literally forget what day it is? That’s the kind of day I had yesterday, which is how I managed to go to bed oblivious to the fact that I still had a recap to write. Apologies for the delay, and for the hasty manner in which I’m throwing this together. I didn’t see the game, but here’s what I’ve managed to glean:

  • Scott Feldman threw six solid-ish innings.
  • One of the runs he surrendered was a solo homer to Aramis Ramirez in the second inning, which was also the former Cub’s 2000th career hit. Another former Cub, Tom Gorzelanny, caught the ball with his cap in the Brewers’ bullpen.
  • Brian Bogusevic is accomplishing something with the roster spot Carlos Marmol used to occupy–he had two hits Wednesday, along with Luis Valbuena and a rested and refreshed Starlin Castro.
  • Kevin Gregg tried to give the game away in the ninth. He might have succeeded if not for this play at the plate to throw out a charging Rickie Weeks.

What did I miss?

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June 25, 2013

Cubs DFA Marmol

Filed under: Featured,General — Jeremiah Johnson @ 12:52 pm

The Cubs just announced news that’s sure to be a relief to most of their fans: Carlos Marmol has been designated for assignment. And in other unsurprising news, the team has released disgruntled third baseman Ian Stewart. It seems the Cubs–often considered baseball’s Biggest Losers–are finally shedding some dead weight.

Here’s the press release regarding Marmol:


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

MILWAUKEE – The Chicago Cubs today designated right-handed pitcher Carlos Marmol for assignment and selected the contract of outfielder Brian Bogusevic.

Bogusevic will wear uniform number 66 and be available for the Cubs tonight when they start a three-game series in Milwaukee.

The 29-year-old Bogusevic joins the Cubs after batting .319 (83-for-260) with 14 doubles, three triples, 10 home runs, 32 RBI and 16 stolen bases in 78 games with Iowa this season.  The left-handed batter and thrower turned in a .418 on-base percentage and a .512 slugging percentage, good for a .929 OPS.

This past offseason, Bogusevic signed a minor league contract with the Cubs that included an invite to big league spring training.  He batted .410 (16-for-39) with a .452 on-base percentage, a .692 slugging percentage and a 1.144 OPS before being one of the final cuts of the spring.

Bogusevic spent all or part of three big league seasons with Houston (2010-12), including the entire 2012 season when he saw action in 146 games and hit .203 (72-for-355) with nine doubles, two triples, seven home runs and 28 RBI.  The 6-foot-3, 219-pound Bogusevic was originally selected in the first round (24th overall) of the 2005 Draft as a left-handed pitcher but converted to outfield midway through the 2008 campaign.

Marmol, 30, went 2-4 with two saves and a 5.86 ERA (18 ER/27.2 IP) in 31 relief appearances this season.  He struck out 32 and walked 21 batters in 27.2 innings pitched, an average of 10.4 strikeouts and 6.8 walks per nine innings.

The righthander originally signed with the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent on July 3, 1999.  Signed as a catcher, Marmol converted to a pitcher prior to the 2003 season and made his big league debut in 2006.  A National League All-Star in 2008 as a set-up man, Marmol holds the franchise mark with 82 career holds.  Marmol became the closer in late 2009 and compiled 117 saves, third most in team history.  Overall, he went 23-32 with a 3.50 ERA (211 ER/542.1 IP) in 483 appearances with the Cubs, 470 of the outings in relief.

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June 20, 2013

Game 70 – Somebody Plunk Yadier

Filed under: Featured,General — Jeremiah Johnson @ 4:54 am

Cubs 1, Cardinals 4

Box Score / Highlights

Yadier Molina is currently the hottest hitter in baseball. Let that wash over you for a second. One of the most infuriating players on one of the most infuriating teams in the game is having a career year. It’s utterly sickening. Coming into Wednesday night’s game, Molina had already been a major contributor in the first two games of the series. He’d spread five hits over those two games, driving in a total of three runs. He only added one hit Wednesday night, but it was a big one–a two-run homer in the sixth to break the 1-1 tie and give the Cards a lead they’d never surrender. There was a time not that long ago when Molina’s hitting was considered spotty–in fact, he was sometimes one of the few easy outs in the St. Louis lineup. Today he’s hitting an insane .365, by far the league lead.

I ‘d like to suggest a solution for our Molina-shaped problem: plunk him. Dale needs to go old school on him, and throw a little fear into each of his at-bats. He’s seeing the ball too well lately; making productive contact with alarming ease these days. He’s even got some of his teammates prematurely talking MVP. Let’s give him something to think about on our way out of town. Frankly, I think this Cubs team could benefit from getting into a skirmish or two. And if you’re going to start something, you might as well do it by going after the best player for your arch rival.

Because as it sits right now, there’s not a lot of life in this team. Wednesday night they were held to just two hits, and wouldn’t have scored at all if it weren’t for Anthony Rizzo knocking the ball away from Molina to cross the plate after a Darwin Barney sac fly.

In fact, when I read about the Cubs’ poor performance Wednesday, I was even more pleased with my decision to watch the Blackhawks vs. Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals instead. The game was incredible–thanks for asking. Lots of momentum swings, and lots of scoring and hitting. The Hawks pulled out the dramatic win in overtime to even the series at 2-2 as they head back to Chicago for Game 5 Saturday night. If you’re interested, you can see the highlights here. It was certainly as conversation-worthy as the Cubs’ meager efforts last night.

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June 18, 2013

The Diary of Dale Sveum

Filed under: Featured,General — Jeremiah Johnson @ 1:57 pm


Dear Diary,

Well, I got myself kicked out of another game tonight. The umps handed a run to the Cards in the 7th, even though Yadi Molina was out by a mile. What kind of man accepts “Yadi” as a nickname? And how lazy does a fan base need to be to settle on that for their All Star catcher? Seriously, he’s the face of their franchise–they can’t do any better than that? And why does no one seem to care that he’s got musical notes tattooed on his neck? It might as well be one of those My Little Ponies. I’ll bet he’s one of those Bronies, just like Dempster. I hate coming to St. Louis. It’s just denim shorts and missing teeth as far as the eye can see.

There should be a height requirement for umpires. My neck is killing me from arguing with D.J. Reyburn. The guy’s a midget in twelve states. It’s amazing he can even get his tiny, Oompa Loompa hands around a baseball. I’ll have to pay more attention next time and see if he has to use both hands. Mental note: next time bring out something for him to stand on so I don’t have to swear at the top of his tiny hat.

I did manage to make it into the clubhouse in time to catch a little bit of the Tigers game. I miss Prince. I miss the way he got us all to lie about him being a vegetarian–for crying out loud, his batting gloves were made out of bacon! I miss the way he sloshed around the bases, and the way everyone had to pretend he didn’t look like he was about to die. Sure he’s a fat slob, but he was our fat slob. It would be weird to call him in the middle of the season, wouldn’t it? I’d give anything to hear his exhausted voice again; the way he pants uncontrollably because he had to get up to answer the phone. Mental note: maybe we can get Marmol to tell people he’s got epilepsy or palsy or something that could be an excuse for how much he sucks.

I still don’t miss Braun.

Alright, I gotta hit the sack. Tomorrow’s game isn’t going to mismanage itself. LOL!

But seriously, it’s getting harder and harder to drag myself to the stadium every day. Theo and Jed keep saying they’re not holding these losses against me. But then why is Mike Scioscia’s phone number always on Theo’s desk? And why doesn’t he even try to hide it? There’s no way the Angels would make him their fall guy, right? Right?

I’m so alone.

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