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Celebrate!

The line of the day went to Holly, who came over from RCF to tell us:

"Just like every year, the last game of the season doesn't mean anything!"

And for once, that didn't lead us to sadness, or looking around the ballpark thinking we wouldn't see the ivy-covered walls till April (when they're not ivy-covered, anyway), because we'll be back in only five days. What a pleasure to say to everyone as we were leaving: "See you Friday!"

The game, a sloppily played 3-2 loss to the Pirates, is hardly worth mentioning, because only four regulars or semi-regulars (Gonzalez, Lofton, Grudzielanek and Karros) started, and none of them played more than a token appearance, though both Gonzalez (with his 20th) and Karros homered. Dusty emptied both the bench and the bullpen, and rested virtually everyone else (we wondered whether Sammy was even at the ballpark today -- it would have almost been worth it for the people who won't be at the playoffs, to see him pinch-hit once). The bad news is that Antonio Alfonseca threw a poor inning again, and he will be on the playoff roster (unless he pitched himself off it today), and it's time to suck it up and remember where he's going -- he does have World Series experience, with the 1997 Marlins. In fact, of the likely postseason roster, nine have World Series experience (Alfonseca, Alou, Guthrie, Remlinger, Miller, Martinez, Womack, Goodwin and Lofton), and seven more have postseason experience (Estes, Wood, O'Leary, Sosa, Bako, Veres, and Karros). Once again, there may be a madness to Dusty's method, but you can easily see how any manager would want people who have been there before.

The Ron Santo number retirement ceremony was wonderful, except when Ron got into his golf cart to take a tour of the field; they went on the warning track, which meant that we couldn't see him from our perch in the last row. The most amazing thing perhaps was the fact that on a cloudy, chilly day, the sun came out just as Ron was about to begin his speech. During the ceremony someone (I think it was Sue) threw me one of the blue "SANTO 10" T-shirts that were on sale outside the park. It's a nice souvenir of a special day. Thanks, my friend.

Cosmic things are happening.

Our group set an all-time record today, with 30 in attendance, shattering the old record of 19, set in August last year on "Hooky Day"... and it was a festive crowd; I broke my low-carb diet big-time, having three chocolate chip cookies, one (small) brownie and two "Rally Mint Milanos", brought by Howard, which unfortunately did not do the trick and rally the sub-Cubs to victory. Hey, it was a special occasion, right? I can break the low-carb thing for this. I hope I get to break it again several more times in the next four weeks.

In fact, it was a good thing that Mike, Howard and I were all scoring together on the top row, because none of us was really paying that close attention to the game... I wound up finishing up the newspaper, Howard was both paying attention to his wife Marilyn who was in the second row from the top today, and Mike missed a few things because it started raining lightly in the seventh inning. Carole gave up scoring entirely, and wound up flitting among everyone in the six rows, and Jeff had Krista keep score today. Between the three of us, we managed to get the entire game scored.

So I finish the regular season with 92 games and a 49-43 record; 77 of them were home games (42-35) and 15 on the road, another new personal record (7-8 total record), and the team finishes 88-74 for the second time in three years. Two years ago that record finished five games behind the co-winners, Houston and St. Louis; this year it's good enough for a one-game margin, since the Astros beat the Brewers this afternoon 8-5. That means every single game, every single victory wound up being meaningful, each day from the 15-2 win in New York on Opening Day, to the clincher yesterday, because the final winning margin is exactly one game.

Before the game a TV crew that appeared to be from MLB was running around the outfield doing some sort of commercial spot (or so it seemed) with Chicago native, actor Jim Belushi. It was early after the gates opened and they were yelling up for some of us to come down and wave at them or something, and no one wanted to do it because we were all saving seats! Belushi wound up singing the seventh-inning stretch along with the entire Wrigley Field ground crew, who I know to be some of the hardest-working people in baseball, who never get enough credit for the great way they keep the field in shape.

The Cubs missed the 3 million mark by 37,370, which is about 2,000 less than the Friday sellout crowd would have been; final attendance was 2,962,630 for 80 dates, which breaks the city attendance record set by the 1991 White Sox when they drew 2,934,154 in the first year of the new Comiskey Park. That's an average of 37,033 per date, or about 95% of the listed capacity of Wrigley Field. Only the Red Sox, who are a bit over 100%, since they oversell Fenway, and the Giants, draw a larger percentage of capacity than do the Cubs. At an approximate average price of $25 per ticket, that's a gross ticket revenue of approximately $74 million (of which 10% goes to the city of Chicago as amusement tax); but this amount doesn't include the Cubs' share of concessions and radio and TV revenue.

I'll bet ticket prices go up next season anyway.

For now, that's the only mention of "next year" that I'll permit myself or any of my friends. Right now, NEXT YEAR IS NOW and it begins Tuesday night in Atlanta. The drawing power of the Cubs has even convinced the Fox-TV people to bump the Yankees from their prime-time TV spot on Tuesday -- the Yankees-Twins series is relegated to ESPN at 1 pm Eastern time.

Tomorrow, I'll post some thoughts on the season, on the upcoming playoff series, and my picks for postseason awards.

Until then, enjoy and celebrate. We have all earned it.

The best is yet to come.