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Love and Other Stuff

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

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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Joey Chestnut and the Pride of a Nation

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

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.

Elsewhere

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.

Finally

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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The Unfamiliar Taste of Victory

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

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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Game 76 – Gregg Almost Blows It

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

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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Cubs DFA Marmol

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

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:

CUBS DESIGNATE RHP CARLOS MARMOL FOR ASSIGNMENT, SELECT THE CONTRACT OF OUTFIELDER BRIAN BOGUSEVIC

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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Game 70 – Somebody Plunk Yadier

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

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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The Diary of Dale Sveum

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

6-17-13

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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Game 63 – The Reds Own Wrigley

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Reds 2, Cubs 1

Box Score / Highlights

To paraphrase the great philosopher Pedro Martinez, it might be time for the Cubs to just tip their hats and call the Reds their daddies. It sickens me to say it, but Cincinnati has won their last twelve games at Wrigley Field. They sort of own the Friendly Confines these days, and it doesn’t seem like there’s much the Cubs can do about it.

Wednesday’s loss wasn’t another lop-sided failure like Tuesday’s 12-2 embarrassment. Instead, it was a relative pitchers’ duel, with Travis Wood and Mike Leake both throwing well deep into the game. It really came down to a few well-timed hits, and the Cubs just couldn’t put together enough of them. In fact, they only managed three hits for the afternoon–meager production that made for a short, impressive day for the Reds’ pitching staff.

In the ten games since their five-game winning streak, the Cubs have gone 2-8, scoring a measly seven runs combined in those games. Translation: I don’t have a lot to say that would be worthwhile about this game or this team right now. There are times when we lose games by getting spectacularly out-pitched or out-hit by an overwhelming opponent. When the other team is that much better than ours, it’s easy to let those losses roll off your back.

Wednesday’s game was not one of those.

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Game 57 – Extra Inning Excitement

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Cubs 8, Angels 6

Box Score / Highlights

Like Jedi, this two-game series in Anaheim was my first chance to see the 2013 Cubs in person. And while you tend to miss a lot of the game when your group includes four children under the age of four, here’s a few things I walked away with from the Cubs’ extra innings win over the Angels.

Anthony Rizzo is a cool guy; he’s trying to help you. Prior to his single in the ninth inning, Anthony Rizzo had grounded out to first in each of his four at-bats. That’s the kind of night that can get into a hitter’s head; the kind of night that makes him start pressing in the wrong places and squandering late-inning opportunities. But not Rizzo. He came up in the tenth inning with the bases loaded and two outs–the exact kind of game-changing situation so many other Cubs’ sluggers have disappeared in in the past. Instead, Rizzo offered up the biggest hit of the night–a bases-clearing double to right, breaking the tie and giving the Cubs a protect-able cushion for the bottom of the tenth. Put it this way: a lot of hitters can inspire hope. Rizzo inspires confidence. In that situation there’s no one I would have rather step up to the plate (at least while Castro’s mojo is still AWOL).

Viva la Garza. I’ve been in the less-than-optimistic camp when it comes to Matt Garza’s return to form, but he seems to be doing well so far. Wednesday wasn’t the best performance I’ve seen from him, but it was better than serviceable, and therefore, better than what I expected. (Also in the better-than-expected camp: Ryan Sweeney.)

Trumbo in paradise. Much has been said already this season about the Angels’ high-priced roster of underperforming sluggers. What looks on paper to be a partial All-Star lineup has fallen far short of expectations, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a shakeup in the near future. One name that should be in demand is Mark Trumbo. On several other teams, he’d be one of the marquee players. For the Angels he fades into the background, despite his performance. Wednesday night he went 2-for-4 with two homers, driving in a third of Anaheim’s runs for the game and looking every bit the top-shelf hitting talent his teammates are paid to be. With a surplus of OFs and 1Bs who can hit, expect the Angels to shop Trumbo. And if Wednesday night was any indication, expect him to have several suitors.

If I could reach you, I would hit you. I cannot bring myself to trust Kevin Gregg with the baseball in his hands. Even if he’s been one of the Cubs’ most consistent relievers this season, he doesn’t inspire confidence when you watch him on the mound. In fact, he inspires the opposite of confidence. It’s an intense, concentrated worry; like the inescapable  feeling your bladder is about to explode, and you’re a great distance from shelter and a fresh pair of pants. And it’s all compounded by the still-vivid memories of his first, disastrous go-round with the Cubs. Gregg received the win for Wednesday’s effort, but the terminology is deceptive. He outlasted the Angels. Or better still: his ineptitude was overcome by theirs. (On a side note, I hit up the Portillo’s in Buena Park on the way home last night, along with what seemed to be most of the Cubs fans who attended the game. Amidst the crowd was a mildly jubilant, less-mildly drunk Cubs fan who was complaining about our shaky bullpen. He wanted me to know he was pleased we survived an inning of Marmol, even though Marmol never took the mound Wednesday. So I guess congratulations are in order for Hector Rondon, who it seems is officially the drunk man’s Carlos Marmol.)

Trip advisor. Since Southern California is a vacation destination, and there’s a good possibility that some readers might be heading out this way in the coming months, I want to give you a brief heads-up on the baseball situation in the greater LA area. Unless you’re a fan of rampant profanity, territorial aggression, drunken brawls, and a general lack of safety, I’d encourage you to skip Dodger Stadium altogether and instead head down to Angel Stadium. Seriously, the Anaheim crowd is friendly, peaceful, and into the game. None of that seems like an achievement until you’ve visited Dodger Stadium. But I strongly suggest you don’t.

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