Author Archive

Pulling For The Underdog

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

 

 

Everybody loves the Cubs; The underdogs, the Lovable Losers. What’s not to love? The Cubs have team history that is filled with iconic players like Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, and announcers like Harry Caray – it doesn’t matter where you go or who you talk to, people recognize those names. Wrigley Field is a travel destination of baseball fans around the world. There is only one thing that Cubs are missing: A World Series championship in the Modern Era.

To some, it’s a joke. To others, it’s a dream. Regardless of their lot in life, people want to see the Cubs win. Even Cardinals’ fans, in the deepest recesses of their rotten hearts, would like to see the Cubs win one just once.

Everybody pulls for the underdog at some point. The Cubs just happen to be the perennial underdog that is just out of reach of the goal, regardless of the talent of the players on the field or the reputation of the coaches in the dugout. Even the strongest fan base in baseball cannot pull them out of the mire of perpetual losing.

Baseball fans, regardless of the team, respect the Cubs’ fan base and its unconditional loyalty to the team and the players. It is a fan base that allows Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano grace the backs of fans from all walks of life. It is fan base in which kids still dream of being Sammy Sosa, hitting a home run off the Budweiser rooftop across Waveland. It is fan base that seems to remember and love everybody, except for their own underdogs.

Even to this day, everybody loves Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, even though Wood is newly retired and Prior is attempting a comeback with the Red Sox organization. Sammy Sosa is a household name, even after the corked bat episode and the strange skin-lightening incident. Mark DeRosa won the hearts of the lady Cub fans, and they were livid when he was let go.

But what about the underdogs of the Cubs? The men that epitomize who the Cubs are? These are the guys that work hard to help pull the team together behind the All Star players. A few of them are recognized, but the rest become punchlines in jokes or float off into oblivion.

Most fans remember the likes of Moises Alou and Corey Patterson, Sosa’s supporting cast in the outfield in ’03 and ’04. Patterson, the up-and-coming prospect and Alou, the veteran left fielder. But who remembers Kenny Lofton?

Lofton batted .327 in 2003. In the NLCS he batted .323. Kenny was great for the Cubs, and a few people can be seen sporting his jersey around Wrigley Field any given afternoon.

The Cubs finished the 2004 season at 89-73. By then, Patterson and Lofton were beginning to fade into the background. Todd Hollandsworth was the new name in the outfield. In one of his first games as a Cubbie, he made a leaping catch against the ivy, expecting the wall to absorb some impact. Little did he know that under the ivy is solid brick. He came away bloodied and bruised, with a .318 average that year. Unfortunately, now he is pounding his head against the metaphorical brick wall as his less than stellar announcing abilities are scrutinized by Cubs fans across the nation.

Midway through 2004 and into 2005, the infield was graced with Nomar “Nomar Curse” Garciaparra. With all the excitement over Nomar, Todd Walker got overlooked. Most people seem to forget about him, yet he hit .305 that year.

And let us not forget Adam Greenberg, the aspiring young ballplayer that embodied the spirit and desire to win that every Cubs player has. And, much like the Cubs organization, he experienced an ill-fated, unforeseen turn of events that ended his season in an instant.

The underdogs. The guys that make the Lovable Losers so lovable are forgotten more than they are remembered. Even the underdogs, the mediocre players, have bursts of greatness that rival those of the star players. But once the burst dies down, their efforts and contributions are forgotten like leftovers that are left in the fridge too long: the good moments are forgotten, and the not-so-good moments are fresh in everyone’s memories.

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Game 93: Just When Things Are Looking Good…

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Box Score / Highlights 

The Game: The game was quite brutal tonight. It didn’t start out so bad, but Garza was pulled after 3 innings for cramps in his right triceps. He pitched well until he was pulled, only giving up 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out three. Justin Germano came in as relief for Garza and pitched well in his Cubs debut. He gave up 4 hits and 1 run and was replaced by Russell in the 7th. After that it all went downhill from there. St. Louis hit seven doubles and scored 12 times. The last time the Cubs gave up 12 runs in an inning was July 30, 2010, against the Rockies. 

The Cubs did have a scoring opportunity in the first, but it was wasted when Soto grounded out to end the inning. The Cubs were 4-hit. It seems like the hot streak is over and everything is going back to how it used to be.

Summary: The past two games were not good. Hopefully all the stink is out of the Cubs for the week, as tomorrow is Ron Santo day. It seems absolutely necessary to win one in honor of Ron. Nobody loved the Cubs as much as he did.

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Game 92: The Streak

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

The Good: The good was as scarce as rain in southern Wisconsin. Aside from the sequence of LaHair’s walk, Clevenger’s single, and Barney’s sac fly in the second, not much else happened. Rizzo recorded another hit, making his average an incredible .333. He is .51 points ahead of the other starters on the team. 

The Mediocre: Dempster gave up 3 runs in the first inning, ending his scoreless streak at 33. He is tied with Ken Holtzman who managed the same feat in 1969. 

After Demp’s disappointing first inning, the only other mistake he made was the longest home run at New Busch Stadium, a 469 footer to Matt Holiday. Dempster had a sense of humor about it, saying that it was hit so hard, it traveled all the way to the Arch.

After tonight’s outing, his ERA is a whopping 2.11, which is tied for first place in the league. You know who he’s tied with? Chris Sale of the White Sox. Rumors were speculating about Dempster going to the South Side, and if he was to go there Sale would need to be part of the deal.

Speaking of trade rumors, has anyone heard anything about Dempster possibly being traded?

In all seriousness, I thought he would have been traded to the Dodgers before the game. I am extremely curious to see what happens, because there is the possibility that he doesn’t get traded.

Summary: Today’s Cubs looked like the Cubs we’ve been used to this season. Very little offense and the pitching got into an early hole. There was just a lot of mediocrity on the Cubs end of the game. It has been fun watching the Cubs play well, but can the Cubs win next year with this team? Probably not. 

Colorado: Today was a horribly tragic day in Colorado, after 12 people were killed and 38 were injured in a movie theater shooting. Keep the families of the victims in your thoughts and prayers. 

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Just Can’t Get Enough

Monday, July 9th, 2012

“Hey, Dad, why did that guy just run toward the Cubs’ pitcher?”

“Because the pitcher threw the ball inside and it almost hit the batter and made him mad.”

“What’s that pitcher’s name? He’s got a pretty good arm for punching.”

“That is Kyle Farnsworth, honey.”

Kyle Farnsworth – The name that forever changed my life. Thanks to Kyle, ever since June 19, 2003 the Cubs have been a vice in my life, and I just can’t get enough of the roller coaster each season brings.

Maybe it was the excitement of the 2003 season. Maybe it was the one-two punch of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, Matt Clement’s facial hair, or the power hitting combo of Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa.

It could have been the rivalry between the Cubs and the Cardinals and getting in arguments with that annoying kid in the 8th grade class about why the Cardinals were the worst team ever. It could have been the discussions that my cousins and I had about how awesome Sammy was, and how Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were never going to hit a home run further than he could. Whatever it was, 24 hours was not nearly enough time to talk about the team.

By the time August and September of 2003 rolled around, I was hooked. Every morning before school I would wake up to watch the highlights of yesterday’s game. On the way to school, Dad and I would talk about the pitching, batting, and what the heck RBI meant.

The NLDS came, and the Braves fan base proved to be the most obnoxious people in the world, pretending their arms were tomahawks while trying to “o0o” on key. Robert Fick became public enemy No. 1 after trying to knock the ball out of Eric Karros’ glove at first base. Thank goodness the Cubs won it in 5 games.

Then the NLCS happened.

Dad had a work meeting during game 6 of the NLCS and came home to find his children sobbing and his wife livid – “Look what you’ve done! You made us all Cub fans!” I didn’t think my little heart could break into any more pieces. How could they do this to me?

But the cruelty of the 2003 NLCS couldn’t keep me away. I just couldn’t get enough of this team.

In 2005, I watched Neifi Perez hit a grand slam to beat St. Louis in 10 innings at Old Busch Stadium. In 2006, the pieces of my innocent heart attached themselves to two unlikely heroes: Michael Barrett and Ryan Theriot. They both hit over .300 that year. I even wrote a 5 page paper about the Cubs that year for a writing class, talking about the best players and the things great things that Dusty could bring this team to do. But once the rosy colored glasses came off, it was no longer “In Dusty We Trusty”, but rather, “This guy stinks. Let’s get somebody else at the helm of this team.”

Enter The Big Blue Blob – aka “Sweet” Lou Piniella. Sweet Lou had the fire. He had the drive. He had that blue pullover jacket that made him look like the Blob. It all worked together and he took us to the top of the division in 2007. It was an exciting year. We cheered for players like Jacque Jones; he couldn’t hit, couldn’t throw, and couldn’t catch, but other than that, he was a pretty good ballplayer! We were excited about the signing of Alfonso Soriano, the player who would take us to new heights and bring the pennant back to Chicago after 99 years. We won the division, but amounted to nothing after that. It was OK, though, because going from last place to first place in one year is quite the feat.

And I couldn’t get enough.

2008 took us to the top of the division once again. Theriot, Johnson, and Fontenot all batted over .300 that season. Our pitching staff was incredible: no matter who took the mound, we were in the game. Enemies became beloved teammates: Jim Edmonds brought his trademark hustle and clutch hitting to the Northside and stirred up the ire of Cardinals fans across the nation.

My family was caught up in Cubs’ mania: we went to as many games as we could, even if it meant leaving church early. To many people, leaving church early is not a big deal. Most people would probably just skip church to get to the game. However, when your father is the pastor of your church, leaving early is risky business: “You left church early to go to a baseball game and sit with people who are drunk on $6.50 beer?” Yes, yes we did. While the congregation was singing the final verse of “How Great Thou Art” the preacher’s family was speeding down I-90, along with the chairman of the church board, trying to make it to Wrigley by 1:20 PM Central Time. “Go ye, therefore, into all the world…”

It turned out to be quite the religious experience, as my mother and I were baptized with beer thanks to the Indians fans behind us. Dad almost lost his religion that day. Even those circumstances couldn’t keep us away.

When September rolled around, Chicago fans across the nation were abuzz with excitement. Ron Santo assured us that “THIS. IS. THE. YEAR!” Then we got swept in the first round by Manny Ramirez and the Los Angeles Dodgers. That’s OK, though, because there was always next year.

2009 brought much grief into my heart as our 2008 team was slowly ripped apart at the seams. Players like Michael Barrett and Rich Hill were shipped away to “greener pastures.” DeRosa got booted out the door for the likes of Aaron Miles. Hendry chalked up another great signing by bringing in Milton Bradley to complement the Soriano and Fukudome duo in the outfield.

Everything went downhill from there. The glory days were over. The days of Mike Quade and Blake DeWitt loomed on the horizon.

Derek Lee was beginning his decline into mediocrity, Theriot and Lilly were traded just hours before the deadline. 2010 was the dagger in the heart of Cubs fans everywhere. The end of the Hendry’s 3-year experiment was here, and it was not pretty. We were left to try and pick up the pieces of a rag-tag team with a rogue manager, but the damage was done. The team was stuck with Soriano for five more years. My favorite players – Rich Harden, Ryan Theriot, and Mike Fontenot – were gone forever. My broken heart was attached to the team, though, and there was no turning back, even if I wanted to – which I didn’t want to. What kind of Cubs fan would want to turn away from the team?

Now Theo & Co. has us on the edges of our seats. Even though our team is on the verge of being historically terrible, there is a silver lining. Maybe it’s the thrill of watching a team be built from the bottom up. Maybe it’s the anticipation of Theo slipping up and making a boneheaded trade. Maybe it’s Anthony Rizzo’s bat, or planning my wedding to Tony Campana.

Maybe I was born this way. I just can’t get enough.

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Game 77: Rizzo’s First Smash Hit

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Boxscore / Condensed / Highlights

The Cubs are holding steady at last place in the NL Central, but there is a glimmer of hope for better days to come. The youngsters are already showing signs of improvement and maturity, and they give us peeks of brilliance on the ballfield. Call me a dreamer, but I’m already looking forward to the second half of the season to see who Theo & Co. decides bring and how the pieces will fall into place.

The Bad:

This game was fantastic. Nothing happened that was horrendous enough to even talk about, not even the broadcasting.

The Good:

Batting:

Castro brought in his 40th RBI of the season with a single up the middle in the fifth, which was followed by Rizzo’s first home run in Cubbie blue. It was a 2-run shot to right, landing 378 from home plate to put the Cubs up 3-2. Thankfully Wrigley Field is still in once piece after all the celebrating that happened. If exciting things keep happening, which I have no doubt they will be, those Wrigley renovations are going to be necessary very soon.

Pitching:

The Castro-Rizzo RBI combo ended up being all that we needed today, as Garza only gave up 2 runs and the bullpen actually held the lead! When Garza was pulled in the top of the 6th, I was upset. Nervous. Even a bit apprehensive. Our bullpen stinks. But much to my delighted surprise, Scott Maine allowed a single and the rest of bullpen pitched a no-hitter. Even Marmol pitched well. Yes, that Marmol. He only gave up one walk! It was surprising and refreshing to see a one-run lead preserved like it was.

The Cubs are now 7-34 in games where they score 4 runs or fewer. Take that stat how you will.

Defense:

Solid defense was everywhere. Luis Valbuena turned a DP after a bobble, Barney stumbled his way to second before turning the twin-killing, and DeJesus and Soriano both had outfield assists. And with all those great defensive plays, there were no errors. Katie was such a happy girl.

Summary:

The Cubs have won their second straight series. In a season where there is not much to be excited about, two straight series wins is very, very exciting. Valbuena, Castro, and Rizzo are all looking promising. Rizzo has only played four games, but it seems that he has brought a subtle new life to the team. He hits. He almost did the splits today stretching to receive a throw. He’s got a great smile. He’s a tall drink of water for this team. We’re all digging it.

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Game 75: A Beautiful Day For A Ballgame

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Boxscore / Highlights / Condensed

The good news: The Cubs are 16-20 at home, and their home record isn’t the worst in the Majors! The bad news: at 26-49, their overall record is the worst in the Majors. The Padres have one more win and just as many losses as the Cubs.

I was fortunate enough to watch this game in person! Some of you may think that watching a 17-1 exhibition-esque game is a rather unfortunate event, but not under these circumstances. More about the circumstances later. For now, let’s talk baseball.

The Good: 

Anthony Rizzo is now batting .375 this season with the Cubs!* I am cautiously realistic about him, though. It is very possible that he could end up being a bust, and I will not let myself be surprised if that does happen. However, I want so badly for him to break the trend of flopping Cubs’ prospects, that, if Mr. Rizzo does break the trend, I will use “Rizzo” as my firstborn son’s middle name.

After a plethora of errors the other night, Luis Valbuena got his rear in gear and played some solid defense on the hot corner today. There was nothing but clean fielding and sharp tosses to Rizzo from his end of the diamond, and he had the Cubs’ only RBI.

Tony Campana posed with me for a picture:

The Bad:

Pitching. Daniel Murphy, who was homerless in nearly a year, hit two off the Cubs today. Ike Davis hit a one, and Scott Hairston had a grand slam. 

Batting with runners in scoring position. It seems as though the players who can hit get on base, and the players who cannot hit leave them out there. It is similar to the pirates of old: marooning the guy who takes the time and does the work to get where he is supposed to be gets left behind by the others.

Jeff Baker is still on the team and his trade value is definitely not going up. Is it just me, or does the atmosphere of the stadium become uncomfortable when he comes up to bat? It seems like everybody knows that nobody likes him, but everyone is afraid  to tell him that nobody wants him on the team.

The Awesome:

 Free tickets. Free food. Free drinks. Great company.

A guy named Stephen Gebhardt, the director of marketing for RSVLTS.com, is teaming up with Microsoft embark on a journey entitled “Windows Phone Baseball Bucket List.” They offered free tickets, I accepted, and it was probably the best decision of my life. You can check them out at www.RSVLTS.com and on twitter at @rsvlts. They were a pretty fun bunch, knew a little bit about baseball, and a lot about Windows Phones.

Summary:


Randy Wells was DFA’d this morning, and Dolis was called up. At this point, we need to DFA our entire pitching staff. Starters, relievers, closers. Everyone. They are just… bad. There is no adjective colorful enough to describe how I feel about them. BUT, the Yankees are in dire need of pitching, and Demp and Garza are rumored to be on the auction block. If the Yanks are desperate enough, they may be willing to put a good deal together for one (or both) of those guys.

*Sentence may be laced with sarcasm

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Game 70: Same Stuff, Different Day

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Box Score/ Highlights/ Condensed

We lost again. Theo and Co. are getting closer and closer to the top pick of the 2013 draft, day by day, mediocre pitch by mediocre pitch.

 

Pitching: The Shark has been coming back down to Earth lately, and now he is 5-6 with a 4.34 ERA. Sadly, the only pitcher used last night with an ERA under 3.5 was Shawn Camp. Thankfully, he pitched a pretty solid inning.

 

Hitting: Individually, the guys did an OK job. And by OK, I’m judging by the standards of a team with the worst record in baseball. As a team though, it is easy to see why we are the worst team in baseball. Once people get into scoring position, nobody can get them home! The guys that can get on base are the guys who bring people home, which causes quite the dilemma when you think about it. Therefore, the only RBI last night came from a solo shot by Soto in the 4th. 

Summary: At the rate we are going, we will be getting the top pick in next year’s draft and we will be the laughingstock in Boston. By the end of the season Theo will be the butt of every Bostonian baseball fan’s jokes. Heck, he may even be the butt of some Cubs diehard’s jokes. But c’mon guys, we’re rebuilding and there’s always next year!

 

Walk A Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes: In this case, “Someone Else” is Theo Epstein! The Cubs could bring up Anthony Rizzo on Saturday. Many people are speculating/hoping that these lineups the Dale is using will drive Theo into a rage so that he will have no choice but call up Rizzo. 

Pretend for a minute that YOU are Theo Epstein and your team holds the worst record in baseball. You have called up Anthony Rizzo and he is putting up stellar numbers. You can trade anyone on the team as long as Soriano is packaged in the deal and you can acquire  any player of your choice who will be a free agent this winter. What is your next move?

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Game 56: The Silence of the Bats

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Cubs 0 @ Brewers 8

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

The game has been over for about an hour, and trying to come up with something new to say is extremely challenging. This game has been the epitome of the season so far: Below-average pitching, below-average batting, and below-average fielding.

Pitching:

Paul Maholm cruised through the first three innings and allowing only one hit. The fourth inning was his downfall. He gave up four runs in a matter of minutes and then the game became painful to watch.

Wells came in for 2 innings and gave up one run. His presence in the bullpen is kind of nuisance. He is just as bad as a reliever as he is a starter.

Manny Corpas made his first appearance as a Cub. When I heard today that his contract was picked up, I was alarmed because there was no preceding injury/demotion to the announcement. Unfortunately, nobody was traded and Jeff Baker is still on the team. Blake Parker is on the 60-day DL with elbow issues. Could Corpas become a permanent fixture in the bullpen?

Marmol was just being Marmol. Gave up a 3-run shot to a Canadian. He must not have made the cut for the local hockey team, so he picked up baseball.

Looking at the score, it seems like our pitching would be described as horrendous, hideous, horrifying, or just plain horrible. However, it was just… bad. Maybe I’m callous and jaded by Volstad’s utter hopelessness, but the pitching wasn’t alarmingly horrible. I must be going loopy.

Batting:

The Cubs struck out 15 times. Campana was 0-4 with 4 K’s and zero bunt attempts. I think Campana needs to bunt. Cardenas and Johnson both were called on to pinch hit, and both struck out. Cardenas is batting .179… Why is he pinch-hitting?

Castro, Soriano, and Stewart, who are my top 3 favorite Cubs,  collected our 3 hits of the evening. DeJesus, Barney, and Stewart drew our 3 walks.

Fielding:

The fielding was gross. DeJesus misplayed Aoki’s hit in the top of the 5th, allowing him a triple and giving DeJesus an error. Clevenger had a fielding error, and Stewart literally dropped the ball when he could have made a great play for the out. At least he picked it up and threw it first anyway.

Closing Thoughts:

I’m not really sure what to think of Ian Stewart. He seems like he tries hard. He hustles. He just isn’t that good. He’s batting a whole .199 on the season, but he did have one walk and one hit in this game, which more than most of the team can say. We got him in the Colvin/LeMahieu deal, but now I am wondering what would have happened if we kept LeMahieu and let him play third. It couldn’t be much worse than Stewart, could it?

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Game 52: Sixteen Under

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Cubs 1 @ Giants 2

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

Sixteen under – if we were golfing, we would be at the top of the leaderboard, but in baseball it just stinks. The Cubs showed a few signs of life here and there, with a couple of good defensive plays early in the game, a couple good at-bats, and Castro didn’t get tagged out 5 feet in front of the bag.

The Good:

Our pitching was decent tonight. Garza channeled a vintage Carlos Zambrano with a decent outing and lots of emotion. Camp gave up a hit, Marmol posted zeros across his frame. The runs charged to Garza were flukes, really. A grounder between first and second led off the inning, but after that, nobody should have got on. A lucky bloop just sneaked past a dizzy Soriano and Mather’s laborious play on Pagan’s swinging bunt should both have been outs. But I digress, we’ll save the defense for the “Bad” section of this post.

DeJesus’ toothy grin was a nice sight on my television set after he hit that solo shot in the fourth. He was also Campana’s accomplice on a double steal.

Tony had two stolen bases, but was caught once. He was looking a little slow compared to Buster’s arm, but Buster does have a cannon

The Bad:

Once again, Soriano makes the “Bad” section of the post. There was a bloop fly that could easily have been caught by Soriano, but instead, it landed right in the middle of him, Campana, and Castro. So what does Soriano do? Naturally, he lets the ball drop, continues half-jogging past it, and lets Tony pick up, turn 180 degrees, and 29-hop it past second to LaHair. Later, he tried circling under another bloop, which just grazed the edge of his glove and allowed the runners to advance. 

Also bad is that Theriot got another hit against his former team.

Random Bits:

Eric Karros and Dick Stockton are quite the dynamic duo on the airwaves. I have never heard such an exciting, low-scoring game in my life. Good ol’ Dick doesn’t just announce the game – he shouts it. Stockton just would not let Soriano’s fielding disaster rest. Every time there was a lull in the game, he would bring it up, and we’d see a replay of Tony 29-hopping the ball back in with Dick saying how Soriano should have taken care of it. If we didn’t already know how bad Soriano was at fielding, we do now! Thank you, Dick, for clearing that up.

The vintage atmosphere of the game was amazing. Peanuts were only 5 cents! The throwback jerseys were fabulous. The only issue I have is that if we were really trying to be true to the 1912 era, batting helmets would have been nonexistent. But for some reason people are all worried about concussions now. Psh. Minor detail.

Summary:

The game was fun to watch. There was some good baseball played by both teams, it was a close one, but it’s too bad that Garza is now 2-4. But a pitcher’s win-loss column doesn’t matter, right? 

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