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Requiem For A Season

The Cubs beat the Braves 10-8 in the season finale at Wrigley Field yesterday.

And that was the end, shockingly, under an early-October blue sky, with a few wispy cirrus clouds floating by, a gorgeous 70-degree day that belied the pain and sorrow and sadness we all felt in realizing that we were to be leaving the greatest place on Earth for six months, rather than be returning on Saturday to play these same Braves in the Division Series.

I said to everyone before the game that I knew they'd win this last one, with the pressure off, and with the wind blowing out at 17 MPH, I figured there would be a few home runs -- the balls were flying out during BP, and indeed there were six homers hit during the game.

With the wind blowing we played Home Run Derby, and guess who won? DAVE, who never plays these sorts of things, decided to do so yesterday, and he picked (you get two picks each) Jason Dubois and Mark Grudzielanek.

Sheesh! How prescient can you get? Dubois hit his first major league homer, a long high fly ball that nearly made the concession stand, and a triple -- in his first two at-bats, no less, giving us the thought that he might hit for the cycle -- and Grudz hit one too, earning some dollar bills for Dave and our respect (which of course, we have had for him anyway for years) for being so smart.

Just like last year, the Cubs played a meaningless game on the last day of the season. Last year, of course, it was festive because of the division clinching and the retirement of Ron Santo's number 10.

This year, it had a "who cares" atmosphere, but the sunshine made it bearable, and there were a few final salvos from people who won't be back -- Moises Alou set a career high with his 39th home run, and Kent Mercker left us with an indelible black mark by allowing a homer to DeWayne Wise (who hit one-third of his season total of six in this series), the only batter he faced.

It's been said that Alou and Mercker are two of the Cubs this year who were "problem children", and I'm not going to get deeply into that, even though it is clear that the elusive "team chemistry" was indeed part of the problem in 2004. This team, on the proverbial paper, was certainly the best team talent-wise in the National League. That doesn't always do it, as we learned so bitterly in 1969, and again this year. There will have to be changes. It's clear that having players like Kenny Lofton, who not only knew how to win but who knew how to have fun doing it, is as important to winning as having four thirty-homer players on the ballclub.

I'm not even going to get into the Steve Stone controversy, or Chip Caray leaving, or the Sammy Sosa tempest-in-a-teapot (leaving early yesterday), because none of it addresses the fundamental problems of the club. Eventually, tempers will cool, ALL the people involved, from Stone to Dusty Baker to Jim Hendry to the players, will understand that everyone wants to work toward the common goal of winning, and apologies will be made, and things will go on.

I thank everyone who reads what I write here, and who wrote me in the last couple of days, and I will get back to you and I may post some of the comments here, as the next few days go on, along with some analysis and thoughts about the future. Unlike last year, when it was difficult to watch the World Series, this year I'll watch the playoffs with interest -- there are, after all, some intriguing matchups, and root real hard for the Red Sox, because I figure if they win, we HAVE to be next. I'll be writing about the Cubs and baseball in the off-season, as well as occasional movie reviews, political stuff, and whatever hits me to write about.

I ate way too much yesterday -- I had a taste for a Murphy's (the bar across the street from the bleacher entrance) cheeseburger, so I had one, and then Howard showed up with the traditional Jimmy John's -- and yes, we had one final ceremonial Tomato Inning, which turned out to be the inning after all the scoring was done, the seventh. I'll keep eating the sandwiches next year, but the Tomato Inning was something exclusive to 2004, and so we'll have to find another ritual in 2005.

Maybe I was trying to comfort myself with all the eating, because then we all went over to the traditional last-day bleacher regular party, where I wolfed down a couple of hot dogs and also some overly-spicy chicken wings, all the time having a few laughs and tears over the season just past, and Mike said to each of us:

"When they finally lay you in the ground, you won't be pounding on the lid of the coffin, saying 'Dammit, they didn't win in my lifetime!'"

Well, I took that to mean that they WILL win, and I asked him for a guarantee, which he gave all of us, that they would do so, but he explained later that wasn't exactly what he meant -- and Howard put it in perspective when he was discussing, at the post-game party, when the subject turned to the presidential debate of last week, and I suppose that in the grand scheme of things, making sure that the world doesn't end in a nuclear fireball, is more important than whether or not the Cubs win.

And to put it in a little more perspective, yesterday, John Cerutti, former Blue Jays pitcher and current television announcer and a man about four years younger than I am, was found dead in his Toronto hotel room.

Even given that sobering thought, this ballclub is so deep in our hearts and souls that for us -- all of us, a record 3,170,172 who walked into the hallowed brick & ivy cathedral in 2004, it does matter, in a deep way, and this is why we persevere every year, this is why, that though it hurts right now, in a few months we'll renew our season tickets, and head off to Arizona for spring training and sunshine when we need it most, in the depths of winter, and why we will show up next April, hope in our hearts, faith in our minds, and...

To 2005, my friends. Wait till NEXT year!

And I close, as I did a year ago, with my favorite baseball quote, appropriate once again, from the late commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, you rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then, just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.