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Meet The Team, Have A Ball

That's the Cubs' title for today's Cubs Care event at the ballpark, where for a donation to Cubs Care, 300 of us were allowed into Wrigley Field at 3:00, given a baseball, and got signatures on it from the entire team, then given a disposable camera and permitted to gallivant on the outfield grass for half an hour.

There's more I'll tell you about this, but first I must mention an incident that is perhaps the most bizarre thing I've ever had happen to me in the bleachers.

There were only five of us in attendance in our group today -- me, Mark, Mike, Brian and Carole. I had held the second bench just in case anyone else that I hadn't heard from showed up, and I had my umbrella stretched across the seats. I was just about to give the seats up when a guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I'll give you $100 for the umbrella seats."

I had to look at him to see if he was serious, and when I figured he was, I said, "Deal!" and pocketed the $100, and then the guy's friends left to sit somewhere else! We all examined the bill, and it had the security strip and the watermark of a legit bill... so, that beats by $80 Al's "Found Money" record for this season, set earlier this year when I found a $20 while looking for extra scratch-off cards. Tonight was another scratch-off, this time for a Rick Sutcliffe 1984 jersey. I assigned Mark to check the 17 cards we found discarded, since Jeff is still on his way back from California, but we had no winners in the second-chance drawings.

Anyway, the "seat sale", plus the fun time we had at the ball-signing event, gave tonight's tomato inning (the 8th, a 1-2-3 inning) the night off, as the Cubs had tonight's 5-1 win over the Padres well in hand by then, and we didn't need any tomato power.

This is the second year the Cubs have had the ball-signing event as their charity "outing" of the summer -- I was unable to get tickets last year, but Mike managed to score four of them for this year's affair, so he, Mark and I, along with Mike's boss' son Colin, arrived around 2:30 for the 3:00 event. We were ushered in, given one baseball each, and found the players and coaches seated underneath the upper deck, spread out along several sections, and in assembly-line fashion we moved through the line in about twenty minutes. There wasn't enough time to really have any conversations with anyone, though I did tell Dusty Baker, "Bring us home this year," to which he smiled, congratulated Greg Maddux for his 300th win (he was, as you might expect, very modest and almost shy about it), and told Nomar Garciaparra, "We are SO glad you are here!", which brought a big grin to his face. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen Nomar NOT smiling, which, to me, is something this club badly needed. He didn't have any hits tonight, but made a couple of sweet-looking acrobatic plays in the field, including a nice one for the last out.

All the players seemed polite and nice during the signing, though Jose Macias, Aramis Ramirez and Ramon Martinez spent the time as we were passing them by, yakking away in Spanish among themselves.

And there were only two players who didn't sign -- today's starting pitcher, Carlos Zambrano, and that's understandable, as a starter doesn't need additional distractions on his day to throw...

and Dr. Tightpants.

The last man in the line was, of all people, Vince Coleman, who's just been brought to Chicago to help the club with its baserunning. Apparently he's already had an effect on Sammy Sosa, because Sammy hit an all-out-hustle double in the sixth, then advanced on consecutive fly balls to score the fifth run.

Anyway, after the ball signing we went on the field for about half an hour, taking some photos at the outfield wall (I had to stop Mark from running into the wall. Why was he doing this? "I want to see if it hurts to do it." OK, he's eight.), and I'll post some when I get them back. There was an off-and-on drizzle through much of this event, and afterwards they served hot dogs and drinks, and we sat in the RF stands till about 4:20 when they moved everyone out to wait for gate-opening. As soon as we got to the car, incidentally, and pulled the umbrella out, that was the end of any precipitation for the night.

During this time Joe Borowski was first throwing on flat ground, then on the bullpen mound, and then he moved onto the pitcher's mound and we watched him throw a simulated -- well, I guess it was at least an inning, maybe more. He looked like he was airing it out pretty good, and usually when you're at this point, a rehab assignment isn't too far away. I'd expect, based on what I saw today, that he could easily be ready to return by September 1, which would give the club more options for [whispering here] the postseason roster.

And based on today's game, the Cubs may be riding the arms of Z and Maddux into the playoffs.

Z had six days off due to the off day Monday and serving his suspension, and he came out strong, allowing only four hits through the first six innings and he'd have had a chance at a shutout if he hadn't wild-pitched in Mark Loretta with the Padres' only run. He had a very high pitch count -- 86 through five innings -- but blew through the lineup easily in the sixth and seventh, and in order to give the bullpen a rest Dusty allowed Z to pitch the eighth, and his 124 pitches didn't seem like too many given the fact that he had six days off. And, in addition to pitching well, he also had a groundout that moved up a runner and an RBI single. I was a little puzzled at Dusty's use of LaTroy Hawkins in a non-save situation, but as Dave has pointed out to me before, sometimes pitchers ask for the work, and that may have been what happened in this case. Since Hawkins got the inning done in an efficient 10 pitches, he'll be available tomorrow if needed.

Meanwhile, the Cub offense discovered that it was OK to have baserunners without hitting solo homers; Michael Barrett hit two doubles and scored twice, the first on Corey Patterson's homer over our heads and later on Z's single. I expected more than one home run tonight, considering that the wind was blowing right in our faces at 13 MPH and balls were flying out during BP. Mark dove at one BP ball hit by Todd Walker and got his very first BP home run ball.

It was unseasonably cold tonight again -- 59 degrees at game time is probably the coldest temperature I've ever seen at the ballpark in August, and it felt more like an April day. And this year, that's backwards again. We had June weather in April, we had August in May, and now we're having April in August. I'll just consider 59 degrees and windy weather, good training for October.

One of the security guards came up and asked me if I'd heard anything about the suspension hearings held today for Kerry Wood and Hawkins and I hadn't, though they did say that both players were at the ballpark by noon for the hearings (I suppose, done by conference call), and both were at the ball-signing event by 3:00. If Wood's suspension isn't reduced, the club may try adjusting the rotation with the off-day next week, just as they did for Z.

As Mike said to me near the end of the game, "Win tomorrow and all is forgiven." Indeed. Taking two of three from the club which currently is your nearest rival for a playoff spot, is all you can really ask, and including tomorrow the Cubs have only seven games remaining against teams currently over .500 (that'd be the four left in this homestand, and the last three games of the season against Atlanta).

And maybe tomorrow the Cubs will pretend Matt Clement isn't on the mound, so they can score more than one or two runs!