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The Seeker Retrospective: Notes on The Last Night of Misery

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Baseball is the second-most written about topic on The Seeker, and I don’t feel like I’ve written about it quite as well as I did with this one, which is only the third baseball post ever here.  I thought for a while about trying to get this published, and think I got it rejected from at least one place, but then decided it looks best here (which also means I got tired of trying to improve upon it!).  It’s also five years old (original post date:  October 5, 2008), which like yesterday’s Dirty Harry post makes it one of the oldest posts on the blog.  One of the things I like best about it is how it’s a document to my disillusionment with the Cubs (and could likely serve as the same for many other Cubs fans), and foreshadows my forsaking of the team until they finally show that they’re serious about baseball.  It’s been five years, and they haven’t gotten too much closer to doing that (a .447 winning percentage since this was originally posted).  This is a long one, though, which makes it a dinosaur in these pages. I stopped posting pieces of this size, having finally realized that shorter is definitely better for The Seeker.  And yes, I can hear you sigh with relief at my having said that!

Like a tired animal that wants nothing more than deliverance, I’ve crawled to a dark corner and I wait. This dark corner is a bar close to my condo; it’s scattered with a handful of high-top tables, a pool table, and a dozen locals. Someone cues “Stairway to Heaven” on the jukebox. It plays like a dirge.

I talked to my brother on the phone almost the entire way here. He’s a non-Cubs fan, bordering on hating them. Odd for a man who took me to my first Cubs game and used to scalp tickets at the corner of Clark and Addison like it was his job. Neither of us can figure out what has happened. I have theories ranging from factual (Derrek Lee is choking) to superstitious- the baseball gods are punishing the Cubs for the Disneyland atmosphere at Wrigley; that, and the Cubs were supposed to be first to break their curse in 2003, before the Red Sox and White Sox broke theirs.  Of course, there’s always the curse of the billygoat.

The carnival atmosphere may be most to blame; it has enveloped Wrigleyville like a fog cloud, soaking into the bleachers like paint, and finally trickling into the psyche of the players. It manifested itself in Game 1 when the Cubs showed up like it was a spring training game; or worse, like Dusty Baker had given them a pregame pep talk.

Bottom of the 1st: Russell Martin advances to 3rd; the replay clearly shows he was thrown out by Alfonso Soriano.  James Loney’s single is enough to plate Manny Ramirez from 2nd base. Why on Earth would the Red Sox ditch him?

The carnival atmosphere has blown north on a crisp fall wind. The first bar I walked past on my way here was flooded with people. They leaked out onto the front stoop and into the street. No word about the Cubs on my way past.  I seem to be the only one concerned with their fate. There could be several explanations for that. I’m still in my infancy as a citizen of Cubs Nation; still naive. I’m still concerned, still insistent, still something about all the great things that could happen to the team now and in the future. I didn’t suffer the collapse of ’84. The tragedy of ’03 smarted, but it was my first wound and it eventually healed. But now I am hurting. I’m invested in this team. We share common blood. I suffered the Dusty Baker years, positive there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. A mere two years later, it looked like there was not only a light, but one shining from the heavens, beckoning us all to immortality.

In the 3rd inning, the music from the jukebox still blares: “Bad Moon Rising,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” Who programmed this music, Cardinals fans? When Mike Fontenot and Derrek Lee get on base, one other bar patron notices.

Have we accepted this as our fate, that the Cubs are always going to be losers, so why not just get drunk and celebrate it? Why not perpetuate the cycle of the expectation of failure, accept it, and live with it? But I can’t. There’s still some childish optimism in me, something that believes there is a collective will, a collective conscience, and we can will the Cubs to win. Surely Boston fans did it on ’04. How else is there to explain the collapse of the Yankees after they held a 3-0 advantage in the ALCS?

In the Dodgers half of the third, Fontenot tweaks his ankle chasing an overthrown pickoff attempt. The sparkplug Lou Pinella was hoping would stoke the Cubs’ engine to higher performance is misfiring. Fontenot jogs it off, adjusts his cup, and is ready to play. Where has that grit and determination been in other Cubs?

Two guys stumbled in during the 2nd inning, took a table, and halfway pay attention to the game. Now there are at least three of us vested.

Jim Edmonds advanced Geovany Soto in the 4th inning. The Cubs batted 5 times last inning, and now are doing things that win playoff games. They’ve worked Hiroki Kuroda to 67 pitches already. There might be some hope left; they batted 5 times again this inning.

The Cubs got beat in Game 1 because the Dodgers played classic Joe Torre playoff baseball. They made Ryan Dempster pitch to them, worked him late into the count every time they could, collected an ungodly amount of walks, and then pounded the ball when Dempster gave them something. It was textbook, and I was surprised Pinella waited so long for Dempster to get on track, which makes me believe that Pinella might be the problem. His Mariner teams flamed out remarkably in the playoffs, even when stacked with its own All-Star team with the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., A-Rod, and Randy Johnson.

Between the 4th and 5th, a local drunk stumbles over to see what I’m writing and manages to spew out, “I hope the Cubs pull off the impossible and comeback.”

“Me, too,” I tell him.

“Same with the Sox. I’m a Sox fan.” Before stumbling over to the pool table, he checks with me. “What inning is it?”

There’s a simple solution to all this: Abandon the Cubs. I call them my team, have written and published stories about how I was reborn into baseball in 2001 and emerged as a Cubs fan; I’ve further proclaimed myself a Brewers fan, but would stick with the Cubs over them. But there’s more to the story than that. I’m a lifelong Orioles fan, ever since my father took me to an Orioles / Tigers double-header in 1979 and we sat in the first two rows by the visitor’s on-deck circle. The only major big-ticket baseball item I have purchased is an Orioles officially-licensed MLB jersey.  But that team sucks, too, and they’re half a continent away.  I guess I’ve decided to root for a team that sucks locally.

“Freebird” plays on the jukebox as I think about this, and it appears to be playing for a reason. I can’t change this now; I’m a Cubs fan. I’m not fair-weather with my teams any more than I am with my friends. I’m in this until the end of days.

During a pitching change in the 5th, a girl chokes on her liquor and spews it on the floor. She rushes to the restroom, but comes out of the restroom a minute later grasping her throat and pleading with her friends that she didn’t vomit.

The Cubs have played from behind the entire series, except for that brief blissful span in Game 1 after Mark DeRosa’s two-run homer. Playing from behind is not going to work in the playoffs, not against a manager who is going to dictate that his team plays patient baseball with very deliberate at-bats and solid defense.

An Hispanic woman in a navy Jewel cashier smock is sitting at the bar and has been minding the game. The two guys who came in the 2nd inning are long gone; there’s only two of us now. She looks at me plaintively when Edmonds strikes out to end the Cubs’ 6th. We shake our heads. She has a tired face and heavy eyelids.

There’s a pitching change in the bottom of the sixth, Carlos Marmol for Sean Marshall.

Is this what the band felt like aboard the Titanic as the freezing water inched closer and closer?

The bar is as quiet as it has been since I entered. I make a quick trip to the bathroom between the 6th and 7th inning and find a woman in the men’s facilities. A man is washing his hands; he looks at me, shakes his head, and claims, “Dude, I don’t even know.”

Kosuke Fukudome has inexplicably been inserted into the lineup, despite Pinella’s apparent disgust with him after Game 2. He’s my favorite Cub, and moreover an example of my favorite MLB players on the whole: the Japanese ones. Their fundamentals are always so excellent; they’re always so focused. My heart sinks a bit, but he strokes a single in the 7th and advances Ryan Theriot to 2nd with 1 out. Alfonso Soriano is up. Torre makes a pitching change.

The Cubs are 0-6 with runners in scoring position when Fontenot gets up with runners at the corners with 2 outs. He flies to center, and it if wasn’t obvious before, it is now: The greatest fear of Cubs nation has come true. We are slumping at the worst possible time, and can no more pull ourselves out of it than a magnet can pull itself away from North. I’m halfway through my third beer of the evening, and am feeling a bit of a soothing buzz in my brain. I could stay here until closing and drink myself into oblivion.

The Russell Martin run that was allowed to score in the first because of the botched call at third base is of no consequence. The Cubs have gone 0-7 with RISP since then, and are still trying to hatch a goose egg.

Derrek Lee scores in the 8th. One person claps.

Seventeen thousands dollars has been raised for someone affectionately known as “Gizmo.” A man parading around the bar holding a banner that proclaims as much tells everybody that Gizmo was his right-hand man, and they all ought to be proud of themselves for having raised so much. Two girls in white t-shirts with information about the Gizmo fundraiser have been in the bar for a few innings now, promoting whatever the cause is. One breaks into sobs and moves to the back of the bar when the man with the banner announces the totals.

Neil Cotts strikes out the side in the Dodgers’ half of the 8th. Where has that been all year?

Top of the 9th. The bar is almost empty. Hip-hop blares from the jukebox. A man has his dog on a leash and is walking it around the bar.

Soriano whiffs to end the game. Nobody notices. Nothing changes in the dark corner. The music plays too loud. A few drunk girls stumble past my table. Nobody says a word about the game.

I pack my stuff, zip my hoodie, and walk home. It’s cold; the air nips at my bald head. I can see my breath when I exhale. I can see some leaves that have changed color when I pass under street lights. There are Halloween decorations up in many yards. Baseball season is over for me. I’ll think I’ll hibernate until April. Then I’ll wake up and drink the Kool-Aid once again. The Cubbie Blue Kool-Aid.

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Written by seeker70

August 13, 2013 at 1:01 am

Posted in Cubs, death, playoffs

Notes on The Last Night of Misery (draft copy)

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Faithful readers: I would appreciate any feedback you might have regarding form, style, details, confusions, triumphs, failures… whatever.

Like a tired animal that wants nothing more than deliverance, I’ve crawled to a dark corner and I wait. This dark corner is a bar close to my condo; it’s scattered with a handful of high-top tables, a pool table, and a dozen locals. Someone cues “Stairway to Heaven” on the jukebox. It plays like a dirge.

I talked to my brother on the phone almost the entire way here. He’s a non-Cubs fan, bordering on hating them. Odd for a man who took me to my first Cubs game and used to scalp tickets at the corner of Clark and Addison like it was his job. Neither of us can figure out what has happened. I have theories ranging from factual (Derrek Lee is choking) to superstitious- the baseball gods are punishing the Cubs for the Disneyland atmosphere at Wrigley; the Cubs were supposed to be first to break their curse in 2003, before the Red Sox and White Sox broke theirs; the goat.

The carnival atmosphere may be most to blame; it has enveloped the neighborhood like a fog cloud, soaking into the bleachers like paint, and finally trickling into the psyche of the players. It manifested itself in Game 1 when the Cubs showed up like it was a spring training game; or worse, like Dusty Baker had given them a pregame pep talk.

Bottom of the 1st: Russell Martin advances to 3rd; the replay clearly shows he was thrown out by Soriano. Manny moves 2nd base to home plate on a single by Loney. Why on Earth would the Red Sox ditch him?

The carnival atmosphere has blown north on a crisp fall wind. The first bar I walked past on my way here was flooded with people. They leaked out onto the front stoop and into the street. No word about the Cubs on my way past.

I seem to be the only one concerned with the fate of the Cubs. There could be several explanations for that. I’m still in my infancy as a citizen of Cubs Nation, still naive. I’m still concerned, still insistent, still something about all the great things that could happen to the team now and in the future. I didn’t suffer the collapse of ’84. The tragedy of ’03 smarted, but it was my first wound and it eventually healed. But now I am hurting. I’m invested in this team. We share common blood. I suffered the Dusty Baker years, positive there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. A mere two years later, it looked like there was not only a light, but one shining from the heavens, beckoning us all to immortality.

In the 3rd inning, the music from the jukebox still blares: “Bad Moon Rising,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” Who programmed this music, Cardinals fans? When Fontenot and Lee get on base, one other person notices.

Have we accepted this as out fate, that the Cubs are always going to be losers, so why not just get drunk and celebrate it? Perpetuate the cycle of the expectation of failure, accept it and live with it? But I can’t. There’s still some childish optimism in me, something that believes there is a collective will, a collective conscience, and we can will the Cubs to win. Surely Boston fans did it on ’04. How else is there to explain the collapse of the Yankees after they held a 3-0 advantage in the ALCS?

In the Dodgers half of the third, Fontenot tweaks his ankle chasing an overthrown pickoff attempt. The sparkplug Pinella was hoping would stoke the Cubs’ engine to higher performance is misfiring. He jogs it off, adjusts his cup, and is ready to play. Where has that grit and determination been in other Cubs?

Two guys stumbled in during the 2nd inning, took a table, and halfway pay attention to the game. Now there are at least three of us vested.

Edmonds advanced Soto in the 4th inning. The Cubs batted 5 times last inning, and now are doing things that win playoff games. They’ve worked Kuroda to 67 pitches already. There might be some hope left; they batted 5 times again this inning.

The Cubs got beat in Game 1 because the Dodgers played classic Joe Torre playoff baseball. They made Dempster pitch to them, worked him late into the count every time they could, collected an ungodly amount of walks, and then pounded the ball when Dempster gave them something. It was textbook, and I was surprised Pinella waited so long for Dempster to get on track, which makes me believe that Pinella might be the problem. His Mariner teams flamed out remarkably in the playoffs, even when stacked with its own All-Star team with the likes of Griffey, A-Rod, and Randy Johnson.

Between the 4th and 5th, a local drunk stumbles over to see what I’m writing and manages to spew out, “I hope the Cubs pull off the impossible and comeback.”

“Me, too,” I tell him.

“Same with the Sox. I’m a Sox fan.” Before stumbling over to the pool table, he checks with me. “What inning is it?”

There’s a simple solution to all this: Abandon the Cubs. I call them my team, have written and published stories about how I was reborn into baseball in 2001 and emerged as a Cubs fan; I’ve further proclaimed myself a Brewers fan, but would stick with the Cubs over them. But there’s more to the story than that. I’m a lifelong Orioles fan, ever since my father took me to an Orioles / Tigers double-header in 1979 and we sat in the first two rows by the visitor’s on-deck circle. The only major big-ticket baseball item I have purchased is an Orioles officially-licensed MLB jersey.

“Freebird” plays on the jukebox as I think about this, and it appears to be playing for a reason. I can’t change this now; I’m a Cubs fan. I’m not fair-weather with my teams any more than I am with my friends. I’m in this until the end of days.

During a pitching change in the 5th, a girl chokes on her liquor and spews it on the floor. She comes out of the restroom a minute later grasping her throat and pleading with her friends that she didn’t vomit.

The Cubs have played from behind the entire series, except for that brief blissful span in Game 1 after DeRosa’s two-run homer. Playing from behind is not going to work in the playoffs, not against a manager who is going to dictate that his team plays patient baseball with very deliberate at-bats and solid defense.

An hispanic woman in a navy Jewel cashier smock is sitting at the bar and has been minding the game. The two guys who came in the 2nd inning are long gone; there’s only two of us now. She looks at me plaintively when Edmonds strikes out to end the Cubs’ 6th. We shake our heads. She has a tired face, heavy eyelids.

There’s a pitching change in the bottom of the sixth, Marmol for Marshall.

Is this what the band felt like aboard the Titanic as the freezing water inched closer and closer?

The bar is as quiet as it has been since I entered. I make a quick trip to the bathroom between the 6th and 7th inning and find a woman in the men’s facilities. A man is washing his hands; he looks at me, shakes his head, and claims, “Dude, I don’t even know.”

Fukudome has inexplicably been inserted into the lineup, despite Pinella’s apparent disgust with him after Game 2. He’s my favorite Cub, and moreover an example of my favorite MLB players on the whole: the Japanese ones. Their fundamentals are always so excellent; they’re always so focused. My heart sinks a bit, but he strokes a single in the 7th and advances Theriot to 2nd with 1 out. Soriano is up. Torre makes a pitching change.

The Cubs are 0-6 with runners in scoring position when Fontenot gets up with runners at the corners with 2 outs. He flies to center, and it if wasn’t obvious before, it is now: The greatest fear of Cubs nation has come true. We are slumping at the worst possible time, and can no more pull ourselves out of it than a magnet can pull itself away from North. I’m halfway through my third beer of the evening, and am feeling a bit of a soothing buzz in my brain. I could stay here until closing and drink myself into oblivion.

The Russell Martin run that was allowed to score in the first because of the botched call at third base is of no consequence. The Cubs have gone 0-7 with RISP since then, and are still trying to hatch a goose egg.

Derrek Lee scores in the 8th. One person claps.

$17K has been raised for someone affectionately known as “Gizmo.” A man parading around the bar holding a banner that proclaims as much tells everybody that Gizmo was his right-hand man, and they all ought to be proud of themselves for having raised so much. 2 girls in white t-shirts with information about the Gizmo fundraiser have been in the bar for a few innings now, promoting whatever the cause is. One breaks into sobs and moves to the back of the bar when the man with the banner announces the totals.

Cotts strikes out the side in the Dodgers’ half of the 8th. Where has that been all year?

Top of the 9th. The bar is almost empty. Hip-hop blares from the jukebox. A man has his dog on a leash and is walking it around the bar.

Soriano whiffs to end the game. Nobody notices. Nothing changes in the dark corner. The music plays too loud. A few drunk girls stumble past my table. Nobody says a word about the game.

I pack my stuff, zip my hoodie, and walk home. It’s cold; the air nips at my bald head. I can see my breath. I can see some leaves that have changed color when I pass under street lights. There are Halloween decorations up in many yards in my neighborhood. Baseball season is over for me. I’ll think I’ll hibernate until April. Then I’ll wake up and drink the Kool-Aid once again. The Cubbie Blue Kool-Aid.

Written by seeker70

October 5, 2008 at 5:48 am

Posted in Cubs, death, playoffs

Revisiting Predictions

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I made two predictions last October after the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs by the Diamondbacks: the Cubs will win 100 games in 2008, and lose to the Red Sox in game 7 of the World Series.

100 wins seemed reasonable for the Cubs after 85 wins in 2007. No doubt they dropped a dozen or so last season because of injuries and poor play as they adjusted to Lou Pinella’s system; I reasoned that they would be able to make up those games and more with a healthy, confident, and motivated club.

As for seeing the Red Sox in the World Series for a second straight year, they looked like a sure thing. Their pitching was too tough for anybody to handle in the playoffs last year, and they would be getting everybody back, including Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, who did a lot in 2007 to help Manny and Big Papi tally runs while Beckett and Matsuzaka mowed down batters. It seemed a lead-pipe cinch they would do that again.

Right now, the Cubs have 74 wins with 41 more games to play. They have to play slightly better than they have already this season if they are to win 100 games; a .023 improvement to their current winning percentage of .612 will do it. They have 13 series remaining; only 4 of those are against sub-par teams. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible with lively bats and consistent pitching. I don’t see them letting up– the Brewers are too close, too hot, too hungry, and home field advantage means too much. If the Cubs have things clinched by the last week of the season, there may be a number of starters resting and that could stifle my dreams of a 100-win season, but that doesn’t seem likely given the caliber of opponents they have yet to face.

At this point, I expect the Cubs to battle the Brewers in the NLCS. The Brewers have a better record right now than any of their likely first round opponents– Arizona, Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or New York– and have enough going for them to plow through any of them to get to the second round. Their young, disciplined bats can get on base and score runs, playoff-seasoned CC Sabathia gives them enough confidence for two wins in a 5-game playoff series, and other arms in their stable like Ben Sheets and Manny Parra are capable of picking up at least one more.

I doubt the Red Sox will make it all the way to the World Series. Their pitching has been unsteady, Ortiz has been injured, and they shipped Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles in a move that baffles me. Manny cannot be replaced, though I’m certain Jason Bay will do all he can. Bay’s defense will be better than Manny’s and he’ll be a better clubhouse teammate than Manny, but he is not one of the two or three best and most feared hitters in baseball like Manny Ramirez. This doesn’t bode well for Boston as they prepare to possibly face a stacked, experienced, and well-coached Anaheim team that is ready to reclaim glory.

Regardless of how things end up, the Cubs will most likely have to get through two of the three best teams in baseball– Milwaukee and Anaheim– if they are to end their World Series drought. Whomever said that nothing worth having ever comes easy must have been talking about this.

Written by seeker70

August 15, 2008 at 2:54 am

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