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It Was Forty Years Ago Today

HOUSTON -- Well, yesterday, actually, but I'm writing about the events of June 15.

On June 15, 1964, the worst trade in Cub history happened -- the Brock-for-Broglio deal. We don't have to go into details of that, you all know what that did to the history of both the Cubs and the Cardinals.

Yesterday, June 15, 2004, could become one of the most significant days in recent Cub history, because their fourth straight win, 4-2 over the Astros, was one gutted out over Octavio Dotel, one of baseball's best closers, in a ninth inning when it seemed sure that another loss would drop the Cubs out of second place.

But wait, I'm starting at the end.

My flight to Houston was delayed, because of thunderstorms in the area, we had to fly nearly 200 miles west, nearly to San Antonio, and then back, so I landed an hour late, but still made it to downtown Houston in plenty of time for the game.

And downtown Houston is... well, what's the word I'm looking for? Ennui? Boring? Dull? It reminded me of a slightly nicer Detroit. As I've heard many times, there are no zoning laws in Houston, so there are small frame houses intersprinkled with the office towers, none of which have any real distinction. I bought an All-Star T-shirt which features the skyline, and it could be Atlanta, Denver, or any one of a number of cities.

The Juice Box is located in a really nondescript neighborhood, though there is a hotel called "Inn at the Ballpark" right across the street. That, and a steakhouse, are about the only activity right around the park. After the game, people seem to stream right out of the stadium to their cars, or to hotels quite a distance away.

The first thing you notice on entering the ballpark is how darn cold they keep it! It wasn't that hot or humid outside yesterday, but it was freezing inside. You do get used to it eventually, but it was almost too cold. In the sixth inning the roof opened and it felt more like a real ballpark, though I don't think they ever turned the air conditioning off.

The ballpark is OK, but the overwhelming feeling I get is that of "planned quirkiness" -- unlike Wrigley Field with ivy and bricks, or Fenway with the Green Monster, or even the new ballpark in San Diego which had an historic building included in its design -- what they seem to have done here is say, "Let's figure out how cute we can make this park." The hill in CF, which is supposed to evoke the old incline at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, is plunked down in the middle of nowhere. The train is just silly.

Watched BP for a while; Greg Maddux, who isn't pitching till tomorrow, spent quite a bit of time in the cage working on his bunting. That's the mark of the professional that he is.

My seat was in the RF outfield seats, not too far from the Astros bullpen, which if I remember correctly was added there as an afterthought after the stadium was finished. The angle was just about the same as where I sit in the RF bleachers at home. The seat was OK, but since it is directly under the upper deck, you cannot see the scoreboard or video screen at all, limiting the amount of information you can get. The PA announcer was too loud and boomed his lineups out in a disk jockey-style voice, and the music hype they played before the lineup announcement seemed to last forever.

The section had quite a few Cub fans, but let me tell you about a couple of goofy Astros fans who were sitting a few rows in front of me. I was in the tenth row and if you are in about the fifth row or so, you are in front of the overhang of the upper deck. There were apparently some people in the upper deck throwing stuff down on these people, who got so upset they called security over. But when they really got upset, one of them looked up and yelled loudly, "QUIDDIT!" in a true Texas drawl.

Then there was the woman who was getting really upset during the Cubs' ninth-inning rally, and said indignantly, "They put all these Cub people in MY section!" Then she left before the Astros even batted in the bottom of the ninth.

About the game, this game should prove to Dusty Baker once and for all that Rey Ordonez should never again disgrace a Cub starting lineup. Ramon Martinez, who started again last night, had two hits, including a homer, and the key hit on a 3-2 count in the ninth, driving in the third and fourth runs. Carlos Zambrano labored through six innings, throwing 102 pitches and issuing four walks, but the bullpen kept the Astros in check, despite issuing extra-base hits leading off both the 8th (Jason Lane) and 9th (Jose Vizcaino).

It was nice to see the Cubs finally get to Dotel, who had not allowed a run to them this year, even though they needed the break of Lance Berkman's error on Tom Goodwin's fly ball leading off the ninth, which I thought was a tough error; it could have easily been ruled a double. This hometown scoring decision made all three runs off Dotel unearned.

Tonight, I will be in the "Crawford Boxes", the seats you see on TV above the LF scoreboard, which are named after the street that runs behind them. Actually, they're "Landry's" Crawford Boxes, sponsored, of course. I guess I should feel fortunate that I couldn't see the video board last night; it at least prevented me from being bombarded with more advertising.