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The Shape Of Things To Come

Normally, the second home game of the season is one where you see the "real fans", not the hangers-on and celebrities of Opening Day.

But this year isn't "normally". For one thing, with all the tickets sold, you knew the attendance would be announced as a sellout or close, and it was -- 38,968 (although despite the announced bleacher sellout, it wasn't, at least not when the box office opened today. Each ticket has a date on it indicating when it was sold and I came in behind at least three people who bought bleacher tickets -- TODAY. Explain that.)

The surprise was that probably 30,000 showed up, and it didn't feel like April. First, the weather is finally starting to turn, and though there was a lake breeze today, in the sun in the bleachers it felt summerlike, and I took my sweater off and sat in T-shirt and jeans today. It must not have been over 60, because Jeff says he'll wear shorts if it's over 60, and he didn't (though he said he was thinking about it). With everyone from Opening Day back at work, it was just Jeff, Krista and me on our bench today.

Jeff & I may both wear shorts tomorrow, as the forecast is for the lake breeze to shut off, the wind to blow out of the southwest, blowing out, and the high near 70, though often, on early spring forecast days like that, it winds up pushing 80. Today's forecast high of 62 was exceeded (at least at O'Hare, where it was 67).

Enough weather. There were more differences from a typical April crowd. At the end of the third inning, with the Cubs already up 3-0, everyone was standing yelling for a Matt Clement strikeout when he got two strikes on Craig Wilson. It wasn't quite playoff atmosphere, but it sure wasn't April either. I suspect we may see more of this, all season long.

The Cubs beat the Pirates 8-3 in a game which wound up with Krista harassing me because I actually nodded off asleep for one play -- OK, it wasn't the baseball, it's just the end of my work week and I'm tired! Both Jeff and I missed a play in the bottom of the 8th and we had to walk over and find someone who had scored it (Todd Walker grounded out, first to pitcher).

I knew the Cubs were going to win within a minute of getting to the ballpark, because I kicked over my Super Big Gulp before I even sat down. That's usually a guarantee, and it was today. Jon kicked mine over on Monday, but it didn't spill out. It has to completely spill out for this to work. So today, I had only a few sips of drink. Tomorrow, I'll get it from the same spigot (though I don't think I'll kick it over. Two days in a row is too much!).

Matt Clement didn't really pitch that well; he was actually constantly in trouble, and had to be yanked after six innings, having thrown 103 pitches, even though he had allowed only two infield hits, both of which should have been made into outs. It'd have been interesting had he gone through six with a no-hitter, whether Dusty would have let him finish. So far this year Baker has been very cognizant of his pitchers' pitch counts, not letting anyone go tremendously long, and this is a good sign if it continues.

The Cubs smacked three homers, including two from Aramis Ramirez, and Todd Walker showed both sides of his game -- getting three hits, but also making an error and making some other questionable judgments about which base to throw to. I mentioned to Jeff that it's a good thing he can hit, because his no-field reputation is well deserved. Alex Gonzalez also made an error, eerily resembling the one he made in NLCS game six. Fortunately, it had no impact on the game.

Player notes:

* Kyle Farnsworth got two easy outs, then lost concentration and allowed two singles and then a mammoth three-run homer to Raul Mondesi. Again, the game was well in hand and it didn't matter.

* Tom Goodwin was not only announced in the starting lineup, he actually ran out to CF with the starters, only to be tapped on the shoulder by Corey Patterson, who played the entire game. Other than a nice running catch in the seventh, he shouldn't have bothered -- he struck out four times and was the only starter to not reach base today.

* Andy Pratt was sent to Iowa, thankfully, and replaced with Francis Beltran, who threw a scoreless ninth inning.

* Mark Prior threw off a mound today, for the first time in three weeks. What does this mean? I don't think anyone knows.

The bleachers were awfully crowded today, leading me to believe that they are still overselling them, but we did get a chance to use the nice new stairwell that they installed next to our bench, to exit the ballpark after the game.

Here's to summer tomorrow!